How to make site-specific art when sites themselves have histories


Latin America


The term “site-specific” is generally used to describe art self-consciously made to exist in a certain place, effectively making the site a static background for the dynamism of art. If we accept this definition, then how are we to account for the fact that sites themselves have histories? This paper addresses this question by analyzing four performances by the Chicano/a collective Asco: Stations of the Cross, First Supper (After a Major Riot), Walking Mural, and Instant Mural. Whittier Boulevard carries a portion of El Camino Real, which once connected the Catholic missions of Alta California. We know Asco was aware of this fact because a member of Asco once “used the phrase ‘el camino surreal’…to describe Whittier Boulevard as the setting where everyday reality could quickly devolve into absurdist, excessive action.” Contextualizing these performances within the geography of colonial California challenges interpretations of Asco as merely opposing contemporaneous events like the Vietnam War and gentrification, whereas Asco had a more nuanced and expansive understanding of oppression linking the Latin American diaspora. Together, these performances show us how a group contests domesticating and folklorizing stereotypes. Although preexisting scholarship explains these gestures as “protest art,” situating them against Whittier Boulevard allows us to appreciate the radicality of Asco. By engaging with Catholic and muralist imagery, Asco draws parallels between their experience as racial minorities and the history of Latin American colonialism, which highlights both the composite nature of Chicano/a identity and how artists might make site-specific work when sites themselves have histories.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Brandon Sward


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