Questions of Context


«Works that address themselves to the situation in which they are seen, in a non-art environment. Creating a space between the daily world and the contemplative mental space of art, between reality and the aspirations of the spectator, in which critical reflection can take place.

«Because the exhibition context was closed to the forms and techniques I was using and the questions I was posing, it was necessary to search for other places to show them. Working outside the art space opened new possibilities for expression.»                                                                                                   Nancy Wilson-Pajic

Keywords: art, avant-garde, contemporary art, performance art, performance, anti-performance, installation, sculpture, object, text, sound, video, sound installation, text installation, photography, photo-text, photogram, feminism, feminist art, theatre, film, still life Nancy Wilson Kitchel, recording, site-specific, environment, art context


Stranger 1969

From the last half of the 60s and well into the 70s, Wilson-Pajic elaborated on the idea of installing recorded text in everyday environments. The texts most often commented on or developed an aspect of that environment in a critical way. Stranger was created for a housewarming. The decorating scheme of the former owner had not yet been transformed so that its incongruity with the taste of the new owners provided an interesting tension. The text was about someone who didn’t feel at home.



«One of the results of having worked In Situ, in the daily world, for such a long time is that when I was offered a gallery or museum space in which to install my work, I approached it as if it were also an In Situ situation and constructed for it a site-specific piece which took into account the particularities of both the physical space and the context.

“This way of approaching an exhibition space was unusual at the time. This is what I mean when I say I was constructing works on other bases than were artists who were working in and for the commercial system.»

It is interesting to observe how the change of physical context acts on the work. What was considered to be radical about this piece when it was first shown in an exhibition space was not only its unexpected form, it was primarily the introduction of elements from women’s daily life into an art context... whereas the presence of such elements In Situ immediately raised questions among those who saw it about the way they lived their lives.

Thus in an art context, the questions the piece was intended to raise were deflected into rather sterile ones about what constitutes a work of art, or rather, what it is appropriate to introduce into an art space. These questions became pertinent for other work as well and were elaborated in later pieces.

(See Women’s Work for original version.)Womens_Work.htmlWomens_Work.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

Dear John 1968

The original In Situ installation of a text recounting a day in the life of a working mother was remounted in a slightly different form in exhibition spaces, first at the Cooper Union in 1969.


Works transformed by their transposition from an In Situ to an art space.

In her exhibitions in the media center she had created, and later in galleries and museums, she adapted works created in everyday spaces to a neutral white space. Discovered that works are altered by the presence of what she calls the “art context”, consisting of viewer expectations, current definitions of art and the physical neutrality of the spaces themselves.

Murmurs 1970

Taped text installation Ludlow Street Studio.

In 1970, she acquired a studio on Ludlow Street in New York City, discovering when she moved in that the former tenant had left quite a few personal effects. Intrigued, she buried little speakers in objects for the piece Murmurs. 

The text for Murmurs was a writing experiment. «Drifting off to sleep with earphones and the radio, I mumbled into a microphone whatever ran through my head. But instead of transcribing the text, I used it as is for the installation.»

Murmurs, condensed to a raincoat and a pair of cowboy boots, has been reinstalled a number of times in gallery and museum spaces, and has been referred to as a «sound sculpture».

Its latest exhibition was the A.I.R. retrospective at the Werkstätt Gallery in New York in 2008.

See also: Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Passages 1995

Sound installation in the windows of an empty store, consisting of a thin, back-lighted, translucent white curtain undulated by a fan, with a speaker attached to the window and a text on a person who was passing through. Shown by IN VITRO in the Passages des Princes in Paris.

«She was a visitor. She was only passing through. To see her aunt in the next town, she said. We didn’t know what to make of her. She was a foreigner…»

112 Greene Street Gallery, New York 1974

Single installations of 5 media works: Disguises, Grandmother’s Gestures, Memory Figures, Exorcism, Visiting Hour.

112 Greene St. was the most highly regarded alternative space at the time. Even artists who had major galleries and who were current stars vied to have a place where they could show their more experimental work. When Wilson-Pajic was invited to show there, it was in bad condition. So she blocked the windows, set up tables and chairs in islands of light and placed her text works on them. The show received a major review in Artforum and she was invited to show in galleries and museums on the international avant-garde “circuit”.

French Lessons 2004, a video of the Penelope Morgan series, was created for exhibition in several locations in the commons building of the Pôle Universitaire of Saint-Cloud, The French text was grossly mispronounced, word by word, by an American electronic voice, while it was clearly spelled out in French on the video screen.

“La concentration est plus difficile à acquérir pour un esprit mûr auquel on a permis de dispenser la pensée.” (Concentration is more difficult to acquire for a mature mind which has been permitted to dispense with thinking.)

Wilson-Pajic’s works continue to address the spaces in which they are presented…

See also Sackler Center for Feminist Art, New York