Installation art is the mode of art that I have been working towards. And as I have worked towards it I have found that there are few statements that apply to all installations. The most important aspect of Installation art is that the viewer is immersed in the installation, and from that immersion, an experience is created for and by the viewer. This type of art is defined by a few innovators outside the studio art realm. Of these the most prominent would be none other than Sigmund Freud, more specifically his writing titled, “The Interpretation of Dreams.” In this piece, Freud defines three key components of dreams: the visual, the composite structure, and free association. These three components are used by installation artists to create a dream scene. The dream scene is prevalent in installations; the visual is the images that one sees upon entering an installation, the composite structure is the fragmentary disjointedness between the different pieces which may not make sense when analyzed together, and free association is when the viewer is allowed to freely form his or her own ideas about the installation as a whole and the individual pieces that comprise it.
Another innovator to installation art was a philosopher John Dewy who wrote “Art as Experience.” Dewy explained that as humans we must develop by actively inquiring into our own environment along with interacting directly with it. He describes this as “the complete interpretation of self and the world of objects and events'' or “heightened vitality.” This “heightened vitality” is used by installation artists: one by placing the viewer into a new experience (the installation), two by introducing the viewer to something he or she can respond to, and thirdly by even giving the viewer a means in which they can respond or participate in the installation, creating an altogether new experience. The final innovator I am going to mention is the composer, John Cage. Cage was interested by the Zen-inspired combining of art and everyday activity. He showcases this idea in his event 4’33” where the performer and the piano are silent but the “music” comes from the audience; in their shuffles, coughs, and other noises. Installation artists take this and create a piece that, like Cage’s is not complete without the viewer’s interaction.
The artists that have really shaped installation art do not all come from a specific art movement. What I have found is that installation art has its beginnings somewhere just before Dada and Surrealism, in which the period is marked by the hallmark of installation art: exploring dreams and the unconscious. During Dada and surrealism installation art is really explored and pushed to its still undefined limits. As Modern art rises, installation art falls slightly to the back burner but takes several notes from Modern art, in particular minimalism. Installation art during this time really solidifies what an Installation is. Finally Postmodernism and Deconstructivism really call out to installation art. Here it is accepted easily that an artist can use found or reused objects and combine different mediums and styles together to make a piece of artwork.
Kurt Schwitters is the forerunner to Installation art in his installation “Merzbau.” “Merzbau” was something that had never been seen before. Schwitter had transformed his studio and house into a long meandering installation with shrines and grottoes. What I find important about his work is his idea of Merz, a technique of assemblage or “the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials.” Although Schwitter says “all conceivable materials,” he usually used only those that had a sentimental meaning to him. This I think is a downfall because I find that only having sentimental objects can really limit a work, where if one opens it up to other objects as well there are no limits as to what one can create. In my art I take his idea of Merz and run wild by even using telephone poles, but I do keep in mind that the sentimental has power as well like in my use of my father’s work shirt hangers in pieces. Ilya Kabakov is the next major artist to use installation art. In a large installation titled “Ten Characters” he creates ten different personalities that all inhabit a different room of an apartment flat. To determine as viewers these different personalities he or she is given a room filled with the occupant’s items but not the occupant themselves. From these clues the viewer must determine the personality or what may have happened to him or her themselves as is the case with “The Man Who Flew into Space.” In my work I leave the viewer to decipher what the meaning is like in my show “What is Health?” I gave the viewer four types of health but I did not denote what type of health each piece was except by what each displayed. I'm going to further this by creating a situation to put the viewer in instead of just objects for them to observe.
Marcel Duchamp is probably one of the more famous of the installation art world. He even collaborated with artists like Salvador Dali to create some of his installations. One such piece that is referred to as “Duchamp’s Coal Sacks” was a collaborative effort between Duchamp, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Georges Hugret, and Benjamin Peret. In this installation there are such a large number of innovations for installation art as a whole. One is that there is almost not light and the viewers are given flash lights to explore and discover the space and the objects within. Another is the use of smell (coffee) and sound (hysterical insane asylum inmates) to create a mood. I will take these ideas of light, smell, and sound which I have not previously explored and bring them into my own work. Allan Kaprow is the final artist that really helped shape installation art. He organized what he called “Environments” and “Happenings.” In the environments he created just that an environment for the viewer to explore usually out of found or reused objects often even trash. Kaprow’s happenings are more interesting to me in the fact that they are incomplete without the viewer/audience. He gives the viewer something to do in the installation like hang pre-written words on the wall in any fashion, making the viewer the co- creator of the installation. I will also explore this co-creator idea to further my work and the experience I can create for the viewer.
Of the more recent installation artists I take much from Paul Thek and his installations. Thek focuses on nature by using natural materials in his work. He also explores rituals by inviting the audience to join in what he calls processions through his work, which he prompts with pathways through and around his installation. I have only begun to hint at this with my pieces on health and space between them that invited people to walk amongst them and feel their towering presence. I wish to explore this more in my work to come by giving the viewer an installation to walk around and through. My work has not reached installation status yet, but it has been what I have been working towards. This can be seen in the size of my past work which almost puts the viewer into a situation or experience, but not quite. This is what I will expand on from these artists and this movement. I will create an experience. Unlike these artists though I do not shun traditional art and plan on using it along with found and reused objects to enhance my work.
Kurt Schwitters “Merzbau” 1932
Ilya Kabakov “The Man Who Flew into Space” 1985
Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, et al.
“International Surrealist Exhibition” “Duchamp’s Coal Sacks”
Allan Kaprow “Words” 1962
Paul Thek “Ark, Pyramid, Easter-a Visiting Group Show” 1973