Monthly Archives: Iunie 2012

Reading (corporally) artistic projects in art-and-technology

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The main problem brought upon contemporary art is the lack of a comprehensive art theory that could master all artistic manifestations on a common axis of interpretation. Lev Manovich proposes software as a concept through which art history could be reinterpreted and understood. In the same line of thought follow McCormack and Dorin when they introduce the concepts of computational sublime and anti-sublime, or Edward Sanken, starting from Jack Burnham and reconsidering art-and-technology phenomenon through conceptualism. Ever since artistic practices can no longer be organized depending on the medium of expression because of the proliferation of artistic expressions such as „assemblage, procesual art, intermediality, time-based art” (Manovich, “Post-media aesthetics”), a more theoretic approach has been proposed: a classification of artistic practices that takes into consideration the user as a body.

In this paper I will consider, from the user’s point of view, immersive and reactive installations, alternative natures and a few instances of body art. According to Shanken, conceptualism “focuses, rather, on examining the preconditions for how meaning emerges in art, seen as a semiotic system.” (434). Paraphrasing his statement in relation to the above-mentioned artistic practices, what matters is to examine the preexistent conditions to “the feeling of what happens” (Antonio Damasio) in the user’s body, through cognitivist methods. Therefore conceptualism and art-and-technology intersect one another in meta-critic points of interest, where auto-reflexivity questions the materiality of artistic objects.

In the sixties, when Dan Flavin began working with fluorescent tubes he was not reiterating Duchamp’s artistic strategy of ready-mades. His intention was not that of questioning the normative definition of art, “for him, the ready-mades simply serve as formal elements of his art.” (Marzona 15). This is no attempt at pushing art’s boundaries any further for the simple fact that there are no boundaries to be pushed any more. Artistic proposals are considered in themselves, and they are no longer validated by being featured in an art gallery or present in a museum.

Dan Flavin cancelled out the expositional space precisely by taking it into consideration in the creative process: his works with fluorescent tubes became more and more site-specific. He would thus orchestrate a series of optical illusions and perceptual errors for the viewer to experience by strategically positioning the light fixtures:

“I knew that the actual space of a room could be disrupted and played with by careful, thorough composition of the illuminating equipment. For example, if a 244 cm fluorescent lamp be pressed into a vertical corner, it can completely eliminate that definite juncture by physical structure, glare and doubled shadow.” (Flavin qtd. in Marzona 16)

Deconstructing and reconstructing space through artificial light may serve as a starting point in discussing the effect that technological means have on counterfeiting world view perception when they recreate natural phenomena. The viewer’s perception of the environment he is in is falsified, altered, adjusted, controlled and so forth. His main quality as a viewer, that of an observer, is overrated since his glance is no longer on a fixed trajectory to a unique object, which is singled out in the exhibition space. To be present in a space or in a situation fabricated by Dan Flavin results in the abatement of the viewer down to the status of a structural component – as he is in architecture – meaning he is predisposed to perceptual manipulations, he can feel as though he is dissolving or changing color in harmony with the environment. The question arises: to what end?

To create awareness in reference to the ways by which the human perceptual system has evolved is one of the main achievements of this kind of artistic endeavor. Since the human organism, any living organism for that matter, gets around in the world relying on a continuous feedback loop between inside and outside, having to appropriate visual, sound, and infra technologies and then integrate them within the frames of reality triggers into action internal regulating mechanisms. Nowadays we are accustomed to take digitization and virtualization for granted, not doubting their accuracy for a second.

In 1994, Jeffrey Shaw exhibited “The Golden Calf”: on a white pedestal (mind the sculptural component) there was a portable computer screen. When the viewer would hold the screen he could see a computer-generated image of a calf standing on a white pedestal. By moving the pedestal around in the room the viewer could see the calf from different angles as if he were holding the animal in his hands.

Gabriella Giannachi mentions this case in Virtual Theatres and highlights the fact that “not only does the real pedestal not have a calf standing on it, but the virtual pedestal is not a precise replica of the real one.” (153) Starting from this, she draws on three characteristic of the relationship between the real and the virtual:

“first, one simulates the other but they do not coincide with each other; second, the virtual has to be performed (‘danced’, in this case), to become visible or active; third, the performance of the virtual is in itself an act of theatre because it allows the viewer (and possibly any other spectator who may find themself in the proximity of the viewer) to look at the real from a distance.” (Giannachi 154)

That a performance act is established by the mere presence of some witnesses who become spectators in the process is debatable – in this particular instance, from the artist’s point of view, the exhibition is not to become a performance but be experienced by one viewer at a time. Such interactive exhibits should not create the opportunity for a witness or a bystander. They are meant to be either experienced simultaneously by those present in the room or the access is to be restricted to one viewer at a time. The performative dimension is secondary to the artistic experience and it represents an undesired effect of the exhibition setting.

Giannachi is quick to state the inadequacy of virtuality to reality and their dim coincidence, but is this the case? Virtuality and virtual reality feed upon the cognitive baggage of the user. Andy Clark demonstrates in Supersizing the brain the importance of “transparent equipment” (10). The illusion of the calf on the pedestal fails because the viewer is very aware of his role as a user, he is aware of the fact that what he is holding is not a window though which he can look without the frame interfering; he is holding a visualization device, a portable computer screen. The illusion will succeed if the user trains his brain and acquires new cognitive aptitudes by repeatedly using the device. Behavioral and perceptual adaptability have been long underestimated until now, according to Clark. As long as the user is aware of the device’s control buttons his experience is similar to “that of a kind of alert game player rather than that of an agent genuinely located inside the virtual world.” (10).

To adjust and adapt are common processes once we accept our cognitive nature. This is our way of managing the exterior world, by acquiring new skills and fine tuning them. One’s connection to the reality, whichever that may be, is mediated by experience. In this sense, we could say that immersive, interactive and reactive art installations contribute to “corporal literacy” (Sarah Rubidge). This training is vital: from an evolutionary point of view, Clark notices that language is an invented structure which requires constant practice, both on the inside and on the outside. Conscience is not constructed by/through language, but linguistic forms and structures create a supra-layer through which we operate. Clark’s observation is that we manifest a tendency for “cumulative complexity”. When it comes to virtual reality and artificial life, alternative plans and telematics schemes, experiments in contemporary art start resembling a series of exercises we must perform in order to better adjust to our own reality. We may not be able to control technological development, but we are responsible of programing in the latest innovation into our cognitive system.

“We do not just self-engineer better worlds to think in. We self-engineer ourselves to think and perform better in the worlds we find ourselves in. We self-engineer worlds in which to build better worlds to think in. We build better tools to think with and use these very tools to discover still better tools to think with.” (Clark 59)

Clark pursues this rationale to the educational practices that allow us to grow accustomed to everything we have invented and planned insofar that we can make them more user-friendly while we become more competent in using them.

Since we have become so advanced in these tactics, sometimes it takes a perceptual error for us to understand the unconscious mechanisms through which we process the environment and on the basis of which we operate. Sarita Dev and Maurits Kelder point out in the artist statement for the interactive multi-user installation “Himalaya’s Head” that their intention was to make the users aware of their own retinal flow. The retinal flow happens when we move in space and our head also moves. The simulation scenario the artist imagined was a mountain landscape that users look at when they notice a 3D snowball.

Each participant wears a lightweight, cardboard head beacon, which is equipped with three infrared LEDs. There is a web cam positioned above the participants that oversees and captures the movement of the LEDs; the cam feeds the information into a computer that uses it to calculate participants’ head positions and to generate in real time a 3D world and its dynamic 3D objects. The 3D mountain landscape is projected on three adjoining screens where users see and control 3D moving snowballs. But here comes the trick:

“In Himalaya’s Head, a 3D snowball connected via sensors to a participant’s head movements moves more slowly and in a different way than the participant expects, giving him or her the feeling of moving his or her head through thick syrup.” (Dev and Kelder 17)

“The sensation that things are not happening at a normal pace” (idem) is produced by a mismatch between head movements and the retina’s flow of information. The brain identifies this as an internal error and the effect becomes hypnotic.

In Deconstructing Installation Art, Coulter-Smith approaches the problem of mediated perception in the works of Carsten Höller. Unconscious processes are based upon cognitive deductions and the brain reconstructs the world as we experience it, including corporal sensations (Coulter-Smith, “Interaction: the difficult birth of the reader”). Carsten Höller is often inspired in his artistic endeavors by studies and experiments of neurologists and psychologists. He prefers subjects considered common knowledge so that his demonstrations are simple and eloquent. “Light Wall” was inspired by neurologist Hans Berger who discovered brain waves, particularly the alpha wave, thus laying the grounds for the electroencephalogram.

Höller shares the same intention as Dev and Kelder – he wants to interfere with unconscious mechanisms of the brain. One studies brain activity during periods of abnormality, induced through drugs or chemicals, or in patients who have had serious cerebral problems. Höller build a so-called “consciousness altering machine” (idem): on a 19m gallery wall he mounted 3.552 25-watt incandescent light bulbs, that flashed light at a 8.5 Hz frequency. The artist was interested in the “phenomenon of neuro-feedback wherein our perception of certain frequencies can induce mental activity to synchronize with the stimulus frequency” (idem). In this case, the frequency of 8.5 Hz corresponds to the alpha wave of calmness and relaxation. Participants do not need special technological equipment, they only have to close their eyes (otherwise the light is too strong) and there will be a synchronizing effect with the light pulsation.

Fritz Albert-Pop and other molecular biologists discovered that the DNA emits a weak light pulsation, notes Roy Ascott in Engineering Nature. It “has been demonstrated to work like a communication system between cells and even between larger organisms”, therefore the suggestion that there is “an information network of light not only within the body but also throughout and between all living things.” (Ascott, “Ontological Engineering” 75)

Ascott, as both theoretician and artist, is focused on shared consciousness. There have been speculations about the DNA in this sense: 3% of DNA explains the existence of all species on Earth, and no one can account for what the rest does. Some proposed the hypothesis that it serves to interconnect all existing species on a common communication ground. Ascott believes that artists who work in the margin of consciousness do not make it their intention to explain or to discover something groundbreaking: “more a matter of exploring how it might be navigated, altered, or extended; in short, reframed” (2). He makes a link between experiencing virtual reality and shamanism, to the extent that the shaman is “the one who ‘cares’ about consciousness” and who “in his altered states of awareness engages with disembodied entities, avatars and the phenomena of other worlds” (67-68).

The shamantic web that artists build with their immersive installations and virtual realities is precisely the combination shamanic-semantic which allows the exploration of consciousness and the construction of meaning. Sarah Rubidge’s corporal literacy is obtained through what Ascott calls cyber-perception – which is “as much active and constructive, as it is receptive and reflective”; at this point a thing called “techno-qualia” emerges, defined as “a whole new repertoire of senses” (69). Artists, philosophers and neuroscientists have mutual interests now.

To better understand the relationship between gaze and construction, I shall elaborate on the concept of alternative (or parallel) nature, by which I define a certain type of art installations. Just as we can scan and analyze our body by making visible the otherwise impenetrable interior, some artists set up sound or visual installations that make audible, respectively visible, so-called parallel realities, which are made up of real, natural things that are inaccessible to human senses. This is what I call alternative nature.

One example of an alternative nature is “Sonicity”, a work by Stanza, defined on the official website as: “a responsive installation, a sonification of the real space and environment.” (“Sonicity by Stanza”) It reacts to the same stimuli that we use to analyze the environment: variations in temperature, light and noise, both in the gallery space and in the exterior (the city) are captured in real time by wireless sensors and replayed through 170 speakers as a soundscape.

The work attempts to bring into focus the way in which we perceive the environment, making the user aware of his “wireless sensors” that keep him in contact with exterior physical conditions, picking up information and decoding it in the brain. On the other hand, there is a resemblance to John Cage’s experiment 4’33’’: a musical piece of silence which consisted of accidental background noises – random noises and imperfections of the sound atmosphere. A similar intention lies behind Stanza’s work: unnoticeable variations in temperature, humidity, pressure and light are rendered in sound as to become perceptible to the awake senses – our body has hidden sense which adapt without our knowing it to stimuli we do not notice.

Designer team Troika conceived an alternative nature in the electromagnetic field: “Still Life with Timer”. Their arrangement, similar to a still life of objects, consists from strategically positioning on a table various electric and electronic devices.

Their position produces a soundtrack of electromagnetic waves which can be listened to with the Electroprobe – “a magnetic microphone for a parallel soundscape that explores our relation to what we perceive as inanimate objects revealing a secret life of its own.” (“Troika”)

The user can hear a “magnetic” orchestra, which produces a collection of sounds described by the artists as “electric babbling, magnetic hums, inaudible whistles.” (idem) The most important aspect of this ‘static life’ is that it allows the user to explore an unknown yet perpetually present dimension – the soundscape of his daily activities: it initiates a familiarizing process with electric and electronic devices whilst technology seems to come alive.

But to get closer to the human body we should consider non-intrusive methods of visualizing the interior of our organism. Stephen Wilson, in his impressive study Information Arts: Intersections of Art Science and Technology, marks the importance of innovations in the medical field in the 19th century which allowed photographic renderings of the body, through endoscopy, gastroscopy and especially through X-rays. In the 20th century something more dramatic was invented: Magnetic Resonance Imagining. Such controversial methods of scanning the human body generated intense debates on philosophic, ethics and aesthetics grounds. Wilson mentions The Critical Art Ensemble – a group of artists and theoreticians that encourages a critical approach of new technologies in biology and medicine, so much so that they consider this technological progress to be controlled by capitalist expansion. Their dark predictions talked about the dangers of a “complete visualization and mapping of the brain” because it would offer the necessary information for capitalists to colonize the human control center, just as further DNA studies would lead to a new eugenics ideology, and artificial or transgenic organs would cause another crisis. In this line of thought, Wilson concludes that the main danger represented by the complete scan of the human body is its unprecedented public exposure to surveillance. And it was not long before artists started to explore this vulnerability.

Wilson, as Ascott, is the author of artistic works that employ technology. In “Bodysurfing” he addresses the issue of the outworn body. The process of ageing and of becoming redundant incite interest in the cyber era where “identity, relationships and actions in the world are more and more (inter)mediated, electronic and at a distance” (Burnham, “Body surfing”).

The most prolific artist and performer for this subject is Stelarc. For him, “ONCE A CONTAINER, TECHNOLOGY now BECOMES A COMPONENT OF THE BODY.” (Stelarc qtd. Giannachi 55) He violated the intimacy of the body and the internal organs in “Stomach Sculpture” by installing a video camera inside himself. With the help of nanotechnology he was able to broadcast live. Stelarc’s intention was to introduce a work of art in his body and to mark the dissolution of art and of aesthetics. In yet another instance, “Amplified Body”, he showed his heart rate, amplified at a electrocardiograph monitor. An ultrasonic system would convert the sounds of opening and closing valves and the visitor would hear pumping and gushing blood from the heart.

His artistic endeavors unfold on the strip between human and technological. “Event for Amplified Body/ Laser Eyes and Third Hand” constituted a demonstration of technologically upgrading the sensorial and motor skills:

“[t]here are four kinds of movements in my performances: the improvised movement of the body, the movement of the robot hand, which is controlled by sensors in my stomach and leg muscles, the programmed movement of the artificial arm, and the movement of my left arm when it’s involuntarily agitated by an electric current. It’s the interaction of these voluntary, involuntary, and computerized movements that I find interesting.” (Stelarc qtd. Giannachi 57)

This naturally triggers a human – technology imbrication which is unreadable from a cognitive point of view. Stelarc claims that after years of performances and training “he no longer needs to actively control the third hand in order to move it as he wishes” (Clark 33), meaning he no longer tracks mentally the impulses by which he cerebrally activates the mechanic trigger that controls the sensors in his abdomen and leg. He has acquired a new member which he treats as “transparent equipment” and it was all possible due to the amazing corporal adapting resources the human body possesses. Ultimately, Stelarc seems to agree with Clark’s observation: the artist is not trying to build a perfect body, a technological hybrid, there is no utopic agenda, what he is trying to do is to showcase some of the body remodeling possibilities “given that the body has become profoundly outdated in the intense informational environment it created” (Stelarc qtd. Wilson 153). Therefore technological implants are the next step in this evolution of adjusting and readjusting, inventing and reinventing better worlds in which to think and better equipped bodies with which to build better worlds to think in.

If in Stelarc’s works the ethical implications (and complications) are latent, Marcel.lí Antúnez Roca empowers visitors to command the work of art; they become users of the artist’s body.

In the performance „Epizoo”, he offered them the choice of inducing him with pain or with pleasure: connected to various activators placed on his body, Antúnez Roca was laying on a table, and users would manipulate his body through a touch screen. The main problem interactivity poses is how easily it can turn into a control instrument: visitors abandon their role as voyeurs to become torturers. He wanted to point out: “the depersonalization of human relationships, the blurred boundary between sex and power, and the use of computers as instruments of control” (Antúnez Roca qtd. Giannachi 65). And yet the most disturbing element form an ethical and political point of view is not the artist, but the user who is indeed placed in a power situation and does not hesitate to execute it. It is the human in us and not technology that creates this kind of dilemmas. Still some of the visitors to “Epizoo” yielded their power and turned off the computer who controlled the pleasure/pain activators.

At the other end of corporal exposure are works like the mist installations of Ann Veronica Janssens, “Blur Building” by Diller + Scofidio or Olafur Eliasson’s projects. These vapor-like environments make the visitor aware of his body becoming transparent which leads to an unsettling out-of-the-body experience. Art historian Mieke Bal describes the experience of one of Janssens’ mist installation in terms of “nothing”, “nowhere”, “no place” because she cannot speak in positive terms, there is no “space” – it has been dissolved. The experience feels like pure happiness. But gradually the immersion in this environment proves to be a sensorial-depriving experience as the visitors become used to the fog and adjusted in the non-space.

“The change in the space consisted of a gradual, partial receding of the absolute opacity of the white that surrounded me and that stuck to my skin, challenging my sense of my own boundaries. Because when this receding took place I became aware of my own dissolution.” (Ball qtd. Coulter-Smith, “Mists of immediacy”)

One photo captures a visitor lifting his shirt and feeling his body, re-acknowledging his existence by touch. In this case Coulter-Smith’s observation is that “conscious perception requires a self that perceives” (Coulter-Smith, “Mists of immediacy”). When the observing agent loses his boundaries, perception turns from an active process into a submissive captivity-like state.

“Blur Building” is a ‘building’ made by Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio in 2001 out of fog, ‘erected’ at the end of the dock overlooking lake Neuchatel, in Yverdon-Les-Bains, Switzerland. Visitors went through a 20-minute survey that was meant to help customize their braincoats, that is translucent raincoats programmed to match their personal “profile”. Mark Hansen describes the experience in his paper “Wearable Spaces” and recounts the immersion in an “amorphous, cloudlike mass looming above the lake beneath you” (Hansen 323), a fog undulating around the other visitors, giving the atmosphere a certain substance that at first felt uncomfortable. Any visual or auditory reference point with the shore was lost, and the new territory was organized by LED columns in key-positions. Such a column displayed adjectives that described one’s personality based on the answers one gave at the survey. The encounter with another visitor generated a change in the color of the raincoat: the same shed of red meant they had matching personalities. Hansen confesses to have been reluctant and afraid of interacting with other visitors and preferred to hurry to the stairs that went above the fog.

Diller + Scofidio’s project took a step further the speculations on liquid architecture (Giannachi) and kinetic epidermal architecture (Moloney), which envision smart, electronic, sensitive buildings. According to these artists, in an utopian scenario all those highly sophisticated technologies

“would be entirely invisible, leaving only their effects,[…] architecture would dematerialize and electronic media, normally ephemeral, would become palpable in space.” (Diller and Scofidio qtd. Hansen 329)

However, Blur was a building hard to navigate; when expectations would be toward clarity and vision, the artists overthrow them by the all-obscuring fog. Hansen defines it as “a kind of machine ‘for rebalancing senses’”; particularly, to quote the creators, “Blur Building” furnishes “an immersive environment in which the world is put out of focus so that our visual dependency can be put into focus” (idem). In this scheme of things, the braincoat functioned as an “acoustic prosthesis” for the body’s navigational system, remarks Hansen. But he cannot point out which body system makes the sensorial excess of disoriented movements in non-space become “a profound and intense spatial experience” (Hansen 330).

Olafur Eliasson is an artist preoccupied with the theoretic aspects of art-and-technology projects, which aim for visual and corporal literacy. Often times he uses weather phenomena in his works in an attempt to artificially recreate them in the museum and to study their aesthetic properties. Eliasson has a special perspective on the natural world and our interactions with it. He is well-known for the manner in which he incorporates laws of physics, neurology and optical illusions in projects or spaces that have to be experienced bodily. It is his way of inviting the audience to re(accustom) themselves to natural phenomena such as fog, light, color, refraction. Mirrors, kaleidoscopes, stroboscopic lamps, visible spectrum, water, immersive works of colored fog, these are some of the basics of Eliasson. Beyond the common ground of physical phenomena and the optical realm, the coherence of his artistic portfolio resides in a new perspective on how art is read in the space of a museum.

“By making visible the mechanics of his works and laying bare the artifice of the illusion, Eliasson points to the elliptical relationship between reality, perception, and representation.” (Marcoci, Biesenbach “Take Your Time”)

Or, in other words, he highlights the subtle distinction between nature and culture while views swing between one and the other.

The motto of this kind of reading is “take your time”: visitors have a time-based immersive experience. Therefore the viewer needs to establish himself in the fabricated space in order to discover the delicate boundaries of illusion and artifice. The visitor is expected to be patient and willing to take his time in order to see and un-see the illusion. This oscillatory state requires a particular way of experiencing duration without which the artistic project cannot unfold. This is the principle at work in “Beauty”, an installation that consists from a thin layer of water droplets on which light is projected in a dark room – the point Eliasson makes is that in the absence of a viewer the light does not divide in the colors of the spectrum therefore beauty is literally in the eye of the beholder.

Another perspective on “take your time”, the one Eliasson promotes, is in reference to the institution of the museum which to serve solely as a depositary of art, conserving it for future generations, acknowledging it as art and making it timeless. This is where the paradigm shift occurs – from works of art stuck in museum collections, that are rarely exhibited, to immersive installations which not only cannot be contained and preserved but do not exist without being seen. The visit to the museum is transformed in an extended experience which allows visitors to take back their time, to absorb and consume the work.

Eliasson’s approach derives from kinetic and op art experiments, which he integrates in a new kind of immersive art that has movement at its core. Be it real or delusive, movement is always taken into consideration as the artist calculates distances and angles in an attempt to abolish central perspective. Subjectivity and cognitive processes are implied at a level similar to second-order cybernetics. An observed system is a system in which the observer interferes since the act of observing influences the system and the observer. The cybernetic of cybernetics relies on this principle, and so does Eliasson’s body of work; one gives meaning to the world by feeling it, observation and participation are mediated by senses. He exhibits beautiful and seductive appearances but the intention is to avoid spectating and to favor seeing forcing the revelation that reality is a construct of the mind. It is safe to say that Eliasson’s works represent kinetic and optic models of reality, deployed in the domain of dissolved art, founded upon YES – Your Engagement Sequence (the subjectivity of the temporal commitment implied in any perception).

Eliasson’s thought-experiments function so well because he exposes the apparatus that makes the illusion possible. The viewer can always check and see for himself how the light effect is realized, how the mechanical parts are set into motion in order to be aware at all times that his mind is actually the master of the illusion. Perception is made an object of consciousness, and the influence of Maurice Merleau Ponty is obvious. Eliasson tries to go beyond cultural conventions that separate us into different categories of interpreters and attempts to obtain a common ground where everyone can join in the experience. Weather is such a common leveler, a safe conversation topic or an element that influences moods, and more importantly weather engulfs the specifics of our living environment. “The Weather Project” from Tate Modern is a classic Eliasson phenomenon-producer which also addresses issues of the museum institution. A giant semi-circular form was installed at one end of the Turbine Hall, mirrors were placed on the ceiling and colored haze infused the space. A perpetual glow made the eyes pulsate to the blinding light that came from what appeared as an enormous sun, a shape resulted from the reflection of the mirror in the ceiling which doubled the height of the space. There are artificially created clouds floating around the room according to a weather prognosis programmed by the artist, and “the wavelength generated by the yellow neon leads the eye to record only colours ranging from yellow to black, transforming the visual field into an extraordinary monochrome landscape.” (May 27)

Despite the stage management and the implicit institutional politics, “The Weather Project” is a work about an audience living in a counterfeit environment, mesmerized by dematerialization, tricked by the duplicated space, and subject to its own perception. Once the clouds dissipate the mirrors reflect the image of the viewers beneath caught in the act of seeing.

In 2008, Eliasson installed four waterfalls on Hudson River in New York. His initial inspiration have been the hikes in Iceland where one finds his way by deciphering the landscape, distances are calculated by the speed with which the scenery changes in comparison to a fixed point. Waterfalls are considered to be a good guiding mark point since the speed with which water is falling relative to the speed one is walking can be used to calculate distances. Eliasson’s aim was to give a new dimension to New York: Big Apple did not seem as huge since one of the waterfalls could be seen or heard at any time. The common tendency is to consider fixed points as landmarks, while mobile points are questionable since they seem incomplete, unfinished. In order to counteract this, Modernism has transformed time and space in formal notions.

Eliasson makes a proposition that “if people are given tools and made to understand the importance of a fundamentally flexible space, we can create a more democratic way of orienting ourselves in our everyday lives” (Eliasson 19).

The inert object has enjoyed a very good reputation so far, maybe too good: its immobility becomes synonymous with impenetrable – dismantled though in kinetic sculpture, op art or in processual art installations. The concept of YES[1] essentially transforms art reception theories by considering basic notions that regard orientation skills and cognitive methods. Eliasson stands apart from his fellow artists by his commitment: he advocates for an engaged spectator, he is himself an engaged artist in society reflecting on art’s impact on the common worldview. According to his artistic program, art can be a “participant in society” and it “can contribute with reflections of a spatial nature; it can have political, social and aesthetic impact in non-artistic practices as well” (20).

An example of this attitude is “Green River”, a series of interventions in the public space done by Eliasson in five different cities around the world in three years: he would pour in a river a non-polluting solution that turned the water green. The aim was to challenge the inhabitants’ perception regarding a natural element in their city to which they are so accustomed they no longer notice. The dialectics reality/representation, dynamic/static explodes in a brief moment of hyperrealism.

“The way we experience public spaces is more to do with the way representation and iconography influence our sense and our habits of seeing. A lot of people see urban space as an external image they have no connection with, not even physically,” (Obrist 17) explains Eliasson in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist.

He is trying to fight against the commodification of experience induced by entertainment which suspends time and avoids self-reflection and identity issues. The viewer in the art gallery and also the viewer in the street have to regain their subjectivity and engage responsibly with nature and culture.

In conclusion, it has to be underlined that all artists quoted try to contribute to “the difficult birth of the reader” (Coulter-Smith). The art user is trained in order to gain corporal literacy which will qualify him not only as an experienced art reader, but also as a body in harmony with itself. Lev Manovich introduced the parallel with the abstract, ideal reader that was replaced by “actual readers and reader communities, both contemporary and historical, as analyzed by Cultural Studies”. Reception theory in contemporary art is a theory of physical, sensorial, visual reception, marked by endophysics –

“a development of quantum physics and chaos theory, has taught us to look at systems that include the observer as part of the system and thereby show us ‘to what extent objective reality is necessarily dependent on the observer’” (Giannachi 72).

When it comes to art experiments in the museum space or in the gallery, there is a condition to be taken into consideration before accepting the absolute legitimation those spaces offer: the exhibition space has always functioned depending on other rules. First of all, those of strictness and surveillance, second of all, those of instant validation – today the space itself is no longer sure of its own authority. The institution of the museum will never be transparent. Art and technology are at the moment on parallel tracks, with separate exhibitions, biennales and art fairs. This situation is a direct consequence of the lack of a solid theoretical fundament which can organize all phenomena and artistic practices in order to assimilate them in art history.

In 1970, Burnham wrote:

“Information processing technology influences our notions about creativity, perception and the limits of art. […] It is probably not the province of computers and other telecommunication devices to produce works of art as we know it; but they will, in fact, be instrumental in redefining the entire area of esthetic awareness.”


[1] The titles of Eliasson’s art works evoke this concept: “Your spiral view”, “Your space embracer”, “Your black horizon”, “Your waste of time”, “Your uncertainty of colour matching experiment”, “Your negotiable panorama”, “Your gyroscope”, “Your blind movement” etc.

Works cited:

Ascott, Roy. „Ontological Engineering: Connectivity in the Nanofield.” Engineering Nature: Art & Consciousness in the Post-biological Era. Ed. Roy Ascott. Bristol: Intellect, 2006: 69-77.

– , Reframing Consciousness. Exeter, England: Intellect, 1999.

Clark, Andy. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2008.

Coulter-Smith, Graham. Deconstructing Installation Art: Home. Casiad Publishing. Web. 10 May 2012. <http://www.installationart.net/&gt;.

Damasio, Antonio R. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Dev, Sarita and Maurits Kelder. „Himalaya’s Head: Disturbed Visual Feedback in an Interactive Multi-User Installation”. Leonardo, Vol. 40, no. 1, February 2007, p. 17.

Eliasson, Olafur. “Your Engagement has Consequences”. Experiment Marathon: Serpentine Gallery. Ed. by Emma Ridgway. Reykjavik: Reykjavik Art Museum, 2009: 18-21.

Giannachi, Gabriella. Virtual Theatres: an Introduction. London: Routledge, 2004.

Hansen, Mark. „Wearable Space”. Configurations, Vol. 10, No. 2, Spring 2002: 321-370.

Manovich, Lev. „Postmedia aesthetics”. Web. 3 May 2012. <http://manovich.net/articles/>

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