Installation Art and Theatrical Experience

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  • Topic: Conceptual art, Allan Kaprow, Sculpture
  • Pages : 6 (1756 words )
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  • Published : November 18, 2006
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To what extent can the encounter of Installation Art be likened to a theatrical experience?

Throughout Modernism, installation art has abandoned the confines of designated ‘art' spaces in an attempt to fuse art with life. As the role of the viewer and everyday life became increasingly important installation art became comparable to the theatrical environment. Audiences found themselves enveloped in sensations, memories, and narratives.

‘Space and time [were] reborn' when Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International was conceived in 1919 as ‘a union of purely artistic forms (painting, sculpture and architecture) for a utilitarian purpose'1. In 1917 Tatlin designed the interior of Moscow's Café Pittoresque with Rodchenko and Yakulov, in which constructions on the walls and ceiling disturbed and fractured the solidity of the space. Futurists celebrated this death of ‘Time and space'2 and Constructivists like El Lissitzky extended the sculptural possibilities of the gallery space itself; exemplary in the hanging of his Prouns in Berlin's 1923 Russian exhibition.

This new approach to space in turn had a liberating effect on set design which concerned itself with deluding and involving its audience. Meyerhold's productions ‘presented to the spectator a new consciousness of space and making him participate in the action'3. In the first performance of Famira Kafirel Exter's scenography sought to construct its own environment by appealing to the spectators and inviting them to ‘discover the autonomy of pure forms'4. Contemporary set designers like Richard Wilson also manipulate space to the point of deception as shown in The life and Times of Joseph Stalin. This relates to Gregor Schneider and Richard Wilson's installation art which is interested in the relationship between appearance and construction and the function of architecture and the environment it creates. Gregor Schneider's Haus ur undermines its architectural foundations so that its occupant is aware that the space is false. Similarly, Richard Wilson illuminates the way in which self-contained spaces are taken for granted, most memorably in 20:50, a pool of oil, impossible to see through, and without any double reflections. In Elbow Room he employs a theatrical-style false perspective by giving the illusion that the floor runs through to the back wall of the gallery. Similar distortions of space are seen in Anish Kapoor's The Healing of St Thomas (1989), Robert Gober's Drains (1990), Simon Unger's Post and Beam(1991), Arakawa/Madeline Gins's Reverse-Symmetry Transverse-Envelope Hall (1998) and in much of Dan Graham's work.

Various movements at the beginning of the 20th century attempted to unify art and life which derived from Wagner's ideal; the Gesamtkunstwerk. One of the initiators was Gropius, the head of the Bauhaus school, who asked fine artists ‘to go into buildings, endow them with fairy tales ... and build in fantasy without regard to technical difficulty.'5 Likewise in the De Stijl movement, Van Doesberg insisted that ‘the word ‘Art' no longer meant anything to them as it existed in the same domain as life. This concept recurred in 1957, with the forming of the Situationist International, led by Guy Debord who regarded art as inherent to everyday life rather than as an elite interest. This new ideal of art effected theatrical performance shown in the creation of The Moscow Art Theatre. Director Stanislavsky instigated Method acting and Naturalist theatre which abolished the lines between theatre and life, imagination and dreams. Simultaneously art became ‘a spectacle, but without a stage [...] a daily undertaking'6 . In Oskar Schlemmer's work, for example, he broke ‘the narrow confines of the stage and extend[ed] the drama to include the building itself'7 .

Art as object to be addressed, had shifted to art as environment. It had become the product of an reaction between onlooker and stimuli. Lucy Lippard has famously termed this as...
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