Ghada Amer in the Expanded Field

Ghada Amer, “Women’s Qualities,” 2021 jpg
Ghada Amer, “Women’s Qualities,” 2021 jpg

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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’ [1979]. 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. 

Figure 2. Close up showing flowerbeds in Ghada Amer, “Women’s Qualities,” 2021.
Ghada Amer, Women’s Qualities, 2021.

“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

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Farida Youssef
Farida Youssef
Farida Youssef is an aspiring art critic. Key to her work and reflection is the relationship between art and spatial theory in 20th century thought. In 2017, she was awarded an MA from University College London. Her thesis focused on the interplay of space, aesthetics and dramaturgy in Marivaux’s plays. In 2018, she was a Merut Fellow at the British Museum where she contributed to the Modern Egypt Project, approaching the collection through the lens of contemporary philosophy.
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Ghada Amer, “Women’s Qualities,” 2021 jpg

Ghada Amer in the Expanded Field

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.

S’il pleuvait des larmes

Boris Vian

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque meurt un amour
S’il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque des coeurs sont lourds

Sur la terre entière
Pendant quarante jours
Des larmes amères
Engloutiraient les tours

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Lorsque meurt un enfant
S’il pleuvait des larmes
Au rire des méchants

S’il pleuvait des larmes
En flots gris et glacés
Des larmes amères
Rouleraient le passé

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Quand on tue les coeurs purs
S’il pleuvait des larmes
Quand on crève sous les murs

Sur la terre entière
Il y aurait déluge
Des larmes amères
Des coupables et des juges

S’il pleuvait des larmes
Chaque fois que la mort
Brandissant les armes
Fait sauter les décors

Sur la terre entière
Il n’y aurait plus rien
Qu’les larmes amères
des deuils et du destin.