Tag Archives: Part One: Contemporary Art

Exercise 3: Tate article ‘But is it installation art?’

Reading the article ‘But is it installation art?’ by Claire Bishop, ahead of going to see contemporary work at a Gallery might actually have been a smart idea. It caused me to stop and consider how I interact with installation works, or even what they are.

I’m 25, and I can’t really remember a visit to a Gallery or exhibition where I didn’t encounter some form of installation art. In fact it seems fairly common place. So it was interesting to read an article talking about the origins of that medium. I find it helpful to consider what was it like first encountering work which challenged you as a viewer to see the space around, and presentation of a piece as part of the art work, rather than just a background to be ignored.

The article puts form to a thought I’ve had before when encountering installation works:

“In a recent issue of Artforum, James Meyer lamented the new trend for museums to endorse ‘an art of size’. He quoted critic Hal Foster on the Bilbao Guggenheim: ‘To make a big splash in the global pond of spectacle culture today, you have to have a big rock to drop.’ Big audiences are assumed to demand, and like, big works: wall-size video/film projections, oversize photographs and overwhelming sculptures. Rather than ‘inducing awareness and provoking thought’, wrote Meyer, this type of art is ‘marshalled to overwhelm and pacify’.”

I have found that often viewing installation works are overwhelming, they seem to leave me feeling drained, dull, rather than enlivened or provoked to thought or discussion. I’m not saying this is always the case, but certainly is how I feel when faced with something that fills a space or overwhelms the senses. I hadn’t ever considered this might be part of a response to cultural expectations or desires to put on a spectacle or performance to please a crowd.

The conclusion of the article is a good summary of perhaps what to look for when viewing installation art – it is a broad medium, but I agree with the sentiment that installation works should provoke thought rather than consumerism.

“Despite the dearth of a manifesto, one can nevertheless point to a persistence of certain ideas in the work of contemporary artists who continue its tradition. These values concern a desire to activate the viewer – as opposed to the passivity of mass-media consumption – and to induce a critical vigilance towards the environments in which we find ourselves. When the experience of going into a museum increasingly rivals that of walking into restaurants, shops, or clubs, works of art may no longer need to take the form of immersive, interactive experiences. Rather, the best installation art is marked by a sense of antagonism towards its environment, a friction with its context that resists organisational pressure and instead exerts its own terms of engagement.”


Project 3: Exercise 2 Developing your research skills

Listening to Katie Paterson’s piece Vatnajokull I had a number on reactions. Firstly it’s fascinating to hear the sound of glaciers, thousands of miles away breaking apart. We find ourselves suddenly able to hear a sound from a place we might otherwise never encounter. The phone line provides a link to a place which most of us have little consideration or concept of. As I continued to listen the extract I noticed that after a few minutes it had become background noise. The sound itself is soothing, almost lulling to me, ironic when it’s the sound of glaciers melting, and all the chaos that climate change entails.

She explores the sense of place in creating a work which exists in multiple places, there’s the actual live recording happening in the Jökulsárlón lagoon, an outlet lagoon of the glacier Vatnajökull in Iceland. Then there’s the representation of place in a phone number, linking you to the physicality of the recording in the lagoon. But then it seems in some exhibitions, namely the Frieze exhibition in New York 2012, that the artist introduces further work to help viewers engage with the issue of place by including film footage of the glacier in Iceland.

I discovered that the piece seemed to evolve over time, the initial showing of the piece was in her MFA show at Slade in 2007, and viewers were faced with the Neon sign of the phone number, and presumably some explanatory text. But over the course of the exhibition added to the piece were records of all the numbers of people who had called the phone line in Iceland, 10,000 in total!

In considering Paterson’s use of text I wonder why she chose to use a Neon Sign to display the phone number? Neon as a medium has for me such strong associations with commercialism, advertising, attention seeking, perhaps it seemed a good medium to hold the viewers gaze and demand their interaction with the piece?

I found an article about the Artist in Vice Magazine online which helped me to see a range of Paterson’s work. In works like, ‘100 Billion Suns’ and ‘All the Dead Stars’  we see her preoccupation with capturing elements of space, or the universe and giving them a proximity, putting them into ‘a place’ in visible tangible art works for us to begin to try and capture a sense of what ‘space’ consists of. I found it all really fascinating and illuminating!

Project 3: Place in art – Exercise 1


Notes on reading academic text:

On my first read through of the text I attempted to make notes, in a broad sense in my sketchbook. I actually found this harder than expected. So after a short time abandoned this to just allow myself space to just read the text. You can see some of my initial notes below:

Notes on place essay 1






notes on place essay pt2








I found the second read through of the text easier as I already felt somewhat familiar with the trajectory of the essay. However it is still an essay which seems to have a broad scope, it covers the dark ages to the present day in a very small space, throwing out the names of many Philosophers, Scientists, and Artists that I am unfamiliar with. I found it hard to actually understand the subject being referred to when I’m not familiar with those thinkers or writers being mentioned. I also wonder how long it would take me to actually research those names in order to get a better sense of context.

Here’s my summary of the text:

Place is difficult to define, and people have wrestled with it’s definition over the ages. Today we seem preoccupied with the idea of place as an unseen space or perhaps a sense, we talk about ‘everything having or being it’s correct place’ and that can apply to ordering of physical items or ordering of emotions. Scientists tried to define place within the broader sense of ‘space’ and as such tried to limit it to things that could be measured by man, and removed any consideration of the value of place, beauty or human experience of place. Artists began to consider how we project ourselves and our sense our value onto places around us, and as such attributed emotional connotations or memories to place. This suggests that place can be experienced differently by each individual and is as much to do with human perception as it is to do with physical land masses, or land features e.g. rivers, etc. It finishes with suggesting that art and place are strongly linked, “… to make art (which is also to think about it) is to make place”.


Research Point: Artists mentioned in Essay who use text to describe ‘place’:

Firstly from the Essay it was hard to know which Artists mentioned work included text, but there were a couple that seemed clearly to use text:

Ian Hamilton Finlay:

Finlay is described on the Tate website as a Concrete poet, a term I’d not heard of before. Looking at his work shortly it’s not heard to see why, there’s a prevalence of concrete sculptures inscribed in a serif fonts or Roman typefaces

I found this article in the Guardian helpful for a look at the life of the artist and to give me a sense of context when looking at his work.

The piece I looked at, in the form of a photograph on the Tate website is called, Monument, 1991.

I think this piece makes reference to place in a number of ways, firstly the watering cans, instantly bring the garden to mind. Without any sense of knowing the artists history, it seems a little strange. But when you consider ‘Little Sparta’ the garden and it’s sculptures curated and loved by Finlay as a Home then the watering cans seem more significant. They begin to seem like symbols of home, or symbols of those people’s names (on the watering cans) and tie those people to a place, to his world, to his universe as it were.

Douglas Huebler :

The Essay mentions Huebler’s series ‘Location’ – but I couldn’t find any images which allowed me to read the text in the piece, so I’ll make some comments on the piece below:

Duration Piece #6, 1968

In all honesty I have no initial idea how to analyse this piece, or make sense of it. But I’ll attempt to form some response to it. It’s interesting a time sensitive, site specific work, that is captured and frozen into a sense of place or time, by the description in the text and the polaroid images. The dust is subject to the space it’s presented in, although we don’t know whether the dust was moved by the artist, or the environment, effects of nature or effects of man. I can’t decide what significance if any to give to the location of the work. Did we need to know the specifics of the building and floor which it was placed on? Does that give us some sense of grounding or reality to a piece that seems to conceptual?

I’m not sure what to add and am unsure without further input from the artist how to see the piece, and maybe that’s the point the artist has already tried to frame our response to it, through photographs and descriptions that I’m not sure how to look at it with my own perspective.

Project 2: Exercise 2- Interpreting video art

Notes on Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Life:

Initial response after first viewing:

I think it’s interesting she’s taken a theme or arrangement we’re used to seeing in a painted medium. I think by putting real fruit before us and filming it’s decay you start to reconsider how well painting captures life or death. There’s something in the medium used, film which allows the viewer to go beyond first presentation of an arrangement to see the effect of time.

The title is really in juxtaposition to the piece – it’s not a ‘Still Life’ in the sense that the fruit appears to be moving and harbouring growth (mould) even in its decay. The film itself has a duration, it’s not still.

I also wonder is the pen significant? It seems to be the object least affected by a process of decay, or it certainly takes awhile for any mould or dust to touch it. It seems like the only ‘modern’ or mass produced object in the arrangement, why?

Media & Form of the piece:

The medium here seems an essential part of telling or creating a narrative – the speeding up of the process of decay is made possible by using this technology. We are provide an overview of the process rather than being forced to endure it’s natural length. It’s interesting to think about what this piece would’ve been like as an installation in a real gallery space, the viewer watching as it gradually decayed, it’s not nearly as dramatic.

The composition of the piece – the fruit bowl in a large dominant shape in the centre, draws the eye. But it’s interrupted visually by the ball point pen in the  right hand corner of the piece. So your attention feels a little divided between the objects.

Light & Shadow – falling on the objects, gives a sense of time passing, without which it would be less apparent.

Contextual Information:

Initial thoughts before research into Sam Taylor Wood’s other work or work of a similar theme:

  • use of medium of film or photography – interesting in an age where we view so many things on screens or through film/TV. I think we find it easier as a younger generation to engage with this because it’s so familiar.
  • The arrangement of a cluster of objects centrally, and the mottled background, and strong shadows underneath objects is a visual reminder of the vanitas paintings of the 1800’s.


  • filmed over 9 weeks with a 16mm film camera.
  • she referenced Caravaggio’s still life with a basket of fruit – for arranging the composition.
  • Pen added as a visual link to it being a modern piece, or a piece of this age rather than being a piece that is too heavily linked to the renaissance.
  • Sam Taylor Woods own personal battles with Cancer – these seem to have marked her work with a fascination with mortality.
  • Pieta – another work by Taylor-Wood in 2001, again makes use of a renaissance motif or image which she recreates with a modern muse or character (Robert Downy Jr.)

I watched part of an Artist-talk she did at the Tate and it helped to expand on the theme’s she explores.



293 words Describing my personal understanding of the piece:

In Sam Taylor-Wood’s piece Still Life we find ourselves watching a carefully arranged bowl of fruit decaying rapidly, over the course of 3-4 minutes. Initially I was struck by how we can only face the reality of decay by this medium. The use of time lapse filming enables the viewer to engage with a process that actually happened over 9 weeks. Taylor-Wood has confronted us with a visual that could be a metaphor for life, the gradual decay of the human body, over the course of years. Perhaps a process that we are unaware of until a certain stage of life, perhaps it’s somewhat cruel to force us to consider this process whilst its effects are not so severe. Or perhaps it’s a cautionary tale, that life is fleeting, energy is fleeting, live well whilst you can.

I find it hard now to divorce the content of the film from knowledge of Taylor-Wood’s own battle with Cancer, before the making of this piece. Cancer as a thing which like mould spreads throughout the body, if left unchecked or untamed. So you see my problem, I now see the piece as a strange visual projection of the effect of Cancer on the human body.

I think it would be foolish also not to acknowledge some of the clear references the piece makes to other artists work. The arrangement of the bowl of fruit, seems so careful and deliberate, it’s positioning centrally, the light and the shadows which fall across it. All these things seem to point to Caravaggio’s Still Life with a Basket of Fruit. I find it interesting then that she does include a very clear visual to give the work a sense of placement in the modern era, a ball point pen.

Project 2: Formalism

Notes on reading chapter 2 of Art History: The Basics:

New terms:

Naturalism, Semi-figurative, Semi-abstract, total abstraction.

“Looking carefully at these abstract examples and attempting to describe what hits our retina, helps us to understand how these works were made and what aesthetic effects they produce. Regardless of what other meanings or connotations they may have, when we first encounter entirely abstract works of art, we primarily rely upon our visual response to the juxtaposition of forms and colours…” p.42 Art History: the basics, Pooke & Newall 2008.

I found the following quote helpful to me as a reminder that use of materials can provide a basis for looking into contextual issues or statements about the age we lived in etc…

“Close attention to the particularities of any aesthetic object provides an initial point from which we might discuss broader issues of context, meaning and value.” p.47 Art History: the basics, Pooke & Newall 2008.

Formalism leads to Modernism, a movement or theory largely promoted by critic named Greenberg. But he seemed to want to divorce art from any sense of context, political or social, and as we entered the 1960’s/1970’s the form of art seemed to shift and critics began to propose a new movement in art ‘post-modernism’.

I found reading the chapter interesting but it’s hard to keep up with the breadth of artists, or commentator’s it discusses, particularly when many of these names are new to me!