Constellation – New forms: Installation



‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’, Cornelia Parker 1991

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Another riveting lecture from Jonathan Clarkson today, focusing on the contemporary practice of ‘Installation’. Installation is a very interesting medium, focusing more on the concept rather than the technical skill involved within the utilisation of the materials. We began by discussing panoramas, the very first ‘installation art’, in which paintings of panoramic views of cityscapes were placed around the room to simulate a 360º view of an environment. The first major piece of panoramic work is ‘the Mesdeg panorama’, names after it’s creator, Hendrik Mesdeg. It’s a very interesting piece, patrons come up through the centre into a small, shaded viewing platform. The room is circular, and features sand and other debris to accurately represent the shoreline of which the 360º panorama is based. Also, it is lit completely by daylight; creating the illusio that this view’s light shifts regularly, according to the placement of the sun. This primitive ‘installation’ is quite possibly the first one of it’s kind, and paved the way for later works, which became far more grand in scale.


‘The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari’, Hanz Janowitz & Carl Mayer, 1920

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Next on the list, and quit epossibly one of the most influential silent films of the 20th Century, is ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’, a Silent horror film that attempted to find a modernist version of the ‘Geantkanstrek’ (mass spectacle), drawing on expressionism as a major influence; the alls and windows are painted on, as well as the light that shines through them, and shows an exterior world warped by intense psychological pressure. The film is about a doctor who puts his victims into a trance, and prompts them to commit murders. This is reflected in the expressionist locale and features of the movie’s setting, which became highly influential not only in horror, nor in films in general, but also in how artists view their artworks. No longer was an artwork just a flat piece on the wall, but it could extend out from this square box; pushing itself onto the walls of the space and surrounding the viewer in it’s embrace, creating feelings and emotions not normally capable within the medium of paintings.


Surrealist Exhibition, 1938

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The next important step in the evolution of Installation was an exhibition by the surrealists, within Paris, in 1938. The exhibition seemed to stand against all preconcieved notions of what an exhibition was, and seemed to have been created for the sole purpose of intoxicating, and infuriating, the viewer. There was a great deal going on in this exhibition, the floor was covered in both earth and gravel, in order to disorientate the viewer with an uneven surface. The paintings were also hung on revolving doors, allowing viewers to push them and the work could come to the them, subverting the role of the viewer as a static object, viewing the artwork. There was also coffee roasted in the gallery, as well as a recording of insane laughter being played at a loud, ever increasing frequency, and the entire gallery was in complete darkness, with the audience being given bike lamps to utilise to walk around and look at the artwork. Above the patrons, there hung thousands of ‘Coalsacks’, created by Duchamp, which although housed no coal, appeared to, and therefore crated an all consuming atmosphere of dread and threat, as if at any moment, these coal sacks could fall and hurt the people walking underneath. It was incredibly strange, to say the least, and effected every single sense of the human body; designed to overwhelm, and almost destroy the visitor’s perceptions of this exhibition. Such a strange lot, the Surrealists, and this concept is one that I would like to play around with; in my upcoming exhibition, I intend to take heed from another artist at this time, Yves Klein, and his blue cocktails. I want to craft some form of red cocktail, that would cause the drinkers urine to become red, rather than the blue Klein originally had; causing a feeling that they were bleeding, and therefore inciting fear in their very soul. This moves the focus of the exhibition to a more private place, becoming something more than just an exhibition.


20:50, Richard Wilson, 1987

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 The next important concept in the movement of Installation, is the ‘Minimalist Panorama’. a term coined by Jonathan Clarkson, in which an exhibition is viewed as one, singular object, rather than as a series of separate artworks. this is also an evolution of ‘Gestalt theory’; in which artists and psychologists argue that the mind sees things as the sum of their parts, rather than being affected by each individual piece. A piece which soon came to hold and nurture this concept is Richard Wilson’s 20:50, a piece which is installed permanently at the bottom of the Saatchi Gallery. It’s an interesting piece, as the space that it hold within it seems to create an infinity vortex within the horizon; created by Sump oil, which is incredibly dense, and incredibly black. The oil is actually only a few inches deep, but because of the sheer opaqueness of it, it seems like it travels downwards a great deal. There is also a small viewing platform that cuts into the surface of the ‘lake’, of which gets smaller until it reaches a point. The sensation of isolation one receives when travelling into this point, is one of isolation, as if the passage that has been opened up into the black sea could fill back up immediately, swallowing anyone unfortunate to enter this place. This concept of being ‘swallowed’ by the darkness, is one that is very interesting to me, and one I have been ruminating upon a lot recently; since walking through a tunnel near University during a dark autumn evening, I felt this sensation of being ‘swallowed’ by the darkness, almost submerged within the blackness of it.


‘The Weather Project’, Olafur Eliasson, 2003

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Mass spectacle; one of the pillars that Installation art is based on. Eliasson crafted this monumentally spiritual piece in the Turbine hall just over a decade ago, and the image of the warm sun amongst the mist still captivates my mind to this day. I spoke of this a lot last year, and if you look back through my blog you should be able to find my more in depth opinion of it there. It is beautiful, it heals the soul more than I have felt from any other specific artwork. The way that us, as humans, bask in the embrace of the sun on a regular basis, is a testament to the power of the great flaming ball in the sky. The idea of a mass spectacle, of a piece of artwork that overwhelms the viewers senses, at one point in artistic history it was the stuff of fiction; but this work, it achieves it. The sun, so often revered as our deity, our life giver, appears before us in the Turbine hall; atmospheric light pours out of it, blending with the mist to simulate power, and incite both terror and comfort within us. We become humbled, almost playful in the light of this object; visitors would lie down below the object, their behaviour changing to that of people on a warm summer’s day; some people brought Frisbee and balls in, and other simply lay down and stared up at their reflection on the ceiling. This piece, is it truly complete only when humans interact with it? when the effects it has on humanity are shown in the actions of man? Installation is often classed as only being complete when a person interacts with it, either subconsciously or consciously.


‘Light Sentence, Mona Hatoum, 1992

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Another piece which confronts the viewer is Hatoum’s ‘Light Sentence’, a piece of artwork that has an effect on the viewer, albeit a far different one to Eliasson’s work. It works in much the same way as Eliasson’s, utilising light as a medium to evoke feeling in the viewer, but this work seems to disorientate and strike fear in the target. A light bulb is placed between two wire frame lockers; their shadows cast out onto the walls of the room. The room immediately becomes a cage, and spectators who have visited the piece often remark on how they walk around the room, clutching to the walls. There is light, but it evokes fear in the viewer; they are incredibly afraid to go anywhere near it, and this causes problems not only for the psyche, but also for the well-being of the viewer. The light is cooling, it is fluorescent and reminds one of Dan Flavin’s Fluorescent tube structures, of which a select few give off a cool, calming light. However, with the addition of the ensnaring wire, the light becomes like those of a tree on the side of a child’s room; monstrous.

Installation is a fascinating medium, and I have begun to work within it on a somewhat frequent basis; it allows narrative, as well as immersion; far greater connotations than any that painting or sculpture can hope to incite!


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