Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Art as experience / In defence of the dim!

Keywords: Digital light / Analogue / Embodied experience / Installation

Originally I set out to explore using analogue technologies for there supposed haptic qualities. As the module has progressed ideas have somewhat dictated processes and I have stuck with digital projection. However as I continue to experiment with digital I have started to consider if the qualities and experience of the two systems are so apposed. Reading the introduction to 'Digital Light' I came across this passage which seems to echo the idea that the two processes are less distinct than first supposed.

To reduce the complex interactions of digital and analogue into a simple binary
opposition is to grasp at essences where none can be relied on. Both the speed of
innovation, and the unstable relation between bitmap and vector graphics and displays
suggest that there is no essence of the digital to distinguish it from the analogue,
and that instead we should be focussing as creators, curators and scholars
on the real specificity of the individual work or process we are observing.

Sean Cubitt, Daniel Palmer and Nathaniel Tkacz - Digital Light - Open Humanities Press - 2015

I agree that the agency of specific work is the primary concern, we should focus first on how the individual work functions. Technology is a tool and we should be open to pick up a different system as one might put down the brush and pick up a palette knife.

In recent works which more directly involve or include the viewer agency is directly tied to their physical actions. The aesthetic experience is therefore primarily tied to their movement around the work. The phenomenological thinker Maurice Mzerleau-Ponty saw human consciousness as an embodied experience, our access to the external world being through the body and the mind together. How we perceive artworks is therefore tied to our bodily experience of them.

I view the context in which the work exists as therefore vital to its reception. The work is not only the screen on which the spectator sees a projected image, but also the space In which they can navigate and consider this image. Here the work has expanded from the picture plain to become an installation. In her article 'But is it installation art' Claire Bishop describes the conditions of 'installation' art

'By making a work large enough for us to enter, installation artists are inescapably concerned with the viewer’s presence, or as Kabakov puts it: ‘The main actor in the total installation, the main centre toward which everything is addressed, for which everything is intended, is the viewer.’ He reiterates one of the dominant themes of installation art since it emerged in the 1960s: the desire to provide an intense experience for the viewer.'
Claire Bishop -  But is it installation art? - Tate Etc. issue 3: Spring 2005

Therefore the environment in which the work is shown, how it is displayed, and which work it sits next to becomes of paramount significance in its reading. By controlling the environment around the work in my final exhibition I will be able to better immerse the viewer in its physical experience. However this separation detaches the work from direct dialogue with the rest of the exhibition. The relationships between the wider space and other works in the exhibition is a key consideration.

Using projection as a means to display the work in some ways dictates how the work can be shown, a darkened space is obviously needed for the projection to be seen with clarity. After experiments in the studio I have found that this space doesn't need to be completely black, with a dim light the work is still clearly visible.

I have decided to that using a dim background light is favourable as the contrast between my work and the rest of the exhibition is softened. I also sometimes find black spaces confrontational, especially within wider exhibitions lit under normal gallery conditions. The darkened video room can feel dictatorial, on entering one feels obliged to stay for the duration of the work - often not knowing how long a work is, or at which stage you have joined in. Leaving this space almost feels like a crime, as you slink off before the end of the work fearing judgement from more discerning spectators who have remained. I believe this feeling is caused by our cultural understanding of cinema.

The gallery space and the cinema space function differently, in a gallery one anticipates one can freely move around, you are 'master of the visual domain' (Satre). While in the cinema you understand that you are entering as a passive spectator. You know approximately how long you will be held captive and how you are expected to behave when receiving the work, having subconsciously agreed these terms before you enter. In the gallery, especially in a group show containing more static forms of work such as painting and photography the viewer expects to browse, wandering between works freely. The amount of time a viewer might look at each work may be mere seconds. A  dark spaces demand a different way of viewing, on entering one is losing a degree of control. The artist  dictating how long the viewer should consider their work.

The dark space in a gallery context also speaks of the unknown, anxiety, loss of control. This links to the concept of the void discussed earlier, if exhibiting 'Process and Perception' as a work which ends with a 'void' a black space may have been more appropriate. However my 'Corpse' work which I intend to exhibit 'feels' less confrontational while still being concerned with destruction/renewal.

In the cinema the darkness is not so threatening as the space is understood. We are aware where the screen is, are comfortably seated, and understand what type of experience we are about to have. In a  gallery dark space expectations are not as clearly defined, we are less sure what kind of experience the artist has in store for us!

By exhibiting in a dim but not black space the spectator's transition into the work will be softer, and they will hopefully feel more free to move in and out of the space at will. The work is also looped with no obvious beginning or ending, this means there is no length of time to feel obliged to stay for. The viewer has more control to make the decision when they wish to move on. I believe if the spectator feels more comfortable with the space they will be more inclined to experiment and play, moving around the space and more fully engaging with the work.

Obviously 'dim' is not an exact term and the lighting conditions of the gallery space may not be controllable in the same way as the lighting in my studio. By creating a walled area and removing the lighting directly above this space I believe this will darken the space enough that the work is made clear. I also plan to create a natural linen canopy that can be used to control the light further if needed. This is as a back-up plan and hopefully will not be necessary.

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