Friday, May 14, 2010

6 Elements of Installation, Janek Schaefer

BA Dissertation [distinction]1994

There can be a fine boarderline between Architecture and Art. Architecture does sometimes resemble the forms of sculpture,(and indeed could be viewed as sculpture) ,and Art does sometimes resemble the built form, which is the end result of architectual endeavor. The division of the two is in the attitude of the beholder. My observations of this division have lead me to discovering the field of Installation Art which seems to embody, within its makeup,the very essence of architecture.In its physical manifestations, what I view as Installation Art, all have a direct corelation with what I recognise as the core fundamental properties of Architecture. It is these so called ‘fundamentals’ that form the body of my investigation with both there physical and intellectual relationships to both Architecture and to Installation Art.

Installation Art may have as many topics within its agenda as there are people with points to make or ideas to deal with working in the medium. However the majority of contemporary makers of installation, tend to work primarily with in an urban historical and social context which suggests that relationships to our built environment are close to hand, be they primary or resultant relationships.

The medium differs from other artistic traditions in key ways which seperates it from them. It can be viewed as an expression of Gesammtkunstwerk, whose concept is that of a ‘total work of art’. Its very existence in the visual arts is a product of the visual arts. It is in a sense a hybrid of a vast spectrum of disciplines, as "It grows out of the individual narratives presented by architecture, painting, sculpture, theatre and performance"1 . It is also important to note that it is not only artforms that make up the ingredients of Installation, as contained within its fabric exists strong influences by art movements such as Concept Art, Land Art and Dada.

Many people have little idea of what I’m on about when I mention the subject, as indeed I did not before realising that it was what I was trying to write about with out knowing it. I wish then to examine Installation Art with an overview of its relationships to architecture. The main focus being an investigation into what the essence of Installation Art is, by an examination of its wide spectrum through examples which speak most clearly to me about its apparent merits, thereby describing through analysis. It is then the following ‘Elements’ which I am proposing group together in making up the description of Installation Art...
ELEMENT 1 Site-Specifity

"Sculpture should bear a direct relationship to the space around it". Ruskin.2

Ruskin saw sculpture as an essential element of his architectural projects as can be seen when experiencing his buildings. The decoration becomes part of the whole aesthetic helping to shape the visual effect of the building. This sculpture forms an integeral part of the building as it is located within the very fabric of the building. It is inseperable. It’s site is the building and the building, in part, is its sculpture. A symbiotic relationship.

For me the heart of Installtion Art must be the realisation of ‘site-specifity’. The very term ‘Installation Art’ suggests the element of installation to be a fundamental requirement. Installation is after all the process of placing something in an environment which implies that it has a direct relationship with that environment. The difference between an ‘installed work’ and ‘Installation’ is of prime importance. To install a work of art is to simply locate it within an environment, and to create a piece of Installation is to make it with a direct correlation to the environment with which it exists. There must be a direct physical relationship to its location.

A minimalist modern sculpture which finds itself infront of a huge office building can not be described as an Installation as it has only been installed there. Someone has merely located it due to its ownership. Thus its faliure, in terms of installation, lies in the lack of its physical relationship to its environment. It will then appear to be more like a giant logo rather than a work of Art robbing it of its possible merit. According to Thierry de Duve, Naum Gabo ‘sculpture’(1.1) at the Bijenkorf (1954-57) in Rotterdam is one such faliure. An understanding of the work of Gabo will however relinquish his responsability as he stated with his brother Antoine Pevsner in there ‘Realistic Manifesto’ of 1920 that his sculpture did not shape itself from the outside, but from the inside thereby negating any relationship to its environment.It is therefore, in a sense, able to be located at such a site if viewed as an object, the problem then being its association with its environment at the Bijenkorf. Speaking as an Architect though I’m not sure that I agree with Thierry de Duve. Personally Ifeel that the sculpture is well related to the building.

Le Corbusiers buildings also have a void relationship with their locations, being part of the International Style. The Villa Savoie (1.2) seeming to ‘float’ above its location and hence being able to be to ‘sail’ around the world to any site.It negates a relationship to place which is so fundamental to Installation. As Rosalind Krauss sugessted, "it may be easier to explain what sculpture isn’t rather than what it is"3. I’m therfore describing what Installation isn’t to try and gain a clearer picture of what it is, I’m not trying to take anything away from these artists, I admire them for their works.

Sculpture is an artform of physical reality which talks through form and material etc. and most importantly space, as Carl Andre said "Sculpture is about seizing space and holding onto it"4 It is therefore inseperable from architecture which shares these exact same neccessities. The difference between these and Installation is that Installation takes all of these elements and invents itself. The site being its essential component, as a building is landed and formed in its own specific context, installed, borrowing the space and harbouring that space. Andre’s ‘seizing space’ refers to space in relation to the ‘object’, not to the environment. The importance of this element of space can be seen in many of the examples that I have chosen to represent the notion and impoprtance of site-specifity.

As suggested by the co-directors of the Museum of Installation in London, "The Supremantist, El Lissitzky created what is arguably the first installation, the ‘Proun Environment’ in 1923 (1.3). He alluded to the notion of space as a physical material with properties such as wood or stone. Space could therefore be turned into a form."5 He therefore,’claimed space’.The architect builds around it and the ‘sculptor’ creates within it. Kurt Shwitters was also building his works in parts of rooms during the same period, gradually adding parts bit by bit to ‘realize’ the theory of the Gesamtkuntswerk. The example shown is called ‘Merzbau’.(1.4)

Bierut born Mona Hatoum’s installation at the Mario Flecha Gallery in 1992, entitled (or not as the case may be) ‘Untitled’(1.5), subteley encloses spaces within the gallery using stainless steel wires as boundary elements. This piece embodies the inherent qualities of installation. Without its environment being present the work would not exist. Its environment is indeed a white gallery,but it is an entirely white gallery,even the floors have turned white. This is not,I suggest, so that the gallery receeds into nothing, but instead it becomes integeral. The wires do not act as a support for a painting, but are the work itself. The effect is extermely minimal, yet the result captures the energy retained within the space that it contains. The wires pass through the walls of the environment at times thus depriving us of whitnessing the conclusion of the tension enclosed within the taught steel. It is this direct physical relationship with the gallery which is its ‘site-specifity’, wrapping around the column and passing through the walls, It exists as part of the gallery, and not within it, the two merge into one.

Space ,which is so important to site-specifity, is indeed the source of all matter as, "Physics has shown that all matter is born from the vacuum"5a So physical creations which deal directly with a particular space then must be one in the same, as the matter is originated from space and the space embodies the matter. "The amount of potential energy in a cubic centimetre of so called empty space,the vacuum,is immensily greater than the entire energy content of the visible universe!"5b. It is this embodiement of that energy which I feel in Hatoum’s piece.

Whereas Hatoum has ‘defined’ space, ‘Desireline Intersect’6 (1.6), ‘divides’ a route set in space. This response to a desireline footpath in central Manchester slices the footpath in two, both physically and intelectually, the notion being that people create barriers for themselves and to overcome them you must interact with them and thus pass beyond them (a point which I will return to in ‘Element 4’). The installation was built as a direct response to the site using material found on the site. The environment has thus been changed through manipulation, not through addition or dematerialisation. The environment has been changed into a ‘place’ with the intervention of the wall. As Andre believed, "a place is an area within an environment which has been altered in such a way as to make the general environment more conspicuous".7

In ‘House’ (1.7) by Rachael Whiteread which was completed at the end of October 93 the element of in-situ space brings architecture and sculptural installation together. The two are as important as each other. It was the most noticable piece of Art to have been produced in 93. The Late Show even hyped it as being, "one of the most important woks of art to have ever been produced in Britain to date"8. This is due to the enormous publicity that it has recieved due to public siting.The negative public reaction can not be duie to its subject matter as it can notn possibly be concieved as scandolous to the public conciousness. It is indeed a monument to traditional living. This aside, I wish to consider its installational elements. The overwhelming nature of House is its historical nature. Its process is discussed in ‘Element 5’.The importance of its form can be seen as all, as it is a sculptural object. In terms of installation it is the relationship of the form to its history which is of importance. House was concieved as the encasement of space in a concrete soild. The object would not exist as it does if it had not been located precicely where it is in the cosmos. It could not be the ‘House’ it is today if it were the ‘House’ of tommorow. Had the possibility of its existence been possible earlier, then its physical reality would be different. The house chosen would have been a different former for the concrete. It’s site-specificity ensures that it is as we see it today.

The cerebral element of House plays an important part. It is easy to understand the relationship that the object has to it’s history, there is a direct visual link to its origins. This is one of the important elemenets which excites me. The whole concept of the soild being a physical version of the space that was once contained by a now missing shell, a negative embodiement of space. It really is a ‘space-object’, it materialises the immaterial. David Thorpe described it perfectly in his response to House,"If you imagine having your mouth full of marbles or cotton wool, you have a physical sensation of the volume inside your mouth"9.

I remember seeing, ‘She came in Through the Bathroom Window’ (1.8), by Richard Wilson, during the time of its existence in 1989,(on telly I think). It must have been one of the first contemporary installations that I saw. I remember half thinking that the idea of going to all the effort of displacing the window plane was odd yet fantastic. Its purpose was itself. Bringing outside inside, but not really. It meant something to me. Especially as it dealt with architectural elements. The important point is its dealing with space, it extrudes it. The play of the installation in the usage of architectural metaphor. You enter the building as you would always do, then as you enter the space the installation reveals its self not just through its physical presence but through oddity. It makes you think about the function of buidings. You can not escape the fact that the glazing unit is itself the original. You mentally relate it to its former location which in turn tells tou about its present location. Very simple, very strong.

The element of light is brought to bear on this theme of glazing in, ‘Natchland’ (1.9) by Kazuo Katse at Gallery Wanda Reiff in Maastrict,1990. Katse deals with the negative of light reflected through an ordinary window in the gallery, (as with the negative space of House). It is the memory of the light which exists painted on the floor .The paint though is black suggesting shadow not light, yet the image is not of shadow, it is the memory of light. It is almost as though it is the memory of night casting a negative night light. The work is of a philosophical nature but is displayed as part of the gallery. It is installed in relation to the specific environment, being painted onto it as it is. Sculpture talks visually about light and shadow, among other elements, whereas illustrated by ‘Natchland’, installation communicates this quality but in relation to a specific light source. The controlled light of the defined environment.

The work of Gordon Matta-Clark opened my eyes to the world of Installation Art. After visiting the Serpentine show (summer 93) I realised that the shear energy exposed in his work was what Art was all about for me. The creation of an objective. This is all about process,(see Element 5). What Matta-Clark achieves in his works is the revealing of new unthought of spaces in derelict buildings. He trained as an architect but gave it up in order to fulfill his experimental dreams. He invented his own artform which he called Anarchitecture, working with existing architecture and in a sense deconstructing it to reveal new relationships within the building, what I would suggest was ‘installing new space’ within the existing fabric. Interpreting buildings in a way not usually experienced. Take ‘Bronx Floors:Double Doors’(1.10) for example,made in 1973. Using a derelict house in the Bronx, New York, Matta-Clark set about remmovig the floors around both the enterances to a doorway. In doing so he transformed the spatial relationships which directly associuated themseles with that door. In ‘Splitting’ (1.11), probobaly his best known work, he sawed a house in two, opening up the house to the space in which it existed. In both of these works he installed space into the building. His concern was with altering attitudes to buildings, "By undoing a building ...I open a state of enclosure which had been preconditioned not only by physical necessity but by the industry that proliferates suburban and urban boxes as a pretext for ensuring a passive isolated consummer"10.

The same ideas are embodied in (what I presume was) an accidental ‘installation’ that I found in Hulme during its current destruction. In, ‘Construction Detail’11 (1.12), the creation of space in relation to its locality summed up my feelings about the destruction of Hulme as we presently saw it. The divide as expressed in, ‘Desireline Intersect’, has here become a negative representation of both the barrier and of the sadness at seeing it dying. The reinforcing bars acting as a link to the past spanning the gap which then becomes a suggestion of time. The photograph becomes a memory and record of that feeling and object accordingly (see Element 6).

The practice of Art in the realm of Installation, as expressed through things existing just for the sake of existing, is exemplified by the work of Siah Armajani. His preoccupation was also with the division of sculpture and architecture (as explored by Whiteread and Matta-Clark). ‘Bridge over a Nice Triangular Tree’ (1.13),from 1970 fulfills the notion that the sculpture exists for no other reason than to transport the participant along its route. This, ordinarily is the exact function of a bridge to span over or traverse a barrier and thus allow us to overcome the physical existence of that barrier. A bridge in the ordinary sense has a legitimate function as with the walkway of ’Construction Detail’. What Armajani’s bridge does though is negate this reasoned functional aspect. Its only purpose is to transport us over a very small tree! In so doing we form a peronal and physical relationship with that tree even though the tree itself is totally overwhelmed by the act of doing it. The whole construction is related to the tree and tailored for it. It is almost an act of ceremony. A lot, or most art, is indeed produced for its own end. Each artist choosing their own way of expressing something important to them. I feel though that the attitude of, ‘Bridge over a Nice Triangular Tree’, expresses this element with particular clarity.

Bulgarian born Christo Javacheff is another of those artists whose work has a direct correlation with the sites he uses to bring his work to life. His work relates to all the ‘Elements’ that I consider vital to the making of an Installation. In terms of its site specificity he works both in an urban context as with, ‘The Pont Neuf Wrapped’ (1.14), and in the tradition of, ‘Land Art’, with the production of, ‘Wrapped Coast’ (1.15) (1969). Again the peice is its site. Christo carried out this enormous undertaking 14.5 kilometers southeast of Sydney, Australia using one million square feet ofsynthetic woven fibre and 56 kilometers of rope .The works finite form is precisely dictated by the surface of the coast that it engulfs. It is the installation of material in its location which neccesitated its installational quality. He (and his 125 strong team of helpers) did not merely locate an object, as say a Henry Moore is located as part of a landscape, but worked with that landscape to physicaly transform its very self. This transformation then becoming the net result. The Temporal Element of the lifespan of Chriso’s works is just as an imporant part of its whole Which brings us to the consideration of time in forming another of Installation Arts important ingredients...


"A flower that blossoms for a single night does not to us seem any less lovely. Nor can I understand any better why the beauty and perfection of a work of art or of an intellectual achievement should loose its worth because of its temporal limitation", Freud.12

Temporalality belongs to the element of Time. The space-time cosmos that all exists in. The world is a product of time. We see ourselves in a direct relationship with time, as our existence is frammed by time. Einsteins expressions of thought talked of the metaphysical notion that all time, past present and future exists within the same space, therefore space can be seen to be, Time. In relation to this concept, Temporality defines itself as a finite embodiement of that space-time. ‘Temporal’ is a word which implies a physical relationship to worldly things as opposed to the spiritual affairs of Metaphysics. ‘Temporary’ in its own definition talks of time as lasting for a limited period, or a defined fraction of that Time. Thus the two consummate their relationship and become one. As discussed in, ’Element 1’, Physics has shown that matter is born from the vacuum, (that is space), which then becomes the physical representation of Temporality in my analysis. The property of Time will then be taken to represent the metaphysical notion that it records itself within its own whole.

"How long is a piece of string?" Anon. This classic phrase introduces the next ingredient to be mixed into the meltingpot. This being the philosophical consideration of the relationship of time to the temporal nature of some installational works. What does the image of the word itself conjour up about insallation? You can install something and leave it to exist for seconds, years, decades or for many lifetimes. It can be said that all matter has finite existence therefore everything is temporary, but I wish to talk about Installational temporality, which, to me, suggests the link with hours, weeks and months rather than with years, decades and centuries.

In terms of Christos work then, temporality becomes essential to the whole. The work itself is only allowed to exist for a foreseeable finite reality, and it is this which helps it to become what it is; a temporary installation. As noted by Marina Vaisey, "The final work questions the whole notion of permenance in art, for Christo’s vast environmental sculptures which take place in the real world, have a deliberatly limited life, for a few days, at the most two weeks" 13. It is Christos installations that excit me, I love his wrapped sculptures, but these live on, and are of a human scale. Somehow I can relate better to his ‘massive’ sculptures that no longer exist. You can look at memories, and perhaps have an experience of that event, but you know that it is now cast in past recorded time (history). This has a direct influence upon your attitude towards it.
In the work of Andy Goldsworthy, I find a real sense of excitment. He, as with Christo, enters the many different fields of installation. The temporality found within his body of work is an expression of the cycle of nature which is itself a ‘repetitive cycle of temporality’.
Goldsworthy engages nature on its homeground, working with it to define its beauty, by exposing it through his transitional process. What defines longevity in his work is the work itself. If the materials he uses to produce a piece are stone then it may well last for years, but if that material is snow on a hill, or sand on a beach,then its lifespan may be days or hours.

In the late winter of 1988/89, Goldsworthy made eighteen large snowballs (2.1) in Perthshire and then preserved them in cold storage until July that summer where they were displayed in the Old Museum of Transport, Glasgow. There they were laid in line to live out there life. It took a total of five days for them to melt, slowly revealing there individual contents throughout that time, as each snowball was blended with a different element from nature, such as fresh pine needles, or wilowherb stalks. "When snow melts things hidden away emerge - evidence of time laid on the ground"14. It is this ‘evidence of time’ which the piece deals with, both in terms of its manufacture and its temporality. When allowed to react with the summer heat the snowballs both come alive and begin to die at the same time. Their destiny is determined. The work only exists as it fades away. You can visably see the passing of time as recorded by their dematerialisation. This is as important to the work as its process.
Five days is temporary, and so is 1/60th of a second, the rough shutter speed of the camera that caught Goldsworthy’s installations in space-time when creating, ‘Hazel stick throws’ (2.2), in 1980. Here he created a multitude of mini-installations with each throw of the sticks that he made. This is so because the camera only happened to catch just one of these mini-installations, which by implication means that it didn’t catch all the other exact co-ordinates of the sticks as they flew through gravitational space on their return journey to the ground. This ‘sculpture’ has at its core a real element of built in obselecence. There is no way (‘on earth’!) that this fraction in time could set out to be anything but temporary. This is then perhaps an example of installation which is the epitome of temporality. Its very inception implies its immediate fate.
This ‘built in obselecence’, is also instilled in Matta-Clarks work. The way he works with derelict buildings means that from the first touch or even the first thought his work is innevitably destined to be destroyed with the eventual transformation of the building into rubble. His interaction with the building also adds to the temporance of that building as he frequently undermines its structural stability. He then is part of the demolition process, but in a controlled sense. In 1975 he was lucky enough to be given permission to work with a building located adjacent to the Centre Georges Pompidou during its construction. He set about burrowing through the walls and floors creating a ‘Conical Intersect’ (2.3) for the Paris Biennial. The house he worked on was built in 1699 and was one of the last proporties due for demolition as part of the Pompidou modernizing programme of the Plateau Beauborg. The work was as provocative and controversoial as ever ensuring that all who encountered it were forced into thought.

The same is true of Racheal Whitread’s ‘House’. It has been the reactions of the public which have helped bring it to international attention. Or at least it is these reactions which have made it so controversial. Now that it has been demolished during the writting of this dissertation it lies in the memory banks of society. For me, the destruction of ‘House’ was necessary for its completion. Many regard its destruction as a negative thing. Whiteread herself did not want it to be destroyed. From its inception though it was always known that it was going to be destroyed (the role of process [Element 5]is important here), as with a Matta-Clark work. This knowledge of its imminent death added to its worth in my opinion. It made people want to go and experience it before its removal. It heightened its existence, as its time was limited. Its temporality added to its ‘worth’, as it helped induce debate and thus its media coverage which brought it to a wider public.

Architecture is something that is usually ‘built to last’, for economic reasons more than anything else. It is not usually seen as temporary. Having said this though ‘temporary’ architecture is designed and constructed. The reality of this though is that it stays put for much longer than intended. Vienna has a long tradition of building temporary structures that were intended to exist for a year or so but in reality have stayed put. Portacabins in schools solved accommadation problems quickly but have lasted well beyond their sell by date in actuality. Buildings are in fact temporal but not in the sense of Installational temporality.

Temporality can then add to the experience of Installation Art.It can be a singular part of the whole, or the whole itself. I find its gives a real sense of excitement to the process of involvement in installation. It also excites me when observing the records of past temporary installations. The very knowledge that they no longer exist I feel still adds a real sense involvement to the experience of discovering their past history.

In many of the works which I would generalise as being installations, I find the existence of the ‘idea’ or ‘concept’ to be as important as the object or creation itself, that being a seperate experience. This has strong ties with the history of twentieth century art, from which Installatiion has grown. It was afterall Mr.Duchamp who broke through the philosophical boundaries of the possibilities to be explored within art. As Jenny Holzer has said, "what I liked about the early conceptual work, was that it got to become respectable to emphasise your mind and to de-emphasize the object....there was the freedom for art to be almost anything. It didn’t have to be a stretched canvass covered with paint"15. Duchamp’s most honoured piece was the ‘ready made’ ‘fountain’ (3.1) of 1917. Here he emphasised the concept of the action and not the object, which was the visual focus. It was then the idea that was the important element, not the signed utilitarial urinal.

This ‘cerebral’ element is not a seperate entity in the experienceing of art. All art evokes emotion, is that not its purpose? Indeed all art is based on the artists concept. It is the combination of cerebral thought and emotional feeling that gives aesthetic enjoyment. What I’m trying to suggest is that it is the dominance of the intellectual interaction with most installations which I enjoy most. For me it is not something which is prmarily visually pleasing, it engages me primarily through my mind not my heart. I tend to think about it more than feel it, as I may say, "isn’t that ‘interesting’, ‘a good idea’ or ‘clever’", rather than, "isn’t that beautiful". It is the idea as expressed through its realisation which is most clear to me, or the thinking about how it was done which becomes foremost in my mind. This is true of a lot of other artforms but nowhere as engaging for me as those works examined within the body of this work (which is in itself not an exhustive list).

The grounding of this cerebral element in installation is derived from conceptualism’s histories. Unlike say Duchamp, contemporary ‘post-conceptualism’ installation has realised the limited mileage of the thought alone becoming the whole, as did Duchamp himself. Installation addresses the aesthaetics of the object in relation to the cerebral concept instead of being anti-commodity. This is well expressed by Jeff Koons, himself a practicioner in the anartistic field. "I always enjoyed the conceptualism coming out of Duchamp. But I always felt for myself sometimes that it leaned too much on the cerebral and I’ve always enjoyed when other needs of the viewer can be met"16.

Conceptualism worked in the paradigm that the artists material could be his ‘thought’ alone. The production of visual stimuli was secondary. When certain works by Sol Lewitt come up for sale they do so in the form of a typed set of instructions telling the purchaser what to do. This was also the case with the most famous of ‘conceptual art’s’ products in the 60’s and 70’s, that of Carl Andre’s ‘Lever’ (3.2). In 1972 the Tate could no longer resist the extreme seduction of Andre’s 120 firebricks. They contacted him and agreed a price. Andre scribbled the request into his orderbook. He had previously been unable to sell it when it was first exhibited and thus had returned the bricks to the builders yard in order to get his money back. So Andre phoned a builders merchant and and asked them to despatch 120 of their finest quality firebricks to the Tate Gallery London. Then he drafts a letter to the curator telling him how to arrange said bricks when they arrive. In turn the delighted currator instructs his conservation department to run up a special green felt box to house the bricks in their long periods of storage. It is the idea that has been sold to the Tate in reality, and not the bricks.

Where installation comes in, is in its re-focusing of importance on the object in the aesthetic experience. The attitude of its production gives it a differnt role in the work from that of only communicating an intellectual idea about, say, ‘the bounderies of exactly what art is’. I am aware that this may be construed as dangerous ground, but it is the attitude held within my experience of observation which I am trying to communicate. Installation does clearly talk about ideas, but not only ideas. The products themselves are, quite often, sculpture in a more traditional sense, as with Goldsworthy, he brings to it his touch as with the art of the artisan. They can be termed ‘installation’ as they are not permenant and have some sense of link with the immediate environment (elements 1 and 2).The art of installation is engaged in the fusion of other clearly defined areas within the visual arts, it is then not one but all of them at once. The cerebral element playing its role within that cast. What I am trying to suggest is that installation is attemting to emphasize the mind and re-emphasize the object at the same time in direct relationship to its conecptual history, which concearned de-emphasizing the poor old object.

The intellectual involvement in installation can further be brought into the equation with the use of language. This most frequently occurs in the naming process of a given work which acts as a literary sound-bite/clue to the installations meaning. Language has a written agenda with determined meaning which means that it may be easier to provoke the required intellectual response to the work rather than through its visual language alone. The title of figure (3.3) insn’t a factual reference describing what the Installation is, rather it tells us about the idea ‘behind’ it. "The complete works of Jane Austin" refers to the fact that the air contained within the ‘balloon’ is the same amount of air used by a reader when reading the complete works of Jane Austin. This volume varies with the temperature of the room as would the amount of air vary depending on the speed of the reader. This role of language forms not only a clue as when this idea has been realised it forms an integeral part of the whole.
So cerebral is defined as considering intellectual rather than emotional responses. When I view a Christo it is the ideas and the concepts that first engage me, not so much the emotional response to the work. I find myself thinking about how it was made and how it interacts with the object that it is wrapping. Of course I think that it is ‘beautiful’, but primarily because of my intellectual response to it. It is afterall why I find myself identifying with it because it strikes a chord with my own artistic attitudes.

It is this attitude of the concept and its realisation that lead me on a mini crusade to experience an installation near Uppermill just outside Manchester towards the end of 1993. I had been told of reports in local newspapers which talked about the ‘discovery’ of an old bungalow buried in the ground. Upon further inquiry it became clear that it had been placed there by an artist as an installation, and that it was due to be earthed over shortly. This temporality really forced me into having to go and experience it before it was covered over. The whole action of going to witness it was like a pilgramage for me. A day trip to an historical event (in art). ‘Piltdown Bungalow’ (3.4) was concieved as an installation whose cerebral interaction dealt with the concept that this bungalow had been (and was in the future, to be) discovered by excavation. The work was comprised of an exact replica of an ordinary industrial bungalow from Uppermill which had been transplanted into a rural site and burried there. It was to be left uncovered for several weeks and then covered over and left to be found by future generations encouraging them to question its meaning. "The work attempts to raise questions rather than answer them, and encourage the audience to ask themselves how they view history"17. The bungalows that it represents were non-uments (to borrow Matta-Clarks term) before the artist transposed them into a romantic monument of the functional.

It was the whole idea of digging this hole and putting the bungalow in it, only to cover it up for good a short time latter which appealed to me. The process, the thought, the action. The most interesting element of being there was seeing peoples response to the work. A group of childern turned up not knowing its origins and jumped in the hole and climed all over it. They thought that it was a real excavation and a real cottage and couldn’t understand the notion of it as art once the secret had been revealed to them. Their ‘attitude’ to it was different to mine. One couple walking the family dog stopped to wonder, but the wife seemed to be scared of it as she went off to wait up ahead while the husband really started to question its existence. He tried to get his wife to come back but she refused point blank.

In a way this transplantation resembles Duchamps ‘fountain’,yet it is very different. For a start it is not gallery based. and it is a much more involved exercise than the ‘readymade’. It questions society and its relationship to architecture. In two hundered years time, will tourists flock to our council estates in order to glory at the quaint rural architecture of the late twentieth century?

What installation talks about to me through its cerebral element is not ideas such as the bounderies of art, as with Duchamp, but the qualities of the ‘Elements’ that I am discussing in this analysis. The proporties of what I view as ‘the fundamentals of architectural consideration’. These being philosophical issues, and physical elements such as Light, Space, Structure, Surface, Context, Form and Interaction etc. It is on this plane of thought that it interacts with my mind. This is what I see as its cerebral element. It describes its own philosophical concepts through its physical narrative. The thought is in a sense an interaction of the mind and it is this ‘interaction ‘ which I wish to consider next.

"The spectator, who in the act of experiencing the work, acts as catalyst and receptor"18. Interaction is a part of everybody’s day to day life. It could be said that all of our own personal environments are living examples of installation. These may not be classified as art, but nevertheless they are continually changing, and thus temporal in nature, and each is tailored to it site, that being the architecture container, within which, each is created. This was expressed by an artist called Collette in a work entitled ‘My Living Environment’ (4.1),produced in New York over a number of years, as she explains; "From 1970 to 1982 I lived as a work of art, in a work of art - my living environment..."19. This statement, alters the emphasise of the act of ‘living’, and turns it into an artistic reality. Our perception is altered by Colette’s perception.

In terms of Installation Art throughout this century, Interaction, on both the physical and cerebral level, has had an important part to play in terms of its own genetic make-up. The making of art has often migrated from the gallery to interact or intervene with the outside world on its own terms. It may be the physical scale and presence of a work which forces the observer to not only observe but to actually exist with in it or as part of it. This is the case with the earth-work installation, ‘Double Negative’ (4.2) by Michael Heizer in the Nevada desert of 1969. The two forty foot by one hundered foot slots which were cut into the slopes means that, due to their enormous size and location, the only way of physically experiencing the work is to inhabit it like the way we think of ourselves as inhabiting the space of our own bodies. Yet as it is a mirror image it makes us look and relate directly to our own postion. We can see ourselves disslocated from the solipsism by the nature of its duality. The opposing ‘self’ (or slot) on the other side of the revine enables us to conceive the notion that we are standing looking at our own image as a kind of ‘out of body’ experience. So it is the very involvement or interaction within ‘Double Negative’ which brings about its meaning. Even if that interaction is a cerebral one, as with you or I. We are still able, I believe, to transport our mind (and hence imaginary body) into that void through thought travel, and gain some notion of its ‘reality relation’(the real physical version of ‘Double Negative’, as opposed to the imagined one constructed on your mental monitor from its visual representation, the photo).

This same scale of interaction will be a necessity with the future completion of James Turrell’s grand project, ‘Roden Crater’ (4.3) a volcanoe on the edge of the Painted Dessert, America. Turrell is currently working on, or with to be more exact this vast crater overlooking the dessert. He is creating a multitude of spaces within which certain perceptions of the cosmos can be viewed. It is not the manipulation of the crater which is important to him, it is what it facilitates that is important."I wanted [to create] an area where you had a sense of standing on the planet. I wanted an area of exposed geology.....where you could feel geologic time. Then in this stage set of geologic time, I wanted to make spaces that engaged celestial events in light so that the spaces performed a ‘music of the spheres’ in light"20. Turrell is trying to combine our experiences with those of the located crater in a joint interaction with the light and cosmos of the universe. A very powerful notion. Turrells work has stemmed from his scientific background and a life long devotion to the experiencing of light. The qualities of the cerebral interaction which were evoked by ‘Double Negative’ are central to Turrells own definitions of thought, as he explains, "Firstly I am dealing with no object. Perception is the object. Secondly, I am dealing with no image, because I want to avoid associative, symbolic thought. Thirdly, I am dealing with no focus or particular place to look. With no object, no image, and no focus, what are you looking at? You are looking at you looking. This is in response to your seeing and the self-reflective act of seeing yourself see. You can extend feeling out through the eyes to touch with seeing"21.
Turrell’s most recent work was the light sensory chamber titled ‘Gasworks’(4.4) built at Dean Clough gallery near Leeds. This is a true interactively sensational experience. The machine is comprised of a metal sphere containing light emmitting gear with a conveyor belt leading into it. The person using it is conveyed into the sphere head first by a technician and then subjected to 15 minutes of visual sensual overload consisting of coloured lights and strobes. Turrell had to have it checked by an eminent phsychoanalyst to make sure that it wasn’t going to harm anyone mentally. The purpose of it is to transport the participant into another dimension. The machine is just that and exists only to be interacted with by humans. Without interaction of the physical and perceptual kind this machine would be redundant, purposeless. It is not the idea that counts here it is the experience.

This visual focus is the essential component of my next example. It is the actuality of the participant being the catalyst and the receptor at the same time which is embodied within Bruce Neuman’s 1970 installation, ‘Corridor’ (4.5). It is the ‘idea’ and the ‘action’ which combine to make the whole this time.(It even made the front cover of a Rosalind Krauss book!). The work is only a tool waiting to be used as with Turrell’s sensory chamber. When approaching the television screens at the end of the ‘coddidor’ the viewer becomes the installation as their image appears on the screen via the video camera mounted high up behind them. As they approach the screens their image receeds. The closer they come to their own ‘reflection’ the smaller they get. The images of these interactions with the corridor are recored as memory of the encounters.
The only intended memory of interaction concearning Ron Hasseldon’s ‘Beldevere’ (4.6) installation in a forest is in the brain’s ‘Hippocampus zone’ (the momory storage region of the human brain, first pictured in 1991). Hasseldon constructed a huge scaffolding structure in a forest in Dartmoor that allowed the viewer to climb to the top of the tree canopy and see the forest from an unaccustomed vantage point. Again this is a manufactured object which encourages the individual to interact with it to gain a new perception of their universe.

The installation at ‘44 Bonner Rd’(otherwise known as The Showroom,) called ‘44 Bonner Rd.’ (4.7) is another good example of the role of the viewer bringing the work to life. Francis Cape partitioned up the gallery space with three false walls which divided the gallery into three self-contained rooms. Upon entering the gallery one is confronted by the first partition which is clearly differentiated from the permenant achitecture by subtle colour changes. Within this is an un-marked door which leads into the first room. Upon entering it you find the second panel on the other side of it and proceed towards it in order to find its enclosed entry/exit. When you get to the third room you try to do the same but you find in the panel that there is no access to the third room, it remains stubbornly firm. The narrative of the work is then revealed only through the viewers passage and investigation within its confinds.

This narrative and revealment is also set up in Nat Goodden’s very simple and engaging creation named ‘Shadow Piece’ (4.8) of 1974. Here Goodden takes the utilitarian relationship between the light bulb and its switch and introduces the ‘interactor’ into the room. On finding the room dark the interactor searches for the light switch and turns it on. This is the act which fuses the four elements together, for the fourth element is revealed to be a piece of wood (which is the installation) hanging from the cieling preventing the light from ‘touching’ the switch and hand as this intervention blocks its journey. It is bathed in shadow. The light is turned off and the relationship ceases.
The majority of these interactive installations then, lay dormant untill participation engages their active role. It is the case in these examples and other works, that the process of interaction is essential to the existence of the installations. This ‘process’ is also an important factor in the ‘production’ of some installations, hence the writting of element 5.

"The most profound thing that I can say about a piece of work is how it is made" Goldsworhty.22
In the production of anything, a process must be undertaken which realises the end product. This action is then important. Is it though, more important than the result? "Yes and no, it depends"! is the answer.

In an equation (a+b = c) there are two parts. The first is the process, and the second is the result. Put the other way around (c = b+a) we have prescribed what the result is that we want, and how we should go about achieving it. This difference of emphasis on the ‘process’ or the ‘product’ is what is the key to understanding the role that process sometimes plays in Installation.
Process in Production can be zoned into Thought processes,Forming processes,and the process of Existence (which can lead to the eventual decay of the piece [Temporality]). What I am wishing to consider in this element is the Forming process by which many installations involve themselves. The thought process is the conceptual idea that leads to the production of a piece and this itself can be symbiotically linked to its implimentation (forming).

The first examples of this emphasis on the process started in the early fifties with the so called ‘Happening’ in which the musician/artist John Cage involved a number of participants (musicians, artists, poets and dancers) and let them ‘do what they do’23 infront of an assemly of people. The act in itself was all it was, as there was no object created which had the process layered into it. It is the demands placed on the audience by the event in this case which is central to the understanding of installation. It is they who are left to construct the meaning of what is put before them. In this example we are dealing with the area of art which has shifted from art as object to art as process, from art as a thing to be addressed, to art as something which occurs in the encounter between the onlooker and the stimuli. This ‘Process Art’ is a field unto itself but helps us to relate to the role that process plays in Insallation.

Contemporary installations tend to have absorbed the histories which helped to define the genre. The majority of works that I have selected for this examination into Installation exsist in ‘object form’. That is to say that the artists have always ended up with material creations as a result of a working process. They may have set out to create an object which addresses a theme (c = a+b) as with the work of Damien Hirst such as "In and out of love",(5.1) or the artist could have under taken a process which resulted in a physical product (a+b =c), or indeed a mixture of the two depending on your own understanding of the artist and the specific piece (a+b=c ~ a+b=c). Each piece has to be examined on its own terms of reference.

The gallery installations of Richard Long utilise the materials that he encounters when taking long walks throughout the varying environments of the world. He also intervenes with natural settings on a human scale in those environments. What is crucial here is his methodology. The process is a process of investigation and enactment which leads to a result. He sets out a route, say a walk in a straight line from A-B, does this and memorialises it after and during its progress. The fundamental point is that he ‘memorialises’, which implies post-process. His work is all about what he does, walk. All his ‘objects’ relate specifically to his prescribed process. It is not the case that he takes a walk to find the raw materials for an installation in the Tate, but that he first takes the walk and then expresses his findings in the gallery environment. His poems and diagrams are acurate accounts of his walks such as "Dry Walk" (1989)(5.2) which is the account of a walk that he did in Avon, where he walked from one shower until the next. It lasted 113 miles. Long’s installations occur both in the gallery (post recorded) and along his route (progressive recording). The installations in the landscape chart his journey through space and time. ‘A line made by walking’ (1967)(5.3) is an example of how the process and result are inseperable to the viewer. The action of walking repetedly up and down in a straight line on the grass materialised the line. He knew what he wanted to do first BUT the process is essential in the experience of the work. I find it impossible to seperate the result from its manufacture. Its layered meaning effects its observation.

A similar recording of events that are enacted in the landscape is the essence of Goldsworthy’s work. As discussed before he works with nature as he finds it. His process is one of chance quite often. He leaves home knowing that he wants to make something but doesn’t know what until it reveales itself to him in a pragmatic fashion. This is expressed in an interview with John Fowles in 1987..."I take the opportunities each day offers - if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it might be with leaves, a blown-over tree becomes a source for twiggs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material by feeling that there is something to be disscovered."24

When he finds the material its inherent characteristics and location define the way in which it can be worked, thus creating an object. In "Floating Hole" (1984)(5.4) he evidently came across the river with fallen leaves and thought what he could do with them. Layered into this must be an overview of his ideas that he carries around. The hole is one in a series that he was dealing with at the time. What has always stood out in my experience of Goldsworthy’s work is his process. When I look at an image of one of his pieces I do not just see the object, but I also see the process which led to its existence. Golsworhty actually going out and making it. I do not feel that this is just because I have a background knowledge, I always experienced this.

In the gallery the element of process can also be felt. The painstaking way in which objects are assembled such as "Horse chestnut stalks and thorns"(5.5)from 1989. The doorways are filled with an intricate weave of the given materials which evokes an emotional response in relation to this tedious process. The way in which it came into being is a part of the whole.

Another example of the process in Goldsworthy’s work combines the whole process from construction to decay as shown previously in "Snowballs in summer". In relation to process the whole cycle of birth and decay is the focus on process. It is an exploration of process.
Christo’s work sets out to achieve an object, but it is how this object is created which is as essential to its artistic merit as the object itself. the very size of Christo’s creations infer the element of process. You have to ask yourself about the way in which it came to being - process.
The emphasis that Christo places on the air inside "49,390 Cubic Feet Packaged"(5.6) can serve as a metaphor for the element of preocess. It is the emphasis within a piece of Installation upon its production which I am focusing on. I have a friend who is participating in the wrapping of the Reichstag in 1996. The whole process is therefore started years in advance and planned meticulously, with permmisions having to be obtained, and money to be raised from the sales of Chrito’s drawings. This time consuming process is integral to its whole.

The recent work of Antony Gormley is similar in so far as it takes lots of people to materialise the given goal. The "Field for the British Isles"(5.7) involved the community of St. Helens producing 40,000 similar clay ‘people’ together to be exhibited in the Tate in Liverpool. Again the task here was prescribed and acomplished, yet the involvement of the community and the shear amount of figures means that this is [again] essential to the experience of the work.Its process is fundamental.

In relationship to Architecture then the process of design and construction is quite often seen as being seperate from the experience of the building by the occupant.The way in which a building is built is by the use of a set of drawings and literature. This is seperate from the ‘design process’ which is as individual as the artists approach to his/her medium. The result of the Architectural process is the building, and the attitude towards this environment has through time had a certain relationship and layered meaning imposed upon it. The majority of us are not Architects and thus not rehearsed in the supposed ‘meanings’ embodied within the medium. This then has an effect on the way we percieve the built environment. It is there, and has been all our lives. Buildings are essentially containers for activity and climate modification. We see the success of them in terms of comfort and efficiency in doing the job that they were intended for, not so much through the eyes of the designers phiolosophy and artistic concept which aided and influencd its ‘design’.

This then is the difference that I am proposing between Architecture and Art. Art has this layered meaning present when relating to it. It is somehow externalised and given a different set of rules by which to observe it. Architecture is not externalised as it is part of our physical environment. It is interesting though to observe the work of Sol Lewitt as when his works come up for sale they do so in the form of the written word and not in their three-dimensional form (as mentioned in element 3). The purchaser is given a set of typed instructions which say how the work is to be constructed. This is the same as the way in which a building is produced.

Inherent in several of the works which I have discussed is the notion that the process is as important as the result, and that the result may only be a record of that process. This record is frequently a photograph which acuratly portrays the climax of the process. This is more often than not the only hard evidence of the process having existed at all. So an importance is placed upon it. The ‘photo-record’ is the final element which I wish to discuss.

"A photograph is not only an image(as a painting is an image),an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a foot print or a death mask".25 Susan Sontag.

All the work that has been presented to you in this ‘book’ has been in the form of photography and associated text. The only way in which you have experieced the works and related what you have seen to what I have written about is through the eye of the lens (unless that is you have witnessed their real life presence). Photography then, is vital to the true representation of the original. Without it we would only be relying on language produced images personal to each individual or perhaps drawn/painted interprative images not true to the original as they have inherent opinion and time equation problems. "Photography is an objective slice of space-time....It’s testomony is powerful but offers no opinion".26

I view the photographic medium as a window into the world of the original subject, as I have suggested in earlier chapters. I feel that it is possible to picture and feel things that surround the image. It works on the cerebral level as well as the visual one. This is evident in War Photography and Photo-reportage with evovative images such as the South Vietnamese Girl running naked from an explosion. K.Jones described this ability as "a sort of umbilical cord link from the body of the photographed thing to my gaze".27

The photograph is a memory of the actual event that was the Installation. I have suggested that most Installation is temporary and therefore not permenant, so memory is its residue. The photograph serves as a surrogate for the thing that it shows. It’s transparency brings this memory into a real-time through the viewers active mind.

The most common use of the photograph is for a facsimile/record of Installation. It is, however also used in the medium of Installation in it’s own right as an art form. A good example of this can be found in the work of Günther Förg. Förg uses many mediums in his Installation to weave a tapestry of media. The scale of his photographs of classic Modern Architecture create a sense of external space within the confines of the given gallery space (the umbilical cord). The photographs in their settings with their attention to various forms of light and spatial relationships mingle and blend together with these characteristics of the galleries in which they are exhibited. The reflective surfaces of the glazing covering these adds to this as the reflections further blend and subvert the images with those of the room(6.1). He frequently takes this idea a stage further by mixing in a few large frammed mirrors.

Leaving the gallery again in physical terms (as opposed to via the photograph) the interaction of Installation and the everyday environment as explored earlier by Jenny Holzer is manipulated through photography by Dennis Adams in his use of the bus shelter as site(6.2). The photographs were time orientated topical images relating to a poltical trial at the time of their installation, the trial of Klaus Barbie in Germany. The use of the bus shelters meant that the images reached anyone who was unaware of thier presence and happened to encounter them on thier daily buissiness. This externalising of Installation from the gallery means that their effect is more subversive in so far as the viewer has not been conditioned by the act of going into the gallery thus being provoked into thought on the subject without expecting it. This is in a sense similar to the advertising that would normally be in place of the photo’s. The photograph could then be seen as being a "museum without walls" as proposed by Marshall Mcluhan, in both its dislocation from the gallery (more commonly seen in sculpture) and through it’s umbilical cord.
The interweaving of photography into the realm of Architecture is not common, but does occur in Installation. This happens in a sense in the gallery, which is Architecture. Förg’s work sucsessfully manipulates this whith his bluring and mixing reflections and images. A work by Genevieve Cadieux takes the site of the Canadian Pavillion at the 1990 Venice Bienniale and layers the photograph into it’s fabric. She uses the glazing and fills the ‘frames’ with images of close-ups of the body in evocative poses.(6.3) This may suggest the inter-relationship of man and the built environment.

My final example of the use of photography in Installations uses photography’s precice recording ability, to confuse and blur reality. In ‘The way it was’(6.4) (1990) Alfredo Jaar took photographs of biuldings on the opposite side of the street and then installed them in custom made light boxes into those same windows. In so doing he infact replaced the real live view with a photographically frozen one of that same view. This used the inherent quality of the medium the freeze and record a moment in time. The meaning layered into this was associated with the division of East and West Germany having been reunited at that time which as mentioned in Element 3 raises the importance of the title to the success of the piece.

In terms of the ‘recorded residue’ the photograph is important to the process of Goldsworthy. "Taking the photograph is not a casual act. It is very demanding and a balance is kept in which documentation does not interupt the making. Each work grows, stays, decays - integral parts of a cycle which the photograph shows at its height, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expressed in the image." 28

I discussed ‘Hazel stick throws’ in Element 2 with its inherent temporality. Without the photo-record it would not be the Installation it is. The camera froze the action and layed it down on film for the rest of us to interact with, visually. In ‘Neighbours’(6.5) the medium of Installation is fused with photography as the photograph was the purpose and the Insallation of the television/people were the means. Another of the Elements (Temporality) plays its role here and is imopotant to the understanding of the photographs role. I intended that the camera should capture the event at a specified time, that being when the credits for the programme rolled. The whole nature of the picture would have been falsified if I had videoed this image. The fact that it is a photo adds to its worth. It is a reality as it did happen and was viewed with this intenetion. If it had not been Photo-recorded then we would have no evidence. Had it been a drawing of the event it would only have been an idea as such, not the reality ‘stenciled off the real’.

The majority of this essay is taken from my own understading and observation of Installation. This has come from the analysis of the works that have been put forward through the phtotgraphs presented in books and magazines. I have not yet found any one text which successfully explains what exactly Installation is. My reason for saying this is to emphasis the importance that photograph plays in the analysis of Installation. Instalation expresses itself and this is replicated in the photograph. Hence I have been able to formulate my analysis from these images in conjunction with my own attitudes.

"A photograph can say a thousand words".29


To wrap things up, (as with a Chitso!) I have attempted to define in general terms what this thing called ‘Instalation Art’ is. The Elements that I have presented are each a seperate part of a complex whole. It is intended that any given Installation is comprised of a certain selection of these Elements dependant on its own particular characteristics, its own genetic make-up.

A work could have a direct relationship with its site(1), be short-lived(2) and only remain in photographic form(6) after is has been decayed, or it may have set out to engage the brain(3)through a process(5) which directly involved the viewer to interact (4)with it as part of this existence.
Installations on the whole are formulated around their specific environment as with Architecture. The relationship to their site is a key to their manufacture as they are built into specific environments intentionally. The environment is then a generator for their production.

Installations have a life span which means that they are governed by time and are finite within in a forseable future. They are temporary in nature and are intentionally not built to last often being dismantled when it is time for the next one to be materialised,especially in the gallery environment. The production of installations is a physical realisation of the intellectual notion and once this has been achieved and the work has lived out its life then it can left to be remembered in our minds and through photography.

Installation works not always just within itself but also with us the audience who bring it to life by interacting with it. In some examples it lays in wait for us to take part with it and use us as the raw marerial for its active ingredient.
The process of production of an Installation is often as important to its meaning as is the end product itself. We as viewers or participants can regard its production as integral to its whole on a higher level than a question of ‘just’ how it was made. The photographic residue left by the whole creative process of thought and production is often the only evidence left of its existence and becomes important to its life-cycle.

In a sense Installation Art is completely open ended and has arrived where it is today through the whole history of art which preceded it. There does seem to be though a cohesion in its exsistence which spans all continents, and it is the existence of this ‘cohesion’ which I have tried to analize and discuss from my own viewpoint, understanding and practice.

Installation Art is an ever mutating Art form which refuses to have confines placed on it and therfore is difficult to pin down. It is this characteristic which is so refreshing to the audience. I suggest that it will continue to mutate adding many more layers to its already richly decorated patina. It seems to be the ever dominante art form of the ninties and this I will suggest become very important in the future of the art history over the coming decades.


1. de Oliveria, Nicolas. ‘On Installation’;
Oxley, Nicola. Art and Design, ‘Installation Art’issue
Petry, Michael 1993, pp7

2. Ruskin, John. Quoted from lecture by Paul Hatton entitled
‘Sculpture Object Space’ given at the Cornerhouse
3. Krauss, Rosalind sculpture in the expanded field4. Andre, Carl. Quoted from lecture given by Peter Murray en-
titled, ‘objects from the Sculpture Park.Given
at the Cornerhouse, 2/11/93.
5. de Oliveria, Nicholas. op.cit. pp75a. Schaefer, Glen. Quoted from a lecture given by my dad at
The Study Society in March 1981 entitled ‘The Universe and the Mind of Man - Which the Reflector?’. ‘Universe with Man in Mind’ 1981 pp36.
5b. Schaefer, Glen. ibid.
6. An installation by myself made in central Manchester september 93
7. Lippard, Lucy. Quoted by in, Six Years:The Dematerialisation of
the Art Object. 1973 pp27
8. Quoted from The Late Show Thursday November 11th 1993
9. Thorpe, David. ‘Public Art/Art In Public’,Untitled winter93 pp5
10. Interview with Matta-Clark,Matta-Clark,ICC,Antwerp,1977.
11. Myself. Photograhic image of the level one walkway that used to link William Kent Crecent to John Nash crecent. July 1993.

12. Freud, Seigmund Quoted from an essay called,‘On Transience’
written in november 1915 at the invitation of the Berlin Goethe
Society. First published in ‘Das Land Goethes 1914-16’.
13. Vaizey, Marina. ‘Christo’ 1991 pp8.
14. Goldsworthy, Andy. "Hand to Earth". 1990 pp116.

15. Holzer, Jenny. Interview for "Flash Art" supplement on
Conceptual Art Nov/Dec 91 pp112.
16. Koons, Jeff. ibid pp113.
17. lost the name. brochure from the information centre by the

18. de Oliveria, Nicholas. op.cit. pp11.
19. Wines, James. Quoted by Colette in "De-Architecture".
1987 pp170.
20. Turrell, James. "James Turrell - Air Mass".
1993 pp58
21. Turrell, James. ibid pp26.

22. Goldsworhty, Andy. "Hand to Earth". Quoted originaliy from
‘Laws’ 1988 pp44.
23. Cage, John. "Installation Art" introduction "towards
installation" 1994 pp26.
24. Goldsworthy, Andy. "Hand to Earth" interview with John
Fowles 1987 pp162.

25. Sontag, Susan. "On Photography" pp154 1977.
26. Postman, Niel "Amusing Ourselves To Death" pp72 1986.
27. Jones,K "British Journal Of Aesthetics" Autumn 1983 article
entitled ‘The Metaphisics Of The Photograph’ pp375.
28. Goldsworthy, Andy op.cit. pp9
29. Anon.

1. Art @ Design. Installation Art 1993
2. Sharpe, R.A. Contempoprary Aesthetics 1983
3. Kennick, W.E. Art and Phiolsophy 1964
4. Various. Double Take, collective memory and current art 1992
5. Henry Moore Inst. Hand To Earth 1991
6. Goldsworthy,A. Rain Sun Snow Hail Mist Calm 1985
7. Foster,H. Discussions in Contemporary Culture 1987
8. Prentice-Hall. Photographers on Photography 1966
9. Archer,M. Installation Art 1994
10. South Bank. Walking in Circles 1991
11. Serpentine. Gordon Matta-Clark 1993
12. Vaisey,M. Christo 1991
13. Krauss,R,E. Passages in Modern Sculpture 1977
14. South Bank. James Turrell 1993
15. Wines,J. De-Architecture 1987
16. Stolintz, J. Aesthetics 1965

1. Untitled (ARTS NEWSPAPER) various issues 93/4
2. The Face Jenny Holzer Oct93
3. The British Journal of Aesthetics. Warburton,N. Spring 1988
4. "Das Land Goethes 1914/16" Freud,S.
5. The British Journal of Aesthetics. Jones,K. Autumn 1985LECTURES
"Sculpture Object Space" Lecture series held at the Cornerhouse
September to December 1993.

Thanks to Daniel and Richard for their guiding minds,
and to everything and everyone who make me laugh.
Laughter is the saviour of sanity.

Dedicated to the spirit of Jill Regan who diverted me onto the right path.

Copyright of audiOh!Room 1994. JANEK SCHAEFER

Above copied from:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


1.Concrete and visual poetry in print

One of the projects shown at Documenta 2002 in Kassel, Germany, was an over sized empty book. The book was ‘written’ by David Small who entitled it: The Illuminated Manuscript ( Of course, the 26 pages did not remain empty. If one moved one’s hand over it, sensors wired around the book caused a projector from high above to send down text according to the page the viewer had opened and according to the movement the viewer’s hand undertook at each page. The text was revealed in an unusual, astonishing manner. It ran from one side to the other, it overwrote itself like a palimpsest, or it circled around on a transparent 3 D tube[1] In any case the text’s appearance was quite impressive, more so because it was initiated by the integration of the viewer’s finger movements.

The title of David Small’s book installation is in itself suggestive because it aptly and succinctly describes what is happening: writing with light. This includes both the projection from above as well as the plastic pages illuminated from inside and initiated by viewer contact signaling to the projector the number of the current page. However, the title not only marks a technologically innovative method of text presentation, it also leads us back to the past. Illuminated Manuscript is the technical term for handwritten books from the Middle Ages, which are embellished with brilliant inks and dyes. The technique of illumination – elaborately conceived initial letters, ornamental borders and gilded illustrations – sought to let the light shine through the text, which did not mean so much to illustrate the text as to reveal its inner qualities. The light was intended to release the truth of a text from within. Illumination and ornament served the purpose of the message rather than just to illustrate the text.

William Blake revived the illuminated manuscript – as a vehicle for the revolution of the imagination – at the end of the 18th century. His Illuminated Books object to the capitalist mode of mass production and present a fusion of the visual and the literary into a form, which cleanses the relationship of the senses to the imagination. This fusion of the visual and the literary is always an existent although rarely recognized aspect of the history of books and writing. As early as antiquity there has been text, which developed an additional meaning by the way it was presented.

In the so called labyrinth poems the text line winds its way over the paper like the path through a maze, thereby adding the labyrinth metaphor to the message of the text itself. Our example from the Baroque represents a coherent labyrinth with a clear way forward to the destination, an optimistic labyrinth without the danger to get lost. In the figurative poems the text shapes a certain figure, in religious context often a cross, in Baroque secular figures as well as here a goblet as a wedding poem for a couple from Bremen in 1637. This poem is an early version of interactive writing, which calls the reader either to turn around the paper or their head in order to perceive the text. The deeper wit of this playing with form lies in the fact that after this performance one feels dizzy as if one had just drank a goblet full of wine.

The philosophy behind this playing with form, behind this shift towards typography, is to free the word from its pure representational, designational function. While in literature the physicality of language – such as its graphical aspects – normally is neglected and even considered to poison the authority of the text, the relation between signifier and signified, here the visual form of the word was used as an additional meaning. The word not only represents an object it presents it on the visual level. The goblet is to be seen before one even starts to read.

This attention towards the visual materiality of language increased between 1910 and the 1920’s when Futurists such as Marinetti or Dadaists such as Tristan Tzara or Kurt Schwitters undertook their typographic experimentation.[2]

The legacy for such exploration was Malarmé who once condemned the tedious patterns of verbal presentation in newspapers and conventional books and experimented with typography. His A Throw of a Dice was first published in 1914. The occasion for such exploration was as well Saussure’s deconstruction of the sign into two independent, only incidentally linked elements: the signifier and the signified. Dada attempted to render problematic a linguistics in which an ‘absent’ signified might be construed to exist independent of its relation to a material signifier (see Drucker, 9-47). In the wake of this development poet practitioners such as Velimir Khlebnikov and Ilia Zdanevich gave theoretical treatment to the materiality of typographic character.

Such experiments on the physical level of language were dismissed by Surrealism, which experimented with language only on the level of mental representation. The area of experimental typography was reopened in the 1950’s and 60’s, now entitled Concrete Poetry. [3] This only “worldwide movement in the art of poetry” (Williams, VII) after World War II is marked by writers as Franz Mon, Eugen Gomringer, Reinhard Döhl, Ernst Jandl, Gerhard Rühm, Konrad Balder Schäuffelen, and Daniel Spoerri to name only a few from German speaking countries. Representatives from other nations include Augusto de Campos,[4] Emmett Williams, and Jiŕí Koláŕ. The unifying element of these author’s texts is that one cannot read them aloud. In oral form they would lose their design, they are to see or, as Franz Mon entitled one of his essays on concrete poetry, they are “Poesie der Fläche” (poetry of space).[5]

A famous example of this more recent period of concrete poetry, which is also to be found in Emmett William’s Anthology of concrete poetry from 1967, is a piece by Reinhard Döhl where an apple is shaped by the words »apple« plus the word »worm«. Another example is Eugen Gomringer’s piece Schweigen (Silence) from 1954, where in horizontal and vertical lines the word »schweigen« surrounds an empty, silent space. This gap is the point in Gomringer’s piece for which all other words are just a preparation because the gap conveys the message that, strictly speaking, silence can only be articulated by the absence of any words. The message does not lie in a semantic sense between the lines but in a graphic sense between the words. However, this piece does not dismiss the representational function of the word in favor of its visual value. Certainly, the message is to be seen but it will only be revealed on the basis that one did read the surrounding words before.

This cooperation portrays the concept of concrete poetry very well: it is concrete in its vividness in contrast to the abstraction of a term. Thus, concrete poetry deals with the relation between the visible form and the intellectual substance of words. It is visual not because it would apply images but because it adds the optical gesture of the word to its semantic meaning - as completion, expansion, or negation. The intermedial aspect does not lie in the change of the medium but in the change of perception, from the semiotic system of reading typical for literature to the semiotic system of viewing typical for art. [6]

Whereas concrete poetry stands for the iconization of language, visual poetry indeed applies images as can be seen in the image-text-collages by Klaus Peter Dencker and Johannes Jansen which are much more complex and difficult to understand than most pieces of concrete poetry. Another example of visual poetry is lettrism founded by Isidore Isou in 1945, like Isou’s Les Nombres from 1952 and Roland Sabati’s figurative poems from 1998 refering to webdings and windings alphabet in writing programs as Microsoft Word. [7]

A version of visual poetry where text and image are combined but also can exist independently from each other is the Luminous Poetry by Günter Brus,[8] where Brus uses his own and other writer’s prose and poems and combines them with drawings. Till the end of the 70’s, Brus called his Luminous Poetry "illuminierte Manuskripte" (illuminated manuscripts) in reference to William Blake’s Illuminated Books.

Thus, we are back to our starting point whose historic context should have taken shape in this short recapitulation. Now we may discuss the deeper sense of David Small’s installation. Is his Illuminated Manuscript intended to release the truth of a text from within as its Middle Age predecessors? I want to postpone this question to discuss it in a broader context once I have introduced the further development of concrete and visual poetry in the digital realm.

2. Concrete and visual poetry in digital media

As David Small’s piece already renders, in the digital realm concrete poetry gains two more levels of expression. While concrete poetry in print combines linguistic and graphic qualities of words, in digital media time and interaction are two additional ways of expression. Words can appear, move, disappear, and they can do this all in reaction to the perceiver’s input.

A good example for using time as an aspect of concrete poetry is Augusto de Campos’ poema-bomba (1983-1997). While the original version in the static realm of print captures the concretization of an exploding poem in a specific, silent moment, the digital version goes beyond the state of a still and realizes this explosion in time as motion and sound. If a still can progress into a movie, the worm of course can eat the apple as in Johannes Auer’s digital adaptation worm applepie for doehl.
Johannes Auer: worm applepie for doehl

As much as Augusto de Campos proceeded from concrete poetry in print to its kinetic version in digital media, the Argentinian Ana María Uribe proceeded from Typoems, as she calls her concrete poetry pieces in print, to Anipoems, her name for animated pieces of concrete poetry, which combines an elegant minimalism with a refreshing humor.

A recent German representation of kinetic poetry is ER/SIE (HE/SHE) by Ursula Menzer and Sabine Orth. This contribution to the German competition of digital literature in 2001 materializes and comments on the meaning of a word by the way it appears on the screen. Thus, for example, the first syllable of Erbauung (Building or Edification) is thrown in the ground like a concrete block, which cannot be removed, followed by the other letters built up floor by floor.

An example of kinetic poetry, much more difficult to program, is A Fine View by David Knobel, a short text about the fall of a roofer. The point here is that the text rises up like the smoke a cigarette (the roofer’s cigarette), grows and finally speeds up as if the text came towards the reader’s face in the same manner as the roofer’s experience as he fell rapidly towards the ground. An audiovisual example with a strong reference to the predecessors of kinetic concrete poetry is Grunewald’s animation of a verse by William Blake.

While this form of kinetic concrete poetry is reminiscent of the text movies and television poetry since the 60’s (like So is this by Michael Snow from 1982), the interaction between a piece and its perceiver leads beyond this cinematic situation. An example is Das Epos der Maschine (The Epic of the Machine) by Urs Schreiber, the award winner of the competition of netliterature by the French-German TV channel Arte in 2000 (for a review see 7/2000). This piece addresses technology as a doubtful god that controls us. At the same time it lets us feel the pressure exercised by technology because everything is programmed. We have to follow certain hidden patterns before we get access to other parts of the text and reading is not as free as it used to be with books or hypertext.

One remarkable effect is when the words, which call technology into question are themselves formed into a question mark. The visual realization separates all words from the word »Wahrheit« (truth), which remains immobile in contrast to the other. It is stiff and rigid as assumed in the text. If we click on this word the other words disappear behind it, ambiguously suggesting that doubt has escaped into unshakeable truth or truth has swallowed, what called it into question. However we read the removal of these words, we soon realize that it only lasts a short time. Once we move the mouse these words reappear. They adhere to the word truth, they follow truth wherever it goes, and they can be 'eaten' again, but never erased. Once a question has arisen, the message would seem to be, one can't get rid of it any more, one will encounter it again and again, provided there is movement in the discourse. That this movement lies in our hand is literally the message the interaction conveys.

Completely based on users’ action is the audio-visual rollover poem YATOO by Ursula Hentschläger and Zelko Wiener (for a review see 1/2002). These net-artists from Vienna, who call themselves Zeitgenossen (contemporary), present a star that utters text on mouse-over contact. The text does not appear on the screen but as an audio file; one side of a star corner activates the female speaker; the other side activates the male speaker. Nevertheless, the text’s materiality is realized in the graphics, which transform in shape according to the way one navigates. If one always touches the right or the left side of the corners of the star, one gets a whole sentence and a new harmonious shape of the visual parts of the star. The sentences are admittedly simple –»You are the only one«, for example, which also explains the title’s abbreviation– and certainly do not represent the state of art in English poetry. However, this is partly due to the poetics of constraint on which the poem is based because each line can only consist of five words - one for each corner within the star.

On the other hand, the piece gets interesting only via the user’s reaction, which adds to the poetics of constraint a perception in constraint. In order to understand the given text one has to navigate the star in a certain order. If one does not care and contacts randomly both sides of the corners one will only hear the chaos of words mirrored by the chaos of the visual parts.

This may be the comment to the romantic statements in this poem: relationships need to understand and take into account the underlying setting. If one does not, conversation will not take place. Thus, the poetics of constraint -respectively the perception in constraint - is part of the message, a wordless part, which cannot be overheard in our interaction with the piece.

After these examples of digital forms of concrete poetry I want to discuss the poetics of concrete poetry in print and digital media.

3. Decoration and Message

Experimental poetry – which concrete poetry is part of – has been accused of being an autistic language and therefore of being incapable of having an impact on the reader’s consciousness. Thus, concrete poetry seems to be useless in terms of political interventions. The counter argument is that focusing on the text’s materiality implies a reflection on the use of language thereby impeling the audience to identify and perhaps even reject all attempts of language instrumentalization. (Einhorn). “By the isolation of words from the usual setting of language,” Gisela Dischner points out, “the natural way of speaking suddenly appears in a different light, questionable, incomprehensible. The intended patterns of language are being undermined.” (38)[9] The American scholar Johanna Drucker states the same intention for the typographic experiments of Dadaism, which “was concerned with opposing the established social order through subverting the dominant conventions of the rules of representation.” (65) In this perspective, the deconstructive play with the symbolic order of language is considered to question social patterns and to even have revolutionary potential.[10]

However revolutionary concrete poetry may be considered by manifestos and academics, it is “a kind of game,” as Emmett Williams states (VI); the revolution happens as a playful event. There is a sensual pleasure involved, a release from reading words in favor of enjoying their visual appearance. There is the likelihood that this sensual pleasure is not combined with the pleasure of reflection, that the linguistic play remains harmless as Gisela Dischner points out (39). Other theorists have addressed the focus on form for its own sake with regards to other periods of concrete poetry. For example, Wolfgang Ernst considers the “optical poetry” (“optische Dichtung”) of the Baroque period, especially labyrinth poems and artistic reading-parcours, to be rooted in the attitude of mannerism (211f.). Is concrete poetry manneristic rather than political?

Mannerism established a shift from the rhetoric of conviction and persuasion to a specific emphasis on entertainment which used effects, amazement, grotesquerie and the fascination of paralogism. (Hocke, 133ff.).[11] This applies to mannerist works in the 17th century as well as other epochs of mannerism such as in Hellenism, the late Middle Ages, Romanticism and Art Nouveau. Mannerism always favors form over content and is in love with decoration.[12] Considering the revolutionary gesture of concrete poetry suggested above, it seems to be absolutely inappropriate to compare it with mannerism. However, within the international movement of concrete poetry, the given examples may be a representation of militant social reform, which Emmett Williams sees side by side with “religious mystics, lyricists of love, psychedelic visionaries, engaged philosophers, disinterested philologists and poetypographers.” (VII) Besides engaged examples, which literally intend to set the reader out of line like Claus Bremer’s immer schön in der reihe bleiben (keep in line) from 1966,[13] one finds equally philosophical pieces such as Max Bense’s Cartesian concrete [14] or playful visual renditions of words and people such as Gomringer’s Wind, Koláŕ’s Tinguely, and Döhl’s Apfel.[15]

We see the same diversity in the beginning of the 20th century when Futurist, Dadaist, and Cubist artists in literature and visual art emphasized materiality. Their emphasis either embodied the intervention into the symbolic order as a kind of political and social critique (Drucker considers this “strain of modern art practice” typical for Dadaism). Other artists realized this materiality to facilitate revelation and the representation of truth similar to the illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages.[16] A third group finally denied both religious and political aspirations and was concerned with the autonomy of the sign existing on its own right, presenting rather than representing, relieved of designatory functions.[17] According to Drucker, even the last approach proves a “persistent investigation of the process of signification such that the relations between formal manipulation and content could not be dissolved”, which is why the relations between formal manipulation and content never have been dissolved (67). However, the question remains whether such formal manipulation really increases a reflection of the patterns of representation and a desire of subversion or whether it rather supports a playful approach to text freed from meaning in order to focus on the surface effect.

With respect to kinetic concrete poetry one should realize that concrete poetry in print and concrete poetry in the digital paradigm are not only separated by their media but by decades of history. The revolutionary pathos of concrete poetry in the 50’s and 60’s will hardly be found in our contemporary times. Since the arrival of postmodern philosophy, the reverence of grand narrations of enlightenment and revolution has dissolved. The postmodern condition caused disillusion and a resignation from ideologies and social utopia towards individual, sensual and playful settings.[18] This tendency results from general skepticism towards any kind of teleology or claims to know the truth – a skepticism, which itself is the result of what Foucault calls postmodern enlightenment.[19]

Despite the conservative turn of politicians and intellectuals in the wake of September 11th, this anti ideological attitude is still to be found in younger generations, though hardly with the reflexive background of postmodernism. Florian Illies, feature writer of FAZ, described this consciousness with anecdotes in his book Generation Golf, sociologist Heinz Bude discusses it in his study Generation Berlin, and media researcher Norbert Bolz celebrates in his recently published Consumistic Manifest the substitution of consumption for ideology as “pragmatic cosmopolitism” and the global society’s immune system against the virus of fanatic religions (14 and 16). Whatever one may conclude from the comments of these authors, one certainly has to agree with their description.

The aesthetic consequence of such a cultural disposition is obvious: if emphatic messages seem to be inappropriate, the focus of art will shift to form. This was the case in mannerism, which has been a result of crisis similar to postmodernism, which is why Umberto Eco considers postmodernism the modern name for mannerism (77). And indeed, as Andrew Darley notices in his book on Visual Digital Culture there is “a shift away from prior modes of spectator experience based on symbolic concerns (and ‘interpretative models’) towards recipients who are seeking intensities of direct sensual stimulation.” (3) The “prevalence of technique and image over content and meaning”, manifested in computer designed movies such as Star Wars (1977), Total Recall (1990) or Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), leads to a “culture of the depthless image,” to an “aesthetics of the sensual,” which puts the audience “in pursuit of the ornamental and the decorative […], the amazing and the breathtaking.” (193 and 169) Darley speaks of movies, MTV, and computer games. However, the turn of the “‘reader’ or interpreter” into a “sensualist” (169) can be discovered with regards to print and screen design as well. Thus, David Carson’s design of “post-alphabetic text” “refashions information as an aesthetic event,” (Kirschenbaum) and text in multimedia environments on the screen embody a shift from protestant enlightenment to catholic revelation, as the German linguist Ulrich Schmitz puts it. Lev Manovich even sees a shift in the official presentation of net art from the self-reflexive conceptual art of the early 90’s (with a huge influence from Eastern Europe) to Flash-art at the beginning of the new century (with stars representing the world’s key IT regions San Francisco, New York and Northern Europe).[20] To quote Robert Coover, advocate of hyperfiction, who in 2000 declared the passing of its Golden Age: there is “the constant threat of hypermedia: to suck the substance out of a work of lettered art, reduce it to surface spectacle.”

This transfer of attention from semantics to the surface spectacle is the cultural context of digital concrete poetry. It is to no surprise that the legacy of meaningful reflection cannot always be discovered. Often enough the play with material is only focused on impressive effects, flexing ‘technical muscles.’ In these cases, language – as in mannerism – celebrates itself. In the digital realm language of course is more than the word seen on the screen. The language of digital media is composed of letters, links, colors, shapes and action, which is all based on the code beneath the screen. The language of digital media is the program; which is why Lev Manovich sees the “software artist” as the new type of artist.

According to Manovich, the software-artist outdates the media-artist, who, in the 60’s outdated the romantic artist. While the romantic or modern artist “creates from scratch, imposing the phantoms of his imagination on the world”, media-artists “not only use media technologies as tools, but they also use the content of commercial media,” re-photograph a newspaper photograph or isolate and manipulate a segment from a movie or TV show. This ‘art of the second hand’[21] is now overcome by the software-artist, “the new romantic”, who “marks his/her mark on the world by writing the original code”. This software-artist “re-uses the language of modernist abstraction and design – lines and geometric shapes, mathematically generated curves and outlined color fields – to get away from figuration in general, and cinematographic language of commercial media in particular. Instead of photographs and clips of films and TV, we get lines and abstract compositions.” The announced retreat away from the language of commercial media seems to contrast the transformation of artists into designers, which occurred in the 1920’s, helping to change “the formal radicality of early modernism into the seamless instrument of corporate capitalist enterprise,” as Johanna Drucker states (238). That the Generation Flash “does not waste its energy on media critique,” as Manovich states, may weaken such an assumption. Another argument is that the non-cinematographic Flashaesthetics[22] actually is well equipped to serve as the new language of an emerging, rapidly commercialized medium. Finally: most software artists work as designers as well, creating commercial products like online games, webtoys, and multiuser environments.

To visit the websites Manovich cites as examples, illustrates the departure from cinematographic language and seems to prove that Generation Flash indeed “does not waste its energy on media critique.” Manny Tan’s interactive spider on is an example for all the versions of ‘mouse magnetism,’ installing a closed circuit between the user and a digital entity for the experience of playful interaction.[23]

A good example for non-figurative software-art, which at the same time works with “post-alphabetic texts,” is Untitled by Squid Soup a group of designers, artists, and musicians, who create commercial products like online games, webtoys, and multiuser environments, as well as experiment with spacial materialization of sound. Untitled is such an audiovisual 3-D-environment, which presents written letters and mumbled words just to create "a feeling of being somewhere."[24] What we see and hear is the transformation of text into sound and design, a fascinating, somehow hypnotic experience, which has absolutely no intention to be investigated from a semantic point of view.

An example, which almost paradigmatically embodies the development of concrete poetry, is Enigma n by the Canadian programmer and net artist Jim Andrews. Enigma n was first developed in 1998 in DHTML as anagrammatic play with the word meaning. In print one could have concretized the change of meaning by a specific order of letters in horizontal and vertical lines reading one direction as »meaning«, the other direction as »enigma n«. This setting would have revealed the anagrammatic surplus of the letter »n«. In Andrews’s digital version from 1998, the letters, which at first form the word »meaning« in contrast to the title »enigma n«, change position and meaning constantly – until stopped by the user– thereby giving meaning even to the letter »n« as the sign for a variable number.

Andrews calls Enigma n “a philosophical poetry toy for poets and philosophers from the age of 4 up”. This description stresses the playful character, which goes far beyond the play of concrete poetry in print. In 2002 Andrews published an audio-visual version with increased sensual effects. In Enigma n^2 the letters of the word meaning are not shown in changing positions, but the word is spoken, manipulated by software. As Andrews explains in a private email November 2002: “The sound itself starts out with the word 'meaning' backwards and then there are two normal repetitions of the word 'meaning'. The program randomly selects a starting point in the sound and a random end point (after the start point). And it selects a random number of times between 1 and 6 to repeat the playing of that segment” – with the option for the user to set the start point by clicking on the wave form.

Andrews is certainly right seeing Enigma n^2 “as a kind of continuation of Enigma n in that it's concerned with the enigma of meaning.” (private email) And indeed, hearing these endless, interrupted, randomly looped attempts to articulate the word »meaning« may support this aim. However, whereas Enigma n required contemplating the deconstruction one sees on the screen, Enigma n^2 allows just dipping into the hypnotic atmosphere of sound mix and visual effects. The original philosophical effort of the anagrammatic play in Enigma n has been released; concrete poetry has turned into music.[25]

Thus, we can say that concrete poetry at least partly carries out the same shift from symbolic concerns to sensual stimulation Darley sees for visual digital aesthetics. There are good reasons to assume an irresistible ‘mood for technology’ itself behind this transition, on both sides of production and of perception. This mood for technology can be marked as digital kitsch on the basis of Ludwig Giesz’ definition of kitsch as giving up the specific distance between I and the object in favor of a feeling of fusion and surrender to the object (407). Such a mark, of course, would display an absolute “meaning-centered approach” to aesthetics, which Darley questions in his book: “Is ornamentation, style, spectacle, giddiness really aesthetically inferior or, rather, just different (other) from established motions of literary, classical modern art? Is an aesthetic without depth necessarily an impoverished aesthetic, or is it rather, another kind of aesthetic – misunderstood and undervalued as such?“ (6)

Darley seems to have the support of Susan Sontag, who wrote in her famous essay Against Interpretation as early as 1964: “In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.” Sontag recommends a deeper interest in “form” in art and Darley suggests we approach the “‘poetics’ of surface play and sensation” (193) open mindedly and without reservations resulting from concepts of cultural pessimism.

However, Darley even seems to have the support of particular moments in art history. In a certain way the “aesthetics of the sensual”, the “culture of the depthless image” is reminiscent of the debate of formal aesthetics in the beginning of the 20th century, when the visual sign was considered self-valuable, and ought to be freed from its meaning-bearing role to the “pure visual”. Shall we consider Enigma n^2 – and moreover those pieces of software-art which deliberately focus on “surface play and sensation” – a return to formal aesthetics? Is the autonomous self-centered technical effect – the code as a self-sufficient presentation on the screen – the contemporary equivalent of the “pure visual”? Is, again, this aesthetic of the “surface play and sensation” appropriate to the character of our time and of this technology?

In an age of theme parks and progressing semi-analphabets, in an age of “spectacular dictates of the culture industry”, as Hal Foster complains, one feels the need to stand up against the sell-out of meaning and to fight for artifacts which still demand to invest and practice hermeneutic energy. One even feels reminded of the Austrian architect Adolf Loos, stating in 1908 in his essay Ornament und Verbrechen with regards to the aesthetic hybridity of Art Nouveau: "The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects." (20)[26] However, the question is not only whether one should fight or not, but to what extend this fight may succeed within the realm of digital media. The response of a reader of Epos der Maschine proves that the reading of kinetic concrete poetry easily can miss the author’s intention. In this case, the author hoped for readers using the mouse with curious passion and promised the serious reader a spectacle not only on the screen but in their head as well.[27] His fascinated reader, however, writes: “just the way it deals with script and typography! I don’t need to read anymore! How words shove into each other and circle and appear and disappear and and and and and!” (webring; entry to Epos der Maschine)

The medium itself seems to foster such an attitude towards surface reading, and an attraction to programmed effects. The medium’s click gesture seems to favor curiosity which cares for what is promised behind every link rather than for what is to be discovered between the lines and signs. Lev Manovich says about his first visit on the Flash-site “I was struck by the lightness of its graphics.” Of course, in this case lightness is different from lightness in Middle Age illuminated manuscripts where the light was intended to release the truth of a text from within. Lightness of graphics on stands for ease and lightheartedness. In the light of this difference we are finally back to our starting point, which now deserves a second look. What about lightness either way in David Small’s Illuminated Manuscript?

4. Lightness, Lighting, and Irony

Let’s recapitulate which situation of perception Small’s installation provides. The embellished book in a dark room attracted many visitors, gathering around this ‘virtual camp fire,’ curious how the display of text was working. In order to read the text one had to stop moving the finger and wait till the text settled down. One can imagine how hopeless it was to decipher the words with five or so pushing people eager to experience the power of their own fingers.

However, this does not change the fact that the book did provide certain texts. These texts draw the attention to a third meaning of the title, which does not stand for a technology of presenting but of thinking. Illumination refers to Enlightenment; the famous Illuminatenorden (illumination order) may bridge the association. And indeed, the assembled texts all are dedicated to a specific topic of Enlightenment. Smalls’ piece is, as he himself explains, “a collection of writing on the subject of freedom.” Among these writings we can find the American Declaration of Human Rights, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech to the congress at January 6th in 1941, Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail from April 16th in 1963, and Georg W. Bush’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People from September 20th, 2001. Is this thematic orientation pure chance? Is the viewer intended to consider together both aspects of illumination: freedom and truth?

The arrival of the text in September 11th adds the perspective of contradiction and inconsistency to the topic of enlightenment and religious or secular truth.[28] To those who did not release themselves into the simple logic of friend or enemy, right or wrong, September 11th made clear the extent to which freedom still remains an unsolved problem. Though, president Bush in his Address promised: “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done,” one knows the subject matter is much more complicated than this statement in the wake of the terrible events of September 11th implies.[29] As increasingly different positions of politicians and public writers have shown, there is no clear indication about how to be just – and as Derrida states in his book on justice, justice is an experience of the impossible: one cannot objectivize justice, one cannot say »this is just« and even less »I am just«, without having already betrayed justice (33). Freedom of the subject, one should conclude, includes the freedom not to side with one of the offered ‘truths,’ but to remain in the process of doubt and search – because the actual problem is the illusion that we are in the right. One can also say: “Absolute truth abolishes a habitable planet.” [30]
Günter Brus:
Absolute Wahrheit schafft einen bewohnbaren Planeten ab.

This statement brings us back to the illuminated manuscripts by Günter Brus, from where this is quoted: “Absolute Wahrheit schafft einen bewohnbaren Planeten ab”. With this piece, if not before, the illuminated manuscript has given up its genre specific gesture of revelation. Now it uses this gesture only to call it into question. The poetry of revelation has turned into Luminous Poetry (Leuchtstoffpoesie), as Brus calls his illuminated manuscripts; the light has lost its symbolic value to release the truth of a text from within. One could say: enlightenment has moved on to postmodernism.

We encounter this mutation of illumination as revelation into illumination as lighting in Small’s installation as well. Small’s illuminated manuscript obviously does not intend to reveal the inner qualities of its text. It rather suggests playing disrespectfully with the text. The way the text appears undermines all of its authority. The ironic precondition of this understanding is that one nevertheless finally reads these texts, for example on the Internet. Here, on our home computer, Small’s installation would find its completion. And here we would realize that kinetic concrete poetry might play with formal effects in a manneristic way and still provide a deeper message, which we ought to discover. Behind design and surface spectacle is still room for deeper meaning. If artists make the effort to hide such meaning beneath the technical effects they deserve an audience that is patient and curious enough to have a second look.


[1] The tube reminds of Schuldt’s Glastextkörper from 1965; a glass tube whose surface displayed several sentences.

[2] See Marinetti’s Zang Tumb Tuuum, first published in journals between 1912 and 1914, and Tzara's cubistic calligrames.

[3] Gomringer and the Noigandas poets of São Paulo agreed upon this term to describe the new poetry in 1956 unaware of Öyvind Fahlström who had already written his “manifest for konkret poesie” in 1953.

[4] See his homepage:

[5] ‘Prose of Space’ would be a text like Lewis Carrol’s The Tale of a Rat, which is presented in the shape of a rat tale.

[6] Whereas the system of reading consists of discrete elements which possess meaning as such, as words (lexems) one can look up in a dictionary, the system of visual perception consist of non discrete elements, which will be structured as an amount of discrete signs only on the base of the projection of hypothetically assumed signifiers onto the visual object. Only within this projection a specific shape or a specific color will have a specific meaning. - For a differentiation between concrete and visual poetry see Dencker, 174f. and Weiss. Note Emmett William’s focus on poetry rather than concrete and his objection against the de-emphasization of poetry by too strong analogies of concrete poetry to the visual arts (Williams, V).

[7] For the ‘lingualisation’ of painting at the beginning of the 20th century see collages such as Carlo Carrà’s Manifestazione interventista (1914) or Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbilder. A former version of such ‘lingualisation’ are Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s allegorical portraits in baroque, a later example are Niki de Saint Phalle’s readable sculptures like La marièe from 1963 with the weddings dress out of little objects such as a snake, baby, plane, car, birds or shoes.

[8] End of the 1990ties Günter Brus’ exhibition "Leuchtstoff - Poesie und Zeichen - Chirurgie" was shown at places like Kunsthalle Tübingen, Kunsthalle Kiel, and Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz.

[9] Translation by the author, see the German original: “Durch die Isolation von Wörtern aus dem gewohnten ‘Ablauf’ der Sprache erscheint das Sebstverständliche der Sprachgewohnheit plötzlich neu, fragwürdig, unverständlich; die intendierten Sprachgewohnheiten werden aufgebrochen. Das ästhetische Nicht-Selbstverständlichnehmen des Selbstverständlichen könnte modellhaft sein für das gesellschaftliche Nicht-Selbstverständlichnehmen des Gewohnten, ‘Normalen’.”

[10] Chris Bezzel speaks of an “aesthetical alienation from the social alienation” and states: “revolutionary writing means the revolution of writing.” (“ästhetische Entfremdung von der sozialen Entfremdung”, “dichtung der revolution bedeutet revolution der dichtung.”) (35f.)

[11] Hocke speaks of a “manieristische Para-Rhetorik” (146)

[12] Hugo Friedrich notices the hypertrophy of artistic means and the atrophy of content (597). Ernst Robert Curtius states the randomly and meaningless plethora of ornamentation in manneristic epochs (278). Hocke differentiates between Mannerism and Baroque and states for the latter to revitalize docere against delectare (146). This statement follows the thesis of Erwin Panofsky who considers Baroque in his essay Was ist Barock (1934) a return to the principles of Renaissance classicism, a “reaction against exaggeration and overcomplication […] a new tendency towards clarity, natural simplicity, and even equilibrium” (23). For a new exploration of this perspective see Peter Burgard The Poetics of Irony: Opitz and the (Un)Grounding of German Language, who reveals the various forms of Baroquen art to subvert the systematic principles underlying Renaissance art.

[13] Bremer writes the title line for line one under the other until the page is covered with the intention that the reader will have difficulties to really read line for line and rather be provoked “not to keep in line but, on the contrary, to get out of line [thereby setting] the reader free in the realm of his own possibilities, the realm in which we are brothers.” (Williams, see entry for Bremer). See as well Ivan Steiger, who builds the word NEIN (no) out of many YES (ja) words, suggesting that (or asking whether) obedience will finally turn into resistance.

[14] This piece from 1966 sets the words »ich«, »denke«, »etwas« »ist« in a circle so that it can be read in a different order. See the word painting The Fall of the Tower of Babel (1964) by John Furnival, where the letters of the phrase “peace for the world” and its Russian translation mingle more and more to build a house of meaningless noise. Both pieces are included in Emmett William’s Anthology of Concrete Poetry.

[15] In Wind the letters w-i-n-d all over and back and for build the word »wind«; in Tinguely the letters t-i-n-g-u-e-l-y shape an object, which looks like a Tinguely sculpture (see Emmett William’s Anthology of Concrete Poetry).

[16] Wassily Kandinsky considers material effects to “endlessly augment[s] the reserve of spiritual values” (123, quote from: Drucker, 62).

[17] The Cubist Maurice Raynal states: “But the truth picture will constitute an individual object, which will posses an existence of its own apart from the subject that has inspired it.” (Quote and further discussion in: Drucker, 65). For a discussion of the concept of the image for image's sake as an aspect of formal aesthetics see Wiesing. For the contemporary attention to the material components of signification in linguistic theory (Saussure, Russian Formalism, Prague School) and essays by poet practioners see Drucker, chapter one.

[18] For this tendency in art and design see Wick, 11. For examples in literature, which dismiss the grand narration of the 68’s movement see Christian Kracht’s novel Faserland (1995) and Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre’s novel Soloalbum (1998)

[19] Indiscussing postmodernism I refer to Michel Foucault’s understanding of postmodernism as an attitude of mind rather than a phenomenon of a specific time in history. In contrast to humanism as a theory about mankind tied to a certain point of view suchas Christian, atheistic, and Marxist humanism this attitude is skeptical against teleological ideas and the belief in progress and opts for building identity on the base of the hermeneutics of the other (see Foucault: What is Enlightenment?)

[20] Manovich compares the Tirana Biennale 01 Internet exhibition with exhibitions in the early 90s.

[21] Manovich speaks of the media-artist as “a parasite who leaves [sic!] at the expense of the commercial media“ and concludes as reaction to thirty years of media art: “We are tired of being always secondary, always reacting to what already exists”

[22] See Manovich’s note: “Many of the sites which inspired me to think of ‘Flash aesthetics’ are not necessarily made with Flash; they use Shockwave, DHTML, Quicktime and other Web multimedia formats. Thus the qualities I describe below as specefic to ‘Flash aesthetics’ are not unique to Flash sites.”

[23] A more philosophical version of mouse-magnetism is Antoine Schmitt’s gallery of entities “avec determination” – (see review in Paris Connection) .

[24] This is the answer from Squid Soup in a private email when asked for the intention of their piece. In the same email Squid Soup explains the production of meaningless text as follows: “1. take a random book off of a random shelf and open at a random page; 2. read a random passage; 3. repeat steps 1 and 2 a few times; 4. take recorded passages and cut them into small pieces (samples); 5. Change the speed and direction of some of the samples; 6. stick them back together in a different order.”

[25] Or should one say concrete poetry has turned into sound poetry? In his email Andrews states: “A kind of strange generative/interactive sound poetry/music. I have my stereo hooked up to my computer, so my computer speakers are my stereo's speakers. I play it sometimes (fairly loudly) for a few minutes to hear if I can figure out more about that sort of music.”

[26] Cited by Forster, who discusses Loos in the context of total design almost a century later (14). For the original text in German see Glück.

[27] See interview with Urs Schreiber in: 6/2000 (

[28] On the one hand, it is emphasized that the Islamic ‘truth’ of Dschiad against the western world and culture cannot be taken from the Koran and that Islam is a peaceful, tolerant religion. On the other, western intellectuals underline that western convictions and values are not universal and cannot simply be imposed on other civilizations. Both cases relay on hermeneutic procedures and exemplify their immense practical consequences.

[29] This is even more true in a country that, as Noam Chomsky reminds us, the World Court has condemned for international terrorism (84).

[30] An example for the political consequences of such linguistic and philosophical understanding of the relativity of all systems of thinking is Jean Paul who, in the time of Napoleons attack of Germany took an in-between position between German nationalists and Bonapartists stating: I am neither biased nor conceited enough to absolutely side with one party. In a different context he declares he wants to keep himself open to the partly truth from all sides since he does not want to make his I to a temple, altar or even representative of the absolute truth. (See original version: “[Ich bin] weder einseitig noch eingebildet genug, mich mit aller Meinung für eine Partei zu entscheiden”, and: “[Ich will mich der] theilweisen Wahrheit von allen Seiten offen halte[n], weil mein Ich kein Tempel, Altar oder gar Repräsentant der himmlischen Wahrheit sein kann.”] (Bertram, 93, and Berend, 81f.)

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