ACCA Art Kitchen #2: Site-specific Installation with Sam Petersen


Ever wanted to know how to create a site-specific artwork? Join artist Sam Petersen to learn how to create architectural interventions using plasticine, and hear why plasticine is Petersen’s material of choice.

The resources on this page provide a step-by-step guide to creating your own site-specific installation.

Appropriate age groups/school levels: 

These workshops have been developed to appeal to students and teachers of all year levels. Please use discretion when deciding on the appropriateness of these workshops for your students.  

Please note: This workshop includes themes relating to sexuality, which are contextualised within discussion of the artist’s practice.

About the Artist:

Sam Petersen is a Naarm/Melbourne-based artist who works primarily in site-specific installation and sculpture. Petersen’s artwork often references the limitations they confront when trying to access space as a disabled person and wheel chair user. Petersen’s art practice can be thought of as a mode of activism, which is politically motivated and takes the body and its relationship to the built environment as conceptual starting points. Petersen is also a spoken word artist and disability advocate.

Site-specific installation is one of Petersen’s primary working methods, and their preferred material is plasticine. The artist favours plasticine because it takes on heat and leaves an oily residue, making it evocative of the body. Plasticine is also highly adaptable; it can be squeezed into any space, large or small, and this malleability allows the artist to create installations that metaphorically explore the experiences of disabled people when required to fit into and around inaccessible structures. Petersen’s plasticine penetrates architecture – filling its gaps and covering its edges – as a means to critically respond to and ‘take over’ the built environment. Petersen also values that plasticine can be reused repeatedly, making it an environmentally friendly medium.

“I’m interested in what can be done with one’s identity and the space around it. Both my body and mind, touching everyday feelings between the rational, the playful and the political.”

– Sam Petersen

Examples of Artist’s Artworks on Display:

What you will need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Plasticine
  • Chosen site


Step 1:

Search around your home, school or outdoors for a site that you would like to create art within – this can be a building or a part of the landscape, and can be indoors or outdoors. Keep in mind that if you choose an outdoor site this may result in foreign matter, such as twigs or dirt, becoming incorporated into your plasticine. This is okay, however it will mean that you will be able to re-use your plasticine fewer times.

Step 2:

Using your pen and paper, create an analysis of your site. This can be completed in dot points. Note the primary (dominant) features of your site and ask yourself the following questions: What is the character of this site? Who is this site designed for? Is this site accessible to everyone? Are there any cultural markers within this site? When and how was this site created? Does this site bear the markers of a particular moment in history? Does the site carry any political attributes?

Whether natural or built, all sites are complex and contain many ‘clues’ as to why they are composed the way they are. Does any voice or point of view seem to ‘speak through’ your site? For example, if you have chosen your classroom, try to understand how ideas about learning, students, and teachers have informed the design. This analysis will help you to understand the quality of your site and give you a point of view from which to develop your creative and critical intervention.

Step 3:

Experiment with your material and note its inherent qualities. How does plasticine respond to handling? How thin can it be spread? What colour is it? Which surfaces will it adhere to? Note your findings and make a plan for how you will incorporate plasticine into your site.

Note: Plasticine leaves an oily residue. If you are unsure how this will affect a surface (such as wood or fabric), use an intermediary barrier to prevent damage. For example, Sam Petersen used clingwrap to avoid staining the porous corten steel of ACCAs foyer.

Step 4:

Now begin to apply plasticine to your site. Consider covering or coating fixtures; what is the effect of this erasure? Fill gaps with plasticine; what are the effects of filling void spaces this way? If there are windows, consider applying plasticine to these; how does this soften, block or tint the light?

Step 5:

Step back, close your eyes for a few moments, and then open them again to view your work with a fresh perspective. What are the effects of your artwork? How has the feeing of the site changed? How would you edit or build upon your progress? Is your work finished? What makes you say that?

Step 6:

Now, reflect upon your work. At this stage, you can respond either intuitively or analytically.

Option one: write a creative response to your artwork using as vast an expressive vocabulary as possible.

Option two: render your intentions legible through an artist statement, concentrate on explaining your choices and intentions with clarity.

Step 7:

Invite an audience to experience your site-specific installation. Allow them to explore your artwork before you explain any of your ideas or choices. Ask for their impressions; do their interpretations differ from your expectations? Try to engage your viewers in discussion – and don’t forget to thank them for coming to experience your artwork!

Step 8:

Lastly, document your artwork through photography. As an ephemeral installation, your photographs will endure as a record of your creativity and can be used to share your work with others long after the artwork itself has been dismantled.

Inquiry questions:

1. How did you choose your site, and what are its interesting characteristics?

2. How did the choice of site determine the expanse, attributes and manner of your site-specific installation?

3. How has your site-specific installation transformed the original site? Does it feel different to look at, touch or inhabit?

4. What are the most successful qualities of your site-specific installation? What do viewers make of your artwork? Do their interpretations differ from yours? And, if so, does that matter?

Examples of Site-specific Artworks from Past ACCA Exhibitions…