Our principle sense for perception of space is sight, but sound and/or touch is also used in some instances. I am looking at the possibility of building a room that plays with people’s perception of that space in visual and/or audible and/or tactile ways.
Skyspace – Seldom Seen by James Turrell. ‘Lightscape’ light installation exhibition at Houghton Hall, Norfolk
Saturday 8th August 2015
Another installation experienced at James Turrell’s Lightscape exhibition was Skyspace. Walking through the gardens of Houghton Hall I came across this building of wood construction on stilts that had no windows on any of the four walls. Around the perimeter was a sloping gangway that lead to the doorway into the building. Entering through two sets of doors I walked in and discovered that it consisted of a single room approximately 8 metres square. Around the walls reclined seating was built into the structure made from unpainted wood. The wall space above the seating and the ceiling was a smooth surface painted white. In the centre of the ceiling was an aperture approximately 3 metres square that formed a window to what was obviously the sky above. This was an open aperture with no glass or other barrier. It was simply a ‘window’ in the ceiling. Visually there was no reveal where the ceiling ended and the window began. It was as if the ceiling was paper thin and it created a frame to the image of the sky. That was very important to this piece.
The viewer of this installation sat on the slightly reclined seating and looked up to see what was to all intents and purposes a ‘picture on the ceiling’. The ceiling created the frame for the ‘picture’ that was potentially ever changing, because the scene was the actual sky. Initially there were no clouds in the sky so what I saw was pure azure blue with the occasional silhouette of a bird flying high up. The scene changed as the image of the sky began to fill with cloud. The sky image was also somehow intensified by the framing of it. It was very relaxing experience and I sat there for a good 20 minutes even though the image I was looking at was just a section of the sky above. It was almost mesmerising, meditative, sitting there looking through this window to the sky. It was a little like the game you played as children laying on the ground staring up at the sky when there were a few clouds floating by and you’d try and ‘see’ images within them.
External photo © Richard Humphrey : Internal photo © Ian Burt
St Elmo’s Breath by James Turrell. ‘Lightscape’ light installation exhibition at Houghton Hall, Norfolk
Saturday 8th August 2015
To discover one of my favourite artists was exhibiting in Norfolk, and one I am referencing in my dissertation, gave me a wonderful opportunity to experience his work. Of the many pieces on display, one in particular had a massive impact on me. It also gave a focal point to my dissertation. The installation in question is called St Elmo’s Breath and was located in the old Georgian water tower on the Houghton Hall estate.
It’s important to mention that it was a very bright and warm day with a sun filled clear blue sky. A maximum of eight viewers were admitted at any one time into the installation and it was explained that once inside it was pitch black. There was no lighting and so was instructed that each person would have feel their way down the corridor and into the inner room were there was seating for the each of the eight people. Although it was explained where the seating was, it was still necessary to feel your way to find it.
Once seated it was then a case of waiting! We were told it would take around 15 to 20 minutes before you’d see anything and it was usually women that would see first. Sitting there in complete and utter darkness was a very strange sensation. Everyone was also silent. I had no idea what to expect and at one point began to think I was not going to see anything.
However, at around the fifteen minute mark I thought I saw a very faint panel of light on the right hand side. I was looking straight ahead at this point. I turned my head to look at it, but there appeared to be nothing there. As I looked straight ahead it appeared to my right again. Still looking straight ahead and a few minutes later, an image appeared on the left hand side. Same principle applied. If you looked straight at it, it ‘disappeared’. Some minutes later and directly in front of me now appeared a much larger but very faint panel of colour. The colour of the panel was a kind of purplish pink. I’m curious as to the reason Turrell’s layout for this piece was not just the large rectangular panel on the wall directly in front, but also the two small rectangular pieces on the left hand and right hand returning walls.
It was at this point that one could start to see the walls in the room. There appeared to be some kind of platform/stage between the viewer and the wall in front.
As your eyes became more accustomed to the low level of light, the room ‘appeared’ to fill with more light from the illuminated art panels, and excusing the irony, things started to become visibly clearer. I could now see the walls were not black as I’d thought, but in fact creamy/white-ish. The raised platform/stage I thought I saw was in fact the carpeted floor. I now realise the room was much bigger than I originally thought. At was at this point you could see the person next to you in silhouette form and a few minutes later we all then came out of the installation and back into a room so that our eyes could adjust to the daylight before returning to the bright sunshine outside.
This was an amazing experience and fascinating how Turrell seems to play with our eyes’s and brain’s interpretation of what was happening in St Elmo’s Breath.
Photo courtesy of Houghton Hall
Descension by Anish Kapoor (2015)
Château de Versailles, Paris, France
Thursday 21st October 2015
I guess you could say I’ve shown true dedication to the cause. With the chance of seeing and ‘experiencing’ the fourth and final art installation relevant to my dissertation and my art practice, I took a ‘day trip’ to Versailles. The reason for the trip was to see the work of Anish Kapoor, but more importantly his water vortex installation entitled Descension.
Descension is an installation consisting of a whirlpool of inky black water that is set in the ground. The whirlpool is so powerful it creates a large vortex in the centre of the seven metre diameter pool.
The first thing I noticed as I approached the installation was the noise. From about 200 metres away you can hear a deep rumbling, almost growling sound, but it’s not until I got closer that I realised the noise was coming from the whirlpool. As I got to within about three metres of Descension I could feel the ground vibrating, as was the barrier surrounding it. The thing that was far more imposing was the incredible sense of menace I felt as I looked at the large vortex that had opened up and appeared as a large hole with masses of black water being swallowed into the earth beneath. It made me feel very nervous of getting too close even though there was a barrier there. Almost hypnotic, it felt like it could easily draw you in had the barrier not been there. It did, however, keep your eyes drawn to the centre of this swirling mass to, the vortex of murky water. The rumbling noise together with the gurgling of the water was now equally menacing. I began trying to rationalise what was happening before my eyes, but because of the complete uncertainty here as well, it gave me an intense feeling of fear: fear of the unknown. After a few minutes, there seemed to be a slight lull in the power of the swirling water. The water level dropped by several centimetres and the diameter of the vortex reduced to about half its original size. The noise level also dropped slightly, but within a matter of five seconds or so, the whirlpool kick in again instantly swelling the water level and the roaring noise increased. The vortex opened up fully once more sucking the water into the ground again. As the level swelled there was turbulence in the water with loads of eddies swirling around and masses of air bubbles coming to the surface. There is no indication how deep this pool actually is and adrenalin kicks in as once again more uncertainty gives an intense feeling of fear and unease. Part of me wanted to step away, but curiosity kept me there. I was, however, thankful there was a barrier in place.
Walking around Descension, this cycle continues time and time again, and then I realised there was a real paradox here. Here I am in the stunningly beautiful grounds of the equally beautiful Château de Versailles staring into the menacing and powerful vortex of water, forgetting the fact that it is an art installation. It was an amazing experience with such a mix of emotions and sensations.
I’m so glad I made the trip.
As with Dark Brother by Kapoor and James Turrell’s St Elmo’s Breath and Skyspace – Seldom Seen, Descension has to be experienced in the flesh to be able to have any appreciation of it. It is evident here that art can induce a diverse and extreme range of feelings and emotions from the menacing fear in Kapoor’s work, to the tranquil, other worldliness of Turrell’s installations.
Dark Brother by Anish Kapoor (2005) Foto © Amedeo Benestante.
MADRE Museo d’Art Contemporanea Donnaregina Napoli
Friday 2nd October 2015
While in Naples I visited the contemporary art gallery MADRE Museo d’Art Contemporanea Donnaregina Napoli. There was no exhibition catalogue available and having not checked online previously, I had no idea what works of art were on display. It was a real pleasure therefore, to see a whole range of site specific art installations. All the more rewarding because this is my area of interest in art practice. To be presented with works by artists such as Richard Serra, Rebecca Horn, Sol Le Witt and many more, this was an incredible find.
However, to my utter disbelief and immense joy as I was about to leave one installation room, I caught site of the corner of the artwork in the next room and quite literally the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I immediately realised this next piece was by Anish Kapoor. Not only that, but an artwork that was pertinent to my dissertation. As with James Turrell’s St Elmo’s Breath that I’d seen only two months earlier in his Lightspace exhibition at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, I was about to ‘experience’ at first hand Anish Kapoor’s Dark Brother.
Walking into the white walled gallery space, at first sight Dark Brother appears to be a black rectangle on the light grey floor and measuring approx 3 x 5 metres. Then there’s a sudden realisation. There are no signs or hints of reflections or marks on the surface of any kind. I started to feel rather uncomfortable because I wasn’t at all sure whether this was a black rectangle on the floor, or a hole in the floor. I then started to look for hints of highlights that might give clues to the sides or even corners of this rectangular box that must be in the floor, but there are none! This rectangular shape gave no hint other than being pure black and emanating not one ray of light. It’s not making sense because when I moved position slightly to another viewpoint nothing changes. It still appears an intense black.
Emotions now begin to turn from the initial feeling of immense joy to an intense fear! My heart rate begins to rise as all the information my brain is receiving is telling me I am looking into a ‘black hole’, an apparently very deep space with no signs of sides or bottom. This is a very strange and overwhelming feeling having walked into an art gallery in the city of Naples you stand two metres away with only a metre high glass barrier between you and what appears to be a bottomless pit. Nothingness! I begin to feel very uneasy and my heart rate rises still further! Logic dictates it is an optical illusion because here I am standing in a gallery in Naples and so there can be no ‘bottomless pit’. However, what my eyes are seeing and my brain is telling is that I’m stood two metres away from a ‘black hole’! There’s something of a conflict now between my perception and my rationality.
Moving on to next room having spent the last 20 minutes or so trying to make sense of what I was experiencing, even witnessing, left me feeling a mixture of extreme fear, excitement, confusion and intrigue. All the other works of art in the exhibition seem to pale into insignificance, because they didn’t impart the extreme range of feelings and emotions as Kapoor’s Dark Brother. This whole experience was made all the more amazing because I wanted to be able to see, and ‘experience’ a Kapoor artwork that deals with perceived space as part of the research material for my dissertation. Having searched for potential current exhibitions of Kapoor’s work and had no success, I feel incredibly fortunate.
One thing is patently obvious though. Artworks such as Dark Brother have to be experienced and not just looked at in photographs. They cannot be appreciated in any other way other than experiencing them.