| Geordie Groenhuysen | Novembre 2020 |

 

 

installation art is territorial

Installation art can encompass a wide variety of elements. Enthusiasts would probably insist that installation art is primarily about the space it occupies, the context in which it is placed. But I think otherwise.  If the installation art itself does its job well, then it should be possible for it to live and function in diverse spaces or simply stand on its own.  A question that has always fascinated me is: can Installation Art have a relationship with another space? Indeed, can it exist independently from “space” itself?

My first encounter with installation art, when I moved from the Okanogan to Vancouver B.C. were these beautiful gravity defying rock totems that appeared to be jutting out of the ocean’s surface. They seemed to be floating along the water’s edge of English Bay’s Seawall of Stanley Park. I remember these hand-balanced, Kent Avery sculptures being a warm and calming sight.

And when I moved to Europe, I remember being touched the same way by the installation artwork of Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle’s. Sculptures playfully dancing on the water’s surface in the Stravinsky Fountain next to the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Installation art can bestow an unprecedented importance on the observer’s inclusion, which he observes. Installation art is a language for the artist, it is about storytelling, communication and interpretation but most importantly mark making. The only things viewers can be assured of are their own thoughts, perceptions and the basic rules of space and time. All else is fashioned by the mastery of the artist’s hand. In its simplest form installation art is territorial. It defies boundaries and space whether it be indoors, outdoors or site specific.

Artistic genre of three-dimensional works is usually site specific and is designed to somehow transform the space. Installation is generally the term applied to interior spaces where exterior interventions are often called public art, land art or intervention art. However the boundaries between these terms overlap whether the artwork(s) are temporary or permanent.

 

An ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist

Ilya Kabakov, a Russian-American conceptual artist and critic says during introductions to some of his lectures “One is simultaneously both a ‘victim’ and a viewer, who on one hand surveys and evaluates the installation and on the other follows those associations, recollections which arise in him; he is overcome by the intense atmosphere of total illusion. It neglects any ideal form in favour of optimizing its direct appearance to the observer”.

Prominence in the 197Os, the roots of installation art can be identified in earlier artist’s work like Marcel Duchamp’s ‘ready-made’ porcelain ceramic men’s urinal “Fountain”. Rumored an idea stolen from a French female artist before it was ‘staged’ on its back in an exhibition in New York on April 19th 1917 at The Grand Central Palace is recognition of this.

In Duchamp’s mere presentation of this object, the urinal’s orientation was altered from its usual positioning offering room for new exiting ways of expression. ‘Readymade’, a term that was commonly used in the United States pre 192Os to describe ordinary manufactured objects or a term Duchamp adopted from the Fashion Industry Prêt-a-Porter’s ready-to-wear, Marcel Duchamp’s ‘ready-mades’ are ordinary manufactured objects that he hand selected and modified as an antidote to what he called ‘retinal art’. By choosing the object or objects and repositioning them or putting them together, titling them and then signing the work, the found object(s) became art. Duchamp was pushing boundaries looking for new methods of expression. Objects that reflected his humor, ambiguity and sense of irony.  His personality.

“An ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.” is the first definition of ‘readymade’ which appeared in “Dictionnaire abrége du surrealism” a book published in 1938, written by authors, Andre Breton a French writer and poet, and Paul Eluard also a poet and one of the founders of the surrealist movement.

German Artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), most famous for his collages, is an artist who worked in several genres and media including constructivism, dadaism, graphic design, poetry, printing, sculpture, sound, surrealism, poetry, typography and what came to be known as installation art.

 

sensory experience

Allan Kaprow (1927-2006) writer and lecturer who helped develop “Environment” and “Happening” which were active performance ‘experiences’ put together in the late 5Os and 6Os in New York City, coined the phrase ‘happening’. His work made evolved into “Activities” where he created broader sensory experiences for his audiences and became known as an assemblagist of environments and a pioneer of installation and performance art in New York, the ‘happening’ place to be.

That’s what installation art does. It takes into account a broader sensory experience.  Artist Wolf Vostell (1932-1998), embedded objects in concrete making it look like cement cars colliding into massive walls of cement block. His use of television sets in his works is considered one of the early adopters of video art and installation art. He worked using techniques such as blurring and de-collage.  A spelling he changed to “De-coll/age” applying the term to his poster tear-offs.

Louise Bourgeoise’s work which spanned over most of the 2Oth Century transformed her experiences into a highly visual language through her personal, emotional and psychological encounters making art a therapeutic process. Focusing on three-dimensional form, sexual desire, the inconspicuous and brooding subject matter she used materials considered male to sculpt soft forms suggestive of femininity. Along with the use of mythological and archetypical imagery, adopting objects like cages, medical tools, sewn appendages, spiders and spirals as symbols of beauty, the feminine psyche and psychological pain by the use of things that were considered ugly. She fashioned the development of installation art. Complete brilliance from a woman artist at that time.

Andy Warhol in his early years, after his ink blotted line illustration work for American Vogue, also eventually brought to light everyday objects as works of art in their own right.

 

narrative explodes like fireworks

Theatrics. Ten spectacles for the price of one. It’s all real. Some of it’s really real. Some of its fake. And some of it is really good. Smoke, mirrors and mastery. A wonder of the age.  A peep show if you will. Appealing to qualities evident in three dimensional immersive medium. A broad range of everyday and natural materials chosen for “evocative” qualities with space and time as it’s only dimensional constants, implying dissolution of the line between ‘art’ and ‘life’ like Richard Wood’s brightly coloured, “wickedly clever” cartoon like furniture pieces or his ‘Holiday Home’ bungalows. There is definitely a strong parallel between installation art and theatre that both play to the viewer. Circuses, museums and art galleries imbued in sensory narrative consider the universe of ‘installation’ while maintaining a degree of self-identity.

Installation art cries out for attention like a store window at Fortnum & Mason and some of the work desires to be heard now not just seen. How and where objects are placed are completely considered. Assembly and appearance are of utmost importance so narrative explodes like fireworks set off in the night sky or shiny as the stars above if that is what is intended.  Disneyland is the ultimate example of this. It is exactly what you see before you and your imagination. The experience illustrates emotion and story in a “make-believe’, ‘readymade’ land without having to say the words out loud. You are left reading deliberate veiled expression and sentiment and unpractical communication to the world through objects. The esthetics, merchandising and placement of its ‘objects’ and characters even create a dialogue with one object and other objects.

In reference to this form of art that has arguably existed since pre-history but was not regarded as a discrete category until the mid-twentieth century, Allan Kaprow’s quote “if we bypass ‘art’ and take nature itself as a model or point of departure, we may be able to devise a different kind of art . . . out of the sensory stuff of ordinary life”, says it all really. Installation art operates absolutely within the realm of ethereal sensory perception, a sense of “installing” the viewer into a complex artificial system with an appeal to their subjective perception as its ultimate goal.

 

Geordie Groenhuysen

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