Words Redefining Sculpture
Amer’s Desert X garden sculpture Women’s Qualities is made up of seven flowerbeds, arranged in a circle, each forming a different word. These words reproduce the qualities which people from the Coachella Valley area associate with women. Because of their size and arrangement, Ghada Amer’s Women’s Qualities becomes part of the Great Lawn landscape at Sunnylands and the flowerbeds gain an architectural character through their size. Amer herself has previously mentioned that her garden sculptures now include the participation of architects. It is interesting to see how Amer’s integration of language in Women’s Qualities serves to redefine sculpture.
This tripartite association between landscape, architecture, and sculpture has been theorised by Rosalind Krauss in ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ . In this seminal essay, she remarks that sculpture in the 1960s became too heterogenous to fit under one category. Defying the logic of the monument, sculptures were no longer fixed to pedestals. These postmodernists’ sculptures for Krauss are an expansion in the definition of the medium, where they are no longer just architecture or landscape. “Sculpture is rather only one term on the periphery of a field in which there are other, differently structured possibilities” (emphasis added) writes Krauss. In other words, sculpture in the 1960s restructured the relationship between the other two terms, landscape and architecture. For Krauss, a sculpture that is no longer defined by the pedestal or the logic of the monument is a sculpture in the expanded field. Amer’s garden sculptures, including the present one at the Great Lawn, are also sculptures in the expanded field because they are neither fully architectural works nor are they just landscape art.
Krauss Expands the Field, Amer Marks the Site
The new relationship(s) between landscape and architecture is enriched by what Krauss dubs “marked sites” which are sculptures whose structures show marks on the site of their installation. They introduce a change in how sculptures are experienced and involve a physical manipulation of the site itself. These “marked sites” can also be either permanent or impermanent. Here, the expansion of the field happens as “marked sites” are based on new terms, new conditions, for the relationship between landscape and architecture.
Amer’s Women’s Qualities is a sculpture that espouses this expansion. This garden installation can be considered a marked site because the words we encounter, women’s qualities, like “strong,” “determined” ,“caring” and others help mark the site chosen by Amer, thus changing its landscape for the duration of the exhibition.
“These words which describe women’s qualities transform the entire sculpture Women’s Qualities itself into a term.”
Language as a New Term for Sculpture
Amer expands further the field of sculpture through her use of language. Krauss’ term of marked sites takes on a new meaning through language. Let us recall that the word “term” has two definitions, it means both “condition” and “word.” In light of this, one can consider sculpture itself as a word. Here, the role of language in Amer’s garden sculpture becomes particularly pertinent because through its association with sculpture, language marks the site. The Landscape at the Great Lawn is hence marked by Ghada Amer’s linguistic flowerbeds through the use of words describing women’s qualities (“nurturing,” “loving,” “strong, etc.”). These words which describe women’s qualities transform the entire sculpture Women’s Qualities itself into a term. Indeed, with Women’s Qualities, Amer marks her site linguistically, with words. Here, visitors literally see these marks as words. They are read, and it is this reading which complements the experience of marking. In fact, Women’s Qualities writes to the walkers of the garden. What is interesting is that in return this produces the experience of sculpture as a read sculpture.