DECONSTRUCTING INSTALLATION ART © 2006 Graham Coulter-Smith CASIAD PUBLISHING ISBN 978-0-9548334-4-2

NOTES


[1] (in Kepes 1960: 112)

[2] And in the 1970s the aesthetician George Dickie published his ‘institutional theory of art’ (Dickie 1974).

[3] The metaphor of the panopticon was introduced by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1977). It refers to a prison which consists of a cylindrical building consisting of tiers of cells which are barred and therefore open to view. In the centre there is an atrium with a watchtower wherein the guard on duty can see everything. After a while there does not have to be anybody in the tower, because the inmates are conditioned to being under surveillance so they watch themselves.

[4] Although I will criticise Tiravanija, I also think that he is outstanding and can be understood as a conceptual bridge between fine art and the emerging form of media art, when we understand media art as fundamentally less about media than about involving the viewer and bringing art into life.

[5] Matisse noted that art should be ‘a comforting influence, a mental balm—something like a good armchair in which one rests from physical fatigue.' (in Chilvers 1996: 331).

[6] My thanks Margarete Jahrmann for this insight given during question after my paper ‘Art Games’ at the Consciousness Reframed conference, University of Plymouth, July, 2006.

[7] The concept derives from an experiment carried out in the 1890s by the psychologist George Stratton who used similar eyeglasses that inverted his visual field. After wearing these glasses for some time and experiencing increasingly disturbing perceptual distortions Stratton’s brain eventually learnt how to reprocess the data and turn the world upright again. Stratton’s experiment supports the contention that unconscious cognitive processes take a very active role in constructing reality. Unfortunately the full experiment requires too much time and too much pain to carry out in the context of an exhibition. Which in a sense makes Höller’s installation experience somewhat incomplete. But at least he has drawn the viewer’s attention to Stratton’s experiment and its implication: which is that the reality we take for granted—including corporeal sensation—is constructed within the brain.

[8] One can also cite the work of Julia Scher who was referred to earlier, and Angela Bulloch whose work will be examined in chapter three.

[9] Which recalls Nagisa Oshima's film  In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida), 1976. Oliveira et al. appear to be positive towards this development. Bishop, in contrast, takes a more ethical orientation believing that installation art ought to lead to ‘emancipation’.

[10] Viola pioneered the video installation, more recently one can cite Ergin Cavusoglu’s Point of Departure, 2005; and Jane and Louise Wilson’s The New Brutalists, 2006.

[11] The taste for panoramas seems to have swung from high to low. Grau reports that Goethe visited several panoramas and had one installed in his chambers. At the opposite end of the spectrum Grau cites the egregious invention of panoramic wallpaper which he notes was something of a fashion in bourgeois circles in the nineteenth century (Grau 2003: 60).

[12] ‘First presented at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, it was a hybrid medium: Ten 70mm films were projected simultaneously to form a connected 360° image’ (Grau 2003: 147).

[13] Hartmut Böhme is Professor of Cultural Theory and the History of Mind, and Director of the Institute for Cultural History  (Instituts für Kulturwissenschaften) at the Humboldt-Universität,  Berlin. He is one of the leading German thinkers in the sphere of the histories of nature and technology crossing the disciplines of philosophy, art and anthropology.

[14] And we need to make an important distinction here between the scientific use of prosthetic perception to penetrate deeper into the mysterious of nature and artistic uses of prosthetic perception that can so easily become instruments of mindless fantasy and escapism.

[15] We can also conflate Foucault and Niklas Luhmann and suggest that such regimes and disciplines are autopoietic.

[16] One can also note that this passage is central to Gilles Deleuze’s remarkable account of Nietzsche’s philosophy (Deleuze 1983).

[17] Dany Nobus (1998: 105-109) provides some background to Lacan’s development of these concepts.

[18] At this point we should outline the three ‘orders’ that form the architecture for Lacanian psychoanalysis. The Symbolic Order is language dominated by an Oedipal, patriarchal order anchored in ‘the-name-of-father’—which is to say the symbolic, or totemic, father. (Grosz 1990: 68, 103-104). Secondly, there is the ‘imaginary order’ which is described by Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy as:

the field of phantasies and images. It evolves out of the mirror stage, but extends into the adult subject’s relationships with others. The prototype of the typical imaginary relationship is the infant before the mirror, fascinated with his (sic) image. … The Imaginary Order also seems to include pre-verbal structures, for example, the various ‘primitive’ phantasies uncovered by the psychoanalytic treatment of children, psychotic and perverse patients. (Benvenuto 1986: 81)

The exact nature of the imaginary order in the Lacanian literature is somewhat inconsistent and unclear, but it appears to be mainly situated in the domain of fantasy and dreams, overlapping with the symbolic order in the mirror stage. Thirdly, there is the order of the ‘real’, which is described by Grosz as ‘the order preceding the ego and the organization of the drives. It is an anatomical, “natural” order … a pure plenitude or fullness.’ (Grosz 1990: 34).

For Lacan the three orders are intermeshed. In the 1970s Lacan used the metaphor of the Borromean knot to illustrate the implication of these three orders. The Borromean knot, or ring, is made up of three intertwined loops constructed such that if just one is cut the others fall apart. Each loop, or order, is dependent upon the others. (Benvenuto 1986: 82).

[19] In Nietzschean terms instead of feeling directly as we did as an infant we feel indirectly through a process he calls ressentiment: a social conditioning of feelings.

[20] The Amityville Horror, 1979, was a theatrical success and has been followed by sequels - Amityville II: The Possession, 1982, Amityville 3D, 1983, and The Amityville Horror, 2005, based on the book written by Jay Anson.

[21] In such extreme states of mind we enter into the film via the imaginary and in retrospect begin to understand the extent to which the imaginary constructs the ego.

[22] As the principal keeper of the cinematic Id, Hollywood—the reality studio of the American Empire—is charged with keeping the beast more or less under control. Art is not bound by such conditions.

[23] CAVE does not use inexpensive polarising filters instead it uses the more elaborate liquid crystal shutter spectacles to supply the left and right eye with the appropriate, slightly different images that the brain then knits together in the usual manner.

[24] It is, perhaps, fortunate that a massified use of HMD technology has been hampered not so much by the difficulty in making it affordable but by the unpopularity of closing off one’s eyes from the world. The sight of someone wearing an HMD and gesturing into empty space remains an extremely odd sight that possibly activates the instinct for self-preservation into vetoing such a total cut off from the world.

[25] One can note for example that Char Davies was a founding director of Softimage the company responsible for the special effects for Jurassic Park. What we begin to see is a blurring of the boundaries between mass media and art within the zone of digital art due to the fact that the same technology, computer generated imagery (but not virtual reality), is used in both spheres.

[26] The concept derives from an experiment carried out in the 1890s by the psychologist George Stratton who used similar eyeglasses that inverted his visual field. After wearing these glasses for some time and experiencing increasingly disturbing perceptual distortions Stratton’s brain eventually learnt how to reprocess the data and turn the world upright again. Stratton’s experiment supports the contention that unconscious cognitive processes take a very active role in constructing reality. Unfortunately the full experiment requires too much time and too much pain to carry out in the context of an exhibition; which makes Höller’s installation experience somewhat incomplete. But at least he has drawn the viewer’s attention to Stratton’s experiment and its implication: which is that the reality we take for granted—including corporeal sensation—is constructed within the brain.

[27] Höller’s Pealove Room, 1993, is more extreme but also less practical because its invitation to interaction is unlikely to be accepted within the gallery environment. Unoccupied Pealove Room looks like a (possibly sadistic) clinical experiment. It consists of two white crotchless harnesses (love swings) hanging from a ceiling over a mattress covered in a white sheet. On the bed is a tray with a bottle containing phenethylamine, PEA, a form of amphetamine (as is Ecstasy: dimethyl-methylene-dioxy-phenethylamine).[27] PEA is supposedly generated in the brains of people in love (amongst other chemicals). The idea is that a couple can take the drug and then suspend themselves in the harnesses in order to engage in airborne sex. Whether any visitors were sufficiently uninhibited to do so is another question. Upside Down Mushroom Room refers to the Fly Agaric or Amanita Muscaria mushroom which contains muscimol.

[28] In 2006 EyesWeb provides one of the most sophisticated camera-based embodiment systems.

[29]  Most digital art is located in the academic and commercial sector with its own infrastructure consisting of university departments and foundations (e.g. the MIT CAVS, MIT Media Lab, ZKM, i-DAT, The Banff Centre, Experimenta, etc.) and exhibitions (Ars Electronica, Isea, Siggraph etc.).

[30] Currently the youngest artists coming ‘online’ were born around 1980, and they are not especially radical in their response to the standard art college training, although they are producing interesting work in the sphere of video.

[31] Think for example of Ivor’s Choir a project in which a choral conductor trains the inhabitant of a social housing complex. The goal was to perform two choral pieces at the Albert Hall in London. In terms of social relevance and social impact on an underprivileged group of people this particular program is more significant than most of the instances of fine art cited in this book.

[32] One reality TV programme in the UK called The Salon, 2003, on Channel 4 introduced audience participation. The set was a hairdressing salon and this was accompanied by a website and email over which the audience could book places to have their hair done on television. This particular show was remarkable for its self-referentiality. When members of the audience came onto the show they talked about the show to the people who were dressing their hair, and the people dressing their hair talked about the emails that were coming in. A feedback loop emerged organically between the spectacle of the televised hair dressing salon and the messages being sent to the salon from the audience.

[33] These terms refer to Claire Bishop’s analysis of installation art (2005).

[34] One could suggest, with the considerable benefit of hindsight, that Peterman could have taken his cheese project further by selling a monumental sculpture of Wisconsin Aldrin cheese to an art gallery (the Saatchi Gallery would have been a good choice) on the basis that art galleries are now very used to sculptural objects that contain perishable materials (e.g. Sarah Lucas’ use of food). The Wisconsin farm could then rest assured that its massive stock of refrigerated Aldrin flavoured cheese would be profitably called upon at regular intervals over the coming years.

[35] (Lowry 1982: 14)

[36] There is an economic imperative at work here in that if a writer or filmmaker does not please the consumer his or her work will fail. The same is true for music and the performing arts. There is no such economic imperative for the artist who only needs to please the art institution—a closed system with its own economic engine in the form of collectors, state funded museums and auction houses.

[37] André Breton quoting Paul Reverdy in the First Manifesto of Surrealism.

[38] Evident in his analysis of Daniel Paul Schreber a German judge who suffered from schizophrenia (O’Neill 1996: 224). 

[39] Bergson continues the mystification of creative process that Freud may have encouraged by his declaration that unconscious cognition was completely different qualitatively from rational thought. The position here is that cognition is a continuum and that nonlinear cognition (creativity, intuition) complements linear cognition and vice versa.

[40] Since the rise of the appreciation of Duchamp, Dada and Surrealism that took hold in the 1960s we speak of ‘conceptual art’. This is an interesting term because it undermines the assumption that the work of art is paramount. This is an especially important observation for installation art because it is argued that this mode of art necessitates the presence of the viewer because it is unrepresentable. I would argue that it is not much more difficult to represent than is a film. In most cases a video gives a very good idea of the nature of an installation. But what is even more interesting is that in many cases one’s immediate experience of the installation is one of perplexity due to the puzzling nature of nonlinear narrative. And it is only when one reads about the work that one begins to be able to appreciate it. The only cases where an installation is unrepresentable are those in which sensation is foregrounded and it was argued in chapter two that if a work is totally focused on sensation then it is not deconstructive because it has little conceptual dimension. One can now add that works that focus on sensation do not afford the reader with an opportunity to engaged in a creative association of ideas.

[41] Take for example the instance of Stephen Thaler’s Creativity Machine. In his initial experiment Thaler was influenced by reports on near death experiences and wondered what would happen to an artificial neural network if it were dying. Tina Hesman reports that Thaler designed a program called the Grim Reaper that ‘dismantles neural networks by changing its connection weights. It is the biological equivalent of killing neurons’ she continues: ‘On Christmas Eve 1989, Thaler typed the lyrics to some of his favorite Christmas carols into a neural network. Once he'd taught the network the songs, he unleashed the Grim Reaper. As the reaper slashed away connections, the network's digital life began to flash before its eyes. The program randomly spit out perfectly remembered carols as the killer application severed the first connections. But as its wounds grew deeper, and the network faded toward black, it began to hallucinate. The network wove its remaining strands of memory together, producing what someone else might interpret as damaged memories, but what Thaler recognized as new ideas. In its death spiral, the program dreamed up new carols, each created from shards of its shattered memories. "Its last dying gasp was, 'All men go to good earth in one eternal silent night,'" Thaler said. But it wasn't the eloquence of the network's last words that captured Thaler's imagination. What excited him was how noisy and creative the process of dying was.’ (Hesman 2004). What is significant about the functioning of Thaler’s ‘creative’ neural network is that creativity is described in terms of information fragments being recombined in different ways.

[42] Gregory Moore cites Nietzsche announcing: ‘tropes are not just occasionally added to words, but constitute their most proper nature … What is usually called language is actually all figuration’ (Moore 2002: 10).

[43] In Of Grammatology Derrida writes: ‘An entire theory of the structural necessity of the abyss will be gradually constituted in our reading: the indefinite process of supplementarity has always already infiltrated presence, always already inscribed there the space of repetition and the splitting of the self. Representation in the abyss of presence is not an accident of presence; the desire of presence is, on the contrary, born from the abyss (the indefinite multiplication) of representation, from the representation of representation, etc.’ (1976: 163).

[44] Today we can add value to Hume’s ideas by noting that from the point of view of complexity studies causality is not straightforward, there are systems within systems and effects of crosstalk between systems that make specifying causal relationships problematic. Nevertheless we need the simplification offered by causal models to help make sense of our complex environment.

[45] Wikipedia item on ‘twelve tone technique’: http://www.wikipedia.org


[46] Mirror neurones constitute a part of the brain that affords humans an additional capacity for social intelligence that complements verbal language (Ramachandran 2006). Mirror neurons help us understand the bodily configurations of others which offers survival value in terms of communication (e.g. pointing) and the process of learning skills by looking at what others are doing. Unconscious mirroring of other’s gestures also suggests sympathy and connectedness. What is especially interesting about the mirror stage and mirror neurones is that they both point to a model of identity that involves an entwining of introspection with extrospection.

[47] The original German title of Benjamin's essay, ‘Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner Technischen Reproduzierbarkeit’,  is best translated as ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproduction’. However, the original, and now dated, translation ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ remains the norm.

[48] These are usually available on the internet.

[49] Books such as these are a very useful resource akin to an index for further research. But the absence of analysis is a sign of a dwindling interest in critical commentary. In this text I have tried hard to create the opposite of the name effect by introducing a critical dimension. Time will tell as to which approach is more influential, I tend to think that the name game will win.

[50] But, of course, there are instances of mass movements in the twentieth century that were seriously misguided.

[51] The date of birth also indicates to collectors how long the person has been working, which is a consideration when investing in art.

[52] Duchamp on the other hand, who was a much more influential artist within the world of art would not be known outside of the circles of the cognoscenti. But what is of interest about Duchamp is that he is a purveyor of ideas not style. If news of the Readmade ever did filter out into mass culture then it would have to be accompanied by the concept of antiart.

[53] The diminution in the critical content of art writing over the past fifteen years points to its evolution into a species of promotion. This may not be an entirely bad sign if it is symtomatic of a gradual evolution towards mass culture.

[54] I use the plumbing analogy due to having recently viewed a video made of the installation of Andreas Slominski’s Bucket of Water, a work highlighted in the last chapter. The video shows skilful plumbers at work installing a piping extension from the gallery toilet to the gallery shop. What is interesting about this video is that it is totally unlike the generic artist film which mythologises the artist-individual. One thinks, for example, of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film Le Mystère Picasso, 1956, which shows Picasso painting onto glass sheets so that we not only see the marks made by the hand of artist-genius but the great man himself. In contrast the Bucket of Water video is entirely different because we never see the artist.

There is a certain symmetry here, because the gallery visitor to Slominski’s Bucket of Water installation saw nothing except a bucket of water in the gallery shop having missed the absurdist pantomime that was the construction of the water pipeline from the gallery toilet to the bookshop. In the actual exhibition it is the viewer who is left in the dark; in the video accompanying this work it is the artist that who is removed from the picture. In Le Mystere Picasso we see the artist demonstrating his skill whereas in the Bucket of Water video we witness plumbers demonstrating their ingenuity, knowledge and skill. The artist simply supplies the absurdist idea.

[55] Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists inform us that the human social imagination can only cope with groups of up to one hundred and fifty people.

[56] Evolutionary here refers to a process of change effected via dynamic networks of power/knowledge (Foucault) that transcend any individual. Such networks are self-organising in a manner akin to Niklas Luhmann’s concept of society as an ‘autopoietic’ system.

[57] In his youth, Queneau had a brief involvement with the Surrealist movement but as a mathematician he was not impressed with what he understood as the irrationalism of Surrealism. Commenting on his work he noted that ‘The appearance may be surrealistic, but the method is not’ (BBC 2001).

[58] To use the late Australian art critic Paul Taylor’s term.


[59] There is another key problem in Bürger’s analysis which is his devotion to high culture and his dismissal of popular culture. He states: ‘The avant-garde intends the abolition of autonomous art by which it means that art is to be integrated into the praxis of life. This has not occurred, and presumably cannot occur, in bourgeois society unless it be as a false sublation of autonomous art. Pulp fiction and commodity aesthetics prove that such a false sublation exists.’ (Bürger 1984: 53–54).

[60] One can also add the discourse of fragmentation introduced by Cubism and the ambition to link art with everyday life evident in Constructivism and De Stijl.

[61] And if we were feeling vindictive and wanted somebody to blame we could quite easily target Duchamp as the principal culprit for the predicament fine art is in at the turn of the millennium.

[62] Institutions such as Ars Electronica, Isea, Banff, V2, Eyebeam, Upgrade etc.

[63] Obviously that is not possible in certain media such as sculpture, or painting,[5] but not all art needs to be situational. It is also the case that mass visual art production is not a means of avoiding capitalism. The music industry that burgeoned in the second half of the twentieth century has shown that increased social diffusion has as a corollary increased commercialism. One wonders why art dealers are so dedicated to the tradition of the extremely limited edition considering the potential profits of expanded art production.

[64] Video representation of the social action becomes a potential art object, but the work of art is the social intervention. And as there is a potential art object it is quite possible that media art will eventually become assimilated into the fine art system, because that system is more intellectually capable of recognizing the value of such work than is a mass public conditioned by consumer capitalism. What we have here is a somewhat paradoxical note of optimism that points to the fact that we cannot descend into a simplistic antithesis between fine art = bad and media art = good. The situation is considerably more complex than that. Also, one can note that if the general public are conditioned by consumer capitalism then the kinds of products produced by media art will not be able to be sold in the manner of books or music. One could place such material on Amazon but then one is confronted with marketing it. That might not be a valid proposition; which suggests that media art may eventually have to capitulate with the fine art system and its limited edition strategy in order to survive financially. Such considerations potentially, but not necessarily, deconstruct some of the presumptions that underlie the thesis of this book.

This raises a fundamental problem inherent in media art which indicates its close relationship with fine art. Books have been mass produced for hundreds of years, music for a century, film and photography as soon as they were invented. But when we examine the actual instances of media art in this chapter we will see that they are not commodities. And because of this they probably could never provide the artist with a living. Accordingly, the media artist is dependent on cultural institutions. And this is why it will probably be ultimately, and necessarily, absorbed by the fine art system because that system has learnt how to market literally anything as fine. This is not meant as a cynical observation, it is simply pragmatic. In fact it quite possibly deconstructs the notion that the art market is in some way ‘bad’ for doing what it does. Things are seldom so straightforward. Perhaps this process of turning virtually anything into a precious object could be turned to salutary ends. It is certainly the case that without it there wouldn’t be any fine art, although there might be ‘media art’.

With regard to the Midas touch that is the engine of the fine art system, we can hardly complain if poetic objects that are of little material value are given value, for example, a pile of sweets (Gonzalez-Torres) or a ball of clay rolled over a grid in a street (Gabriel Orozco), or paper boats found in park (Rivane Neuenschwander). It is a fortuitous that the fine art system can give such things economic value because ultimately that is the only value that is recognised by the social system we are encompassed by. The objects in this chapter, are similarly of little intrinsic material value but have considerable cultural value which, unfortunately, stands outside the programmed needs of the mass market. It is doubtful that the video documents of the creative communalist or relational events that I will cite in this chapter could ever be mass marketed in the manner of music or film.  And perhaps this is the umbilical cord connecting the new art with the older art.

[65] As well as the Centre d'Art Santa Monica Abad’s project was supported by the Department of Culture Generalitat de Catalunya, Nokia and the Spanish mobile telecommunications company Amena as well as Prix Ars Electronica. Gathering such sponsorship for his work can be understood as part of the social oriented and collaborative nature of his approach.

[66] The intellectual project associated with modern and postmodern art is shifting out of the sphere of fine art into the emerging domain of media art. It is noticeable that media art is beginning to create significant intellectual capital within the university sector. Books on fine art are increasingly glossy picture books whereas media art/new media art publications are often academic texts. It is also the case that the intellectual standard of art writing dropped dramatically in the 1990s, after the high point reached by the October phenomenon (Rosalind Krauss, Benjamin Buchloh, Craig Owens, Douglas Crimp, Hal Foster, Yves Alain Bois, etc.) that dominated art of the 1980s.

What dominates fine art today is the commercial gallery system. Interactive and socially oriented media art is virtually absent from this system. The commercial gallery system is ultimately focused on objects that can be sold for high prices and that promise considerable gains in value due to the ‘genius’ of the artist. This framework has been successfully transferred onto art photography and video art by limiting the edition but currently other modes of media art seem beyond the pale of the commercial gallery system.

[67] The word sarai, or caravansarai, has its roots in Mughal India and refers to an enclosed space in a city or beside a highway where travellers from all walks of life could find shelter, sustenance, and companionship.

[68] One recalls Joseph Beuys’ ridiculous lecture tour of Northern Ireland in the 1970s during ‘The Troubles’; a half-witted attempt to ‘heal’ a twisted social reality with the mystic power of the artist-genius; a kind of romantic, aesthetic Führerprinzip. He would have been better advised to stay in the sanctum of the museum where he was appreciated.