Installation art is a type of modern artistic sculpture, that presents the idea of using three-dimensional things in some sort of thought-provoking way.
Art installations are mostly presented in art galleries, museums, but also sometimes in public spaces in cities as well as in nature.
The “cross-over” of installation art from the gallery space into the outside world, or the natural world, could be considered inevitable, although this by no means to say the results have been predictable.
Take for instance The “Spiral Jetty”, a well known installation art piece called an “earthwork”.
Created by Robert Smithson in 1970, Spiral Jetty, at a glance, might be mistaken for a natural phenomenon, if you happened to fly over it in a helicopter.
It was, however, intentionally formed, and is located in an area of Utah, still there to this day.
Unlike Spiral Jetty, which has been there for decades, installation artworks created outside, particularly nature-based installations like this one, are made to last for a temporary period, and disperse at some point either by manmade design to do so, or naturally.
Installation artworks also sometimes can be movable, transferred from one place to another, although generally they are not as easy to move around as regular canvas-based artworks.
Because of their somewhat unlimited potential in terms of scope, the popularity of installation art featured outdoors, has only increased.
As the modern artist has taken to focusing their creative endeavours on the possibilities of what can happen when art goes “outside”, new and intriguing innuendos begin to bubble up from the wellspring of the human mind.
Modern Installation Art Origins – In (Very) Brief
Art installations, in the form that we understand them today, started to become part of modern art between the 1960’s and 1970’s. One of the first installations was created by artist Yves Klein and called “The Void”.
It took place at Iris Clert Gallery in Paris, 1958. This installation was unique at that time because of its minimalistic idiom.
As it happened, the gallery’s outside was painted in the vivid blue color (the specific tone was invented by the author Klein himself, who is often associated with the color blue, oddly enough), an entrance was decorated by fancy same-blue-colored drapes.
Meanwhile, inside of the gallery was empty – Klein removed all things, except one display case and painted it plain white color just before the posh opening.
Here is a video showing the nature of “The Void” by Yves Klein, from 1958.
Klein was known for many unusual installation and even “living” artworks, such as his “living paintbrushes”.
Installation art, overall, is generally thought of as 3-dimensional art, or in other words, art that exists on “interactive” plane of reality we are all familiar with, as 3-d types ourselves.
Other famous installation artists through history have included Joseph Beuys, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Nam June Paik, and Larry Bell. But today as we continue, we will not be focusing on these intrepid individuals.
As it happens, here now we are going to look at some specifically “climate change” related artists and their works, which you might consider an informal branch of installation art.
This type of artwork reflects on what it means for our human race to exist as we plunge deeper into an increasingly complex industrial world, which has been evolving for centuries now and seems to have reached an impasse in some cities of the world, like New Delhi.
Climate Change Installation Artworks
Climate change, as an idea, fear (sometimes referred to as the “climate crisis”), and as much politicized “buzz word” (in some cases as the media likes to hijack these things to their own ends), is essentially, when you strip away the political posturing and mania, a noble and legitimate concern that has arisen in the past 50 years and which has only gotten increasingly more concerning for people that care about our planet, many of them artists who are especially sensitive to such things.
Climate change has inevitably become the topic of many impactful artworks throughout the world, with new movements having been created, and important discussions influenced. All of this artistic ingenuity has brought this topic to new levels of creative output.
Artists all over the globe, who wanted to create artworks, wanted to not only address this issue, but also do their part towards figuring out how to potentially solve this problem, and make others think and act regarding their circumstances.
Sometimes cooperating with designers, architects, and scientists, climate-based creators also wish to how important it is to be open, work together, and find the best solutions possible.
Here are some famous installation artworks focused on climate change you may wish to investigate further.
This installation, called “Lines” was created in 2019, in the small Scottish town surrounded by water – North Uist.
The concept “belongs” (ownership of installed art like this becomes more nebulous) to the Finnish artists Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho, who put white lights in straight lines on two buildings and a fence as a mark, indicating how high the water might rise if sea level will continue to rise in the future, according to the official calculations of scientists.
This project pushes society, and especially, the local community of the North Uist, to discuss what kind of impact does the climate change makes to their town and all other towns, which are in a similar geographical position, surrounded by water.
Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson is known for his interest and artworks related to climate change issues. His studio creates exhibitions and art installations for many popular art galleries and museums around the globe.
One of his projects, named “Ice Watch” was presented in London, outside the Tate Modern building at the end of 2018.
Olafur extracted 30 blocks of glacial ice from the waters in Greenland and placed them in public spaces across London, where they had been left for natural melting.
The main idea was to show how the environment influences climate change. According to the author, he wanted to bring pieces of Greenland’s nature to humans, who could have touch and feel those huge pieces of ice, because of the physical contact, the understanding of the issue is “naturally” (pun intended) more effective.
Wayne Binitie, a London based artist, currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Royal College of Art, together with the British Antarctic Survey, created an installation called “Ice Floor”, which took place from 25th November 2019 to 14 February 2020 in Arup, London.
The key to this artwork was in the small pieces of ice, which dated thousands of years old.
The idea here is similar to Eliasson’s, but here the main focus is with the sound, which is released from the pieces of ice cores, during its melting.
This sound is symbolizing the past, or, in other words – what the past can tell about climate change today.
What is unique in this project, that the ice has been extracted from the arctic pole by using a unique scientific method.
British Antarctic Survey scientists collaborated with Wayne Binitie, by providing him main ice materials and were fascinated about the artist’s idea.
Therefore, this is a great example of artists and scientists working hand in hand together for a common purpose.
Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde had created an art installation named “Waterlicht” at Columbia University in 2019.
The artist used light installation made by LEDs to show viewers how it would feel like to be under the 10 feet of water.
It is clear why Roosegaarde has taken a view of water as a key target of his installation: one-fourth of his home country, the Netherlands, is below sea level, therefore rising sea level can damage a large part of the country in the near future, if it continues unchecked.
According to the artist, the viewer can feel how vulnerable life is while living below sea level. Using his artwork, he wanted to spread a clear message to the world – people should be aware of the rising sea level.
Climate change is a sensitive topic these days, but it should be brought up during the public discussions and art is a great way to create those discussions.
Please comment below and let us know what you think. Have you seen or made any great installation artworks, focused on climate change.
Doris Salcedo is from Bogotá, Colombia, and was born in 1958. Her life dramatically influences her work in Colombia, and the lives of victims of trauma in Colombia.
She utilizes commonplace items in her installation work, such as furniture, grass, concrete, clothing, and flowers.
Some themes she has aimed to express are memory loss, pain, trauma, loss, and emptiness. Being an artist has been her lifelong dream.
“I always wanted to be an artist. I cannot name a date when that came to me; it has always been there. Living in Colombia, in a country at war, means that war does not give you the possibility of distance. War engulfs reality completely. In some cases, people can be killed or wounded at war, but in most cases war just distorts your life. It throws a shadow over your entire life.”
This video should give you a closer look to get you familiarized with Doris and her beliefs.
She continues, “War creates a totality and you are embedded in it. It’s like being engulfed in a reality. Political events are part of everyday life here, so art and politics came to me as a natural thing, something that has been very much present in my life from the start.”
Doris Salcedo attended Bogotá University, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1980. She majored in painting and theater.
In the early 1980s, Doris moved to New York and began sculpting, while earning her Master’s.
This is where she became influenced by other artists who were using political and challenging themes in their works.
This inspired her to draw from her home country and the heartache it had experienced with war.
She draws on her own experiences but also speaks for victims of senseless crimes and terrible issues that plague Colombia. She has interviewed victims to gain insight into their trauma to create many of her most famous pieces.
Some of her most notable installation pieces are the following:
A rough translation to ‘silent prayer,’ this piece is a series of sculptures that make up the shape of a coffin, from two handmade tables.
There is grass growing in between the tabletops. This piece symbolizes and pays tribute to the victims of gang violence, particularly the enormous gravesites where victims of gang violence are buried in Colombia.
Flor de Piel
Created in 2013 and acquired by the Harvard Art Museum in 2014, this piece was part of her solo exhibition Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning.
The tapestry measures 340 cm x 500 cm and is made up of thousands of hand-sewn rose petals. This piece was to pay homage to a nurse that was tortured to death during the Colombian war.
Located in Tate Modern in London, her installation here was a massive crack in the flooring. She is the first artist ever to change the physical building of Tate Modern.
This piece was to symbolize the wedge between victims and the social forces that divided and armed people against one another.
It also represents a significant divide between the rich and the poor. Particularly in Colombia, there is a clear divide and brokenness between cultures, and that was meant to be evoked by this piece.
Made from plywood, thread, sheepskin, animal fibers, and shoes. There are six different styles of this installation piece.
In the ‘shoes’ piece, the shoes were all worn previously by victims who had been declared missing.
Families of missing women donated the items. This piece represents being “permanently suspended between the present and the past” and bringing awareness to the memory of those who are missing, or their whereabouts are unknown.
Atrabiliarios is meant to be a portrait of disappearance and survivors mentally being distraught with no closure.
This installation piece is constructed from 1,550 wooden chairs piled between two buildings. The central theme behind this creation was a topography of war.
About Istanbul, she says, “Seeing these 1,550 wooden chairs piled high between two buildings in central Istanbul, I’m reminded of mass graves. Of anonymous victims. I think of both chaos and absence, two effects of wartime violence. What I’m trying to get out of these pieces is that element that is common in all of us. And in a situation of war, we all experience it in much the same way, either as victim or perpetrator. So I’m not narrating a particular story. I’m just addressing experiences.”
Created from 1995-1998, Unland is comprised of three sculptures. It’s meant to represent testimonies given by children who witnessed their parents murder in the Colombian Civil War.
Doris traveled across the country to collect statements from participants and how this shaped their lives. The three sculptures are called Unland: the orphan’s tunic, Unland: irreversible witness, and Unland: audible in the mouth.
Two wooden tables are fused into one, and combined by the legs being removed on each end. There are thousands of holes in the top of the table, which has human hair and silk threads sewn in. The wood has deep cuts across it, to signal the damage done in the war.
Accolades and Importance
Her list of accolades is impressive, to say the least. She’s been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, The Ordway Prize, from the Penny McCall Foundation, Velázquez Visual Arts Prize, Hiroshima Art Prize, Inaugural Nasher Prize for Sculpture, Nasher Sculpture Center, Rolf Schock Prizes in Visual Arts and The Nomura Art Award.
Doris Salcedo creates installation pieces that provoke thought and tackles tough, taboo subjects from objects with little significance.
She has played an important role in her Colombian culture, being a voice for victims of trauma and political injustices. Art has always been her passion for many reasons, and she has turned that into a lifelong career and been a guiding force in her niche.
“The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”
Recently, with the new technologies and materials, interesting art installations seem to be popping up in the contemporary art scene.
In a few words, an art installation is experiential art. Three-dimensional works that we can feel with our senses and they aim to offer an experience.
It’s art that we are able touch, or walk into, hear sounds from, and interact with; breaching that distance between viewer and object.
They could also be defined as a blend of art & architecture.
As we live in a time where we seem to be getting a little numb with technology, this trend seems to be appearing to reconnect us with our senses.
Art without borders
Japan, always experimenting with innovation, is holding nowadays the amazing “Borderless” exhibition by “teamLab” collective, in Tokyo.
They spread digital projections throughout the whole space allowing you to be inside the work of art.
Here’s a video guide to teamLab Borderless in Odaiba, Tokyo.
Not only the moving flower projections are mesmerizing, but the space itself; dark and filled with mirrors, paths, and sudden doors to other rooms make you wander around and get lost like in a forest, reconnecting you with the perception of your own body.
A little bit of context: Japanese appreciation for the 5 senses
The perception of the surroundings is very present in Japan in everyday life. To begin with, their Shinto religion worships all elements in nature as sacred.
Secondly, each season of the year has a strong presence, from the falling of cherry blossom petals in spring, or the red Momiji leaves that carpet the floors in autumn, the green moss that emerges from the concrete cracks in the moist summer, the heavy snow in winter, or even the natural disasters like earthquakes and typhoons give awareness of being under nature’ s world.
Also, body awareness has its roots in the synesthesia that you can experience while walking through Japanese gardens. They are made to be walked with full consciousness of the body.
Filled with slopes, hills, curved bridges, thin paths with branches of low trees to elude, ponds to cross through stepping stones. Body awareness must be involved to cross the garden.
Being in between worlds
Another incredible installation worth mentioning in the “Borderless” exhibition, is one named “Infinite transparency”.
A dark area with an “S” shaped longitudinal passageway is delimited by levitating transparent panels, which display animations of animal characters dancing to traditional music.
The figures are ghostly. Their contours are bright green and blue, and their movements are slow and enigmatic. Some of them are interactive. But the distinctive experience of this installation is that you feel lost in between worlds.
Both the digital characters and the visitors coexist visually in the same diffuse atmosphere as you can see the people walking ahead through the translucent panels, giving them a ghost-like aspect as well.
Both realities strangely coexisting give the whole space an otherworldly atmosphere. This idea of two worlds–the world of the living and the world of the dead- mixing is a recurrent topic in Japanese culture, often seen in their anime movies.
Meanwhile, in the Mori Art Museum, also in Tokyo, one of the most popular exhibitions held this year is “The Soul Trembles” by Shiota Chiharu.
The artist expresses a childhood memory in which she witnessed her neighbor’s house burn down in a fire.
Red or black thread take up entire spaces and engulf furniture to recreate that experience.
The day after the fire, she woke up to see a half-burnt piano standing on black ashes, and the beauty that she saw on that scene stayed with her. She utilizes thread to connect objects that crossed her memories in life.
In Japan and other Asian countries, the red thread is a symbol of connections and destiny. It comes from a legend that says that people that are meant to meet are joined by these threads.
Trip inside your body
One last interesting art installation in Japan is one called “Les Archives du Coeur” (or “The Archives of the Heart”) set in Teshima Island, one of the so-called “art & architecture islands” in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan.
This one was created by a french installation-artist, Christian Boltanski, so the cultural background might be different, but it is worth mentioning because of its surreal experience.
Placed in the border of the island by the shore of the sea, there is a small and discrete wooden building. Inside, a minimalistic, silent atmosphere, like a hospital, and a lonely receptionist welcomes you. You are invited to record your heartbeat with a digital stethoscope in a room with a computer.
Next, you enter a small waiting area with a screen that displays the hundreds of names of the people that have already left their heartbeat.
After that, you can enter the main room. It is a narrow and dark space, with a single light bulb hanging from the center, and mirrors scattered on the walls. You find yourself surrounded by the soft but powerful sound of your own heartbeat, that the light from the bulb follows rhythmically.
The surreal experience is the feeling you are inside your own body. The darkness of the space and the muffled sound of the heartbeat might be similar to being inside a womb. The recordings of other people play after yours, to realize that each heartbeat is, unexpectedly, different.
Unlike the other installations, which seem to connect the visitor outside, with surroundings, other worlds, memories…., this work transports you inside, allowing you to have a kind of organic experience.
Japan has and receives all kinds of artists with different sensitivities. Art installations seem to be a strong trend finding its nest in this country where traditional culture already hosted a mindset based on interaction, harmony, and senses.
The birth of an artistic movement is preceded by a mysterious evolution that is made up of a set of ideas that are refined and expressed by actions and works.
Arte Povera, one of the most influential avant-garde movements, emerged in Europe in the 1960s. In its general sense Arte Povera, an Italian term meaning impoverished, poor art, allegedly derived from the poor theatre of the Polish film director Jerzy Grotowski.
More specifically, it refers to a group of avant-garde painters and sculptors based in Genoa, Turin, Milan and Rome from the mid-1960s onwards who produced a provocative fusion of Assemblage, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Performance Art.
The movement grouped the work ofItalian artists whose most distinctly recognizable trait was their use of ’found objects’ including simple, commonplace materials, such as soil, bits of wood, clothing, rocks, rope, paper.
While avoiding a signature style and promoting diversity as a positive value, these artists produced works mainly consisting of photography, sculptures and installations.
In addition, the diversity of the creations of these artists made this movement recognize that no one’s method sustains all projects, and for this reason, an unrestrained creativity formed the common ground between Arte Povera artists.
In 1967, the art critic and curator, Germano Celant coined the name ‘Arte Povera’ and curated the movement’sfirst exhibition which was stagedat Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa.
The same year, he published a manifesto for the movement: Arte Povera: Notes for a Gerilla War. He proposed a guerilla warfare art against the rich world that he considered to be represented by certain contemporary trends such as Nouveau realism.
Gradually, he would abandon this political dimension in order to transform this movement in some kind of conceptual-minimal art.
In the same manifesto he also wrote about ‘a desire to escape the bounds of a social system that rewards conformity and limits experience, and argued that this system forces artists into producing bourgeois objects for an art market that requires the stability of the assembly line’.
With this declaration, Celant associated the Italians (and himself) with a new movement in art and put forth definition of Arte Povera. These and other pioneering texts and shows created a collective identity for Arte Povera, and promoted it as a revolutionary genre, liberated from convention and the market place.
Raw and Real
Arte Povera artists employed a vast array of raw materials, such as rags, coal, hessian sacks, wood , soil, seeds and vegetables, as well as manufactured items, glass and metal.
These materials were framed, hung or applied to walls, metal sheets or various surfaces. Artists made no attempt to change the natural colors of the materials.
Their work was a reaction against the modernist abstract painting that had dominated European art in the 1950s. In addition, the group rejected American Minimalism, particularly, what they perceived as its enthusiasm for technology and its scientific rationalism.
By contrast, they presented absurd and comical juxtapositions, often of the old and the new, or the highly processed and the pre-industrial. They conjured a world of myth whose mysteries could not be explained in an easy way.
Although Arte Povera is most notable for its use of found object and everyday materials, materials which contrasted with the apparently industrial sensibility of American Minimal Art, the movement employed subversive avant-garde tactics – performance and installations- unconventional approaches to sculpture.
In order to reconnect art with life, the Italian Arte Povera strove to evoke an individual response in each of their art pieces, stressing an interaction between object and viewer that was purely original.
Germano Celant and the Arte Povera Artists
Germano Celant was a key figure in the formation and success of Arte Povera, and in this respect Arte Povera is typical of avant-garde groups that have been given momentum and cohesion by a single voice.
Celant’s interpretations of the artists associated with the movement have remained prominent and important, and he stressed the Italians’ interest in individual subjectivity.
For instance, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work often dealt with relationships. His early mirror works, which confronted image and self, explored concepts of identity.
His The Minis Objects series was developed around the idea of art that was only completed through the addition of human interaction. In the piece, Structure for Talking While Standing / Minus Objects (1965-66)it can be seen how the structure connects to the viewer, allowing for a place to rest the arms and feet.
Also, a dialogue was a concern to the artist; Celant once described his related work, the simple metal construction ‘Structure for Standing While Talking’, from 1965-66, as a medium to create a personal dialogue between art and viewer, free from any preconceived notion.
Giovani Anselmo’s early work relied on human interaction to fully experience the art, which was loosely constructed in order to react to the slightest touch. He worked as graphic designer and began to experiment with the arts in his free time.
His Untitled (1968), sometimes referred to as Eating Structure, comprises a small block of granite attached to a larger, plinth-like block by means of a head of lettuce and a length of wire.
If the lettuce is allowed to dry out, the smaller block will fall, therefore, the sculpture has to be ‘’fed’’ with lettuce to maintain its structure.
Its concern with gravity and balance echoes some of the interests of American Post-Minimal Art through its comic tone, and its use of such mundane materials, is typical of Arte Povera’s evocation of rural and poor life.
Pino Pascali’s 32 Square Meters of Sea, from 1967, brings together the artificial and natural. Containers hold quantities of dyed water that replicate the variegated tints of the ocean, alluding to the effects of light and motion.
The industrial materials and geometric shapes used to produce the sculpture echo American Minimalist sculpture, through artist’s use of a simple natural materials, the water in this case, betrays its origins in the concerns of Arte Povera.
Although Piero Manzoni was not considered a true member of the Arte Povera group, his work reflects the principles of the movement,
His Artist’s Shit, no.4, from 1961, supposedly containing 30 grams of excrement, reprises such famous avant-garde provocationsas Marcel Duchamp’s presentation of a urinal as a work of art (Fountain, 1917).
Ninety cans were produced, labeled and canned in an identical manner, mocking the practices of mass production and consumption, satirizing the reverence usually accorded to artist’s work.
Celant’s most dramatic pronouncement, and probably reflected his hopes for the implications of Art Povera was saved for the igloos of Mario Merz.
He said that he performed a constant sacrifice of the banal, everyday object, as though it were a newfound Christ. Having found his nail, Merz became the system’s philistine and crucified the world.
Mario Merz, the oldest of the Arte Povera artists, was a painter in an Abstract Expressionist style, but with the new movementhe was given the opportunity to start his career anew.
In the Giap’s Igloo (1968) the first of his signature igloos, Merz uses a phrase, taken from a Vietnamese military general: ‘Se il nemicosi concentra perde terreno se il disperde perde forza’/ If the enemy masses his forces, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses strength.
Merz’s igloos provide a focus for his preoccupation with the necessities of life- food, shelter, warmth-though, as here, they contain neon tubes that suggest more modern and sophisticated experiences, such as advertising and consumption.
Arte Povera and Radicalism
Arte Povera was closely linked to the political radicalism emerging across Europe, which eventually culminated in the street protests of 1968. In order to understand better the real purpose of such movement, one must analyses the cultural context of Italy in the 1950s and 1960s.
The country was going to a period of industrialization as the Miracolo Italiano/ the Italian miracle. The consumerism was finding its way into Italian society and advanced technologies were rapidly being introduced.
The optimism for this progressive wave was then suddenly interrupted in the mid 1960s when the economy recession set in.
Workers and students were continuously protesting in all Europe and America and this brought other social and cultural movements and beliefs such as a hippie counter-culture and a new sexual liberation.
In that context, Arte Povera was no longer referring to the use of ‘poor’ materials, nor to a critique of a consumer society, but to the concept of ‘impoverishing’ each person’s experience of life freeing oneself from layers of ideologies and preconceptions.
Thus, the main principles of Arte Povera were few, but very clear: a work of art is attitude transformed into form, thanks to a wide range of materials; the art should be a way of achieving truth and authenticity; any medium, location or technique can be used since everything can potentially become a work of art; finally it should engage with social concerns and also reject the ideology of a consumer society.
A Brief Unity
Despite growing popularity the Arte Povera movement dissolved in the mid 1970s as the individual styles of the Italian artists continued to grow in different directions following their own paths. However, their brief unity had already made its mark on the history of art.
Germano Celent succeeded in carving out a place for Art Povera within the neo-avant-garde.
By illustratinga relationship to Italian classicism,Futurism and to more contemporary styles such as Land Art, he lentthe movementa place in what could be seen as a living tradition.
Over forty years later, the works of the Arte Poveraare more alive than ever since they still attract the interest of many since their meaning is still relevant.
In the case of Pop Art, to stay contemporary, artworks seemto be inevitably aged, such as the Worhol’s paintings, particularly those of the myths of the 60s like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles, that now seem to be a piece of history.
On the contrary, Arte Povera may just be one of the few things of the Twenty Century that managed to survive until now. The reason might be the fact that Arte Povera is not just an avant-garde movement, but it is something complete in itself.
In addition, it continues to be central to the idea of art as an experience, prior the knowledge and this might well be the reason why ordinary people who are not so much interested in art, can also feel the simplistic experience of this movement.
An art installation is a three-dimensional visual artwork, often created for a specific place (in situ) and designed to change the perception of space.
The term “installation”, which appeared in the 1970’s, generally applies to works created for interior spaces (ie. gallery, museum); outdoor works are more often referred to as public art, land art, or, to put it roughly, humans intervening on an environment and putting their “stamp” on it.
That said, an outdoor piece can most certainly be considered an “installation” of sorts, but, typically, installation art is most often found within an indoor space, as some artists would prefer to contain their creative statement to the context of a room, which is simple enough for a viewer to comprehend.
The installation, once constructed, is most often expressed in such a three-dimensional setting as has been mentioned: within a room, where the artist includes the environment as part of the work, or other factors, which distinguishes their work from simply hanging a 2-D piece.
The 3-D work is put into a situation and makes use of the off-field, a dimension that is not immediately visible to the person who is watching: the mere fact of including it as a “spectator” calls for notions of participation, immersion, and theatricality.
The space of the installation can be closed (eg limited to a waiting room, a kitchen, etc.) or open (for example a bridge, a wheat field, a square, a street, a city etc.): thus, Land art tends today to be redefined by the yardstick of the concept of installation.
Finally, an installation can be either:
mobile (or re-mountable);
permanent (or fixed);
ephemeral (or temporary).
The installation can most often be assimilated to a sculpture but it can not be reduced to it. One speaks of hybridization and mutations.
It also makes it possible to explode the notion of volume: the installation can be understood as an object of reduced size to a very large space (eg. Monumenta).
Specificity: Some installations are designed for (and depending on) a particular exhibition location.
Interaction: in some cases, the public is led to interact with the installation or even the artist himself.
The distance between the public and the work is more or less abolished; in some cases there is participation, the public penetrates within the perimeter proper to the work, engendering new types of relations between creation, creator, and viewer.
The scenography: some works invite a course, a path and propose different stages or sensorial sequences.
Here is a work by Yoko Ono called “Cut Piece”, from 1965. Watch the video and see what meaning you can derive from this work.
This brings us to the point about art, and what is exactly the point of it all? Is it to create enjoyment for the viewer / person experiencing the art, or is it simply to provoke thought?
As you probably know, if you like art, you must also be aware that there are those of us who just don’t really enjoy art, and, in particular, art that isn’t extremely easy to understand the meaning of at a glance.
Art which challenges the viewer, which installation art can often be, can often elicit feelings of strong dislike or confusion from the person witnessing it.
This begs the question, “What makes for good installation art?” For surely not all installation art is created equal, just like any kind of creative output. Are there no standards? Is it all just purely subjective?
We spoke recently to University of California professor Jennifer Gonzalez, who has studied installation art in depth, and has even written a book about installation art called Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art.
Jennifer offers the following tidbit, “Like any art form, good installation art transforms the way we see, feel or think about the world.”
Of course, everyone sees art differently. Some people aren’t comfortable having their thoughts challenged or provoked.
However, assuming you would like to understand installation art better than you already do, let’s take a trip back in time.
We will now look at the history of installation art, and some context as to how this often misunderstood sub-genre of art came about.
History of Installation Art
The term “installation” is relatively new in its use and in its definition as an artistic concept.
In 1958, the artist Allan Kaprow spoke of the “environment” to describe his productions, which consisted of the creation of a room requiring the intervention or the situation of the spectator and the place in a sort of happening, later described as “performance.”
In the same year, French artist Yves Klein invited the public to visit the Iris Clert gallery space in Paris to present his latest work, the “Exposition du vide”: floor, ceiling and walls painted white, all lit by a bluish light.
Playful, participative and mobile dimensions are already present in these avant garde works.
In retrospect, contemporary artists themselves are part of a genealogy, which, at the turn of the 1920’s, saw the appearance of certain artists (alone or in groups) capable of organizing, presenting and staging their productions in a non-conformist way.
Art theorists situate this phenomenon in the context of movements such as Dadaism and Surrealism: for example, Marcel Duchamp, who is the designer of the International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, or the Merzbau by Kurt Schwitters, two artists who, however, worked in the secret of their workshops.
In 1969 the public discovers Given, Duchamp’s last work, begun in 1946 and completed in 1968: the artist described it as a “demountable approximation” and is accompanied by ” a specification, which makes it, in theory, “remountable”.
The first “ephemeral” installation, designed to be destroyed after a brief exhibition, was realized in 1956 in Barcelona by the Catalan poet Joan Brossa.
In Japan, the Gutai group was expressing itself through neo-dadaist performances and forms of installations.
In 1958, Wolf Vostell realized an installation, The Black Room ( Das schwarze Zimmer ), and exhibited in 1963 at the Smolin Gallery of New York an installation called 6 TV De-coll / age.
Depending on their fashions and arrangements, in a setting that has its own dynamics, the installations use traditional media such as painting , sculpture , photography , but more often more recent media such as projections (film, video), sound, lighting.
An artist like Nam June Paik was the first to use a mixed technique, combining television, video, sounds and lights in Exposition of Music – Electronic Television at the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal in 1963.
Artists of the Fluxus and Lettrist group also expressed themselves through temporary installations, more or less provocative.
In the early 1980’s, interactive visual and sound installations appeared, using analogue and digital means, such as Jean-Robert Sédano and Solveig de Ory .
Beginning in the 1990s, the installations use computer tools either to drive the effects or to form the main medium, with artists like Perry Hoberman, David Rokeby, or digital and immersive with Jeffrey Shaw or Maurice Benayoun.
Now we shall take a look at some of the more famous, and sometimes infamous, installation artists the world has seen thus far…
Famous Installation Artists You Should Know About
Installation artists are not always the most well-known artists many students of art history will come across when studying art, which is strange, since installation art is some of the most groundbreaking and often hard-to-miss artistic statements that can be made.
Take, for example, this digital installation piece by Kyra Schmidt, which dominates an entire landscape.
As mentioned previously, the distinction between this art being considered “installation art” and “land art” comes down to the artists’ statement of their own work, and the viewers’ perception as well, since the artist clearly isn’t going to be present to guide each viewers’ opinion as to how to define what they are seeing. The art, in other words, speaks for itself, and, in a real sense, doesn’t care what the viewer thinks of it.
To beleaguer the point a bit more, Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jett” could be seen as land art, or installation art, or an earthwork sculpture, but it also simply is.
Installation art is such a powerful medium because it is often more than 2-D, reaching into the realm of experience-based media that affects us in a different way from a painting, or other types of media.
The point of much installation art is to express something truly epic, or a feeling that can only be felt in the world or context of that particular piece.
The list of popular and, in fact, legendary installation artists is not a short one. As a student of art, and as someone obviously curious about the creative process, I hope you enjoy this list of the most famous installation artists of all time that everyone should know about. (*It is, of course, up to you to determine whether or not you agree that they should be on this list, and it would be interesting to hear your opinion in the comments below)
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary artist who is well-known for her extensive resume in the arts and her long list of exhibitions and permanent installations.
She started achieving success in the 1950’s, and is now one of the most famous Japanese female artists, recently making the Time Magazine list of the 100 most influential people.
A very colourful person in life, Yayoi’s art immerses the viewer in an experience that takes them well beyond the bounds of the ordinary, usually involving polka dots in some way.
In 2017, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC opened up an exhibition celebrating her 50 years of work, and that same year, a museum named after her was instituted in Tokyo.
Her exhibitions are considered a must-see experience.
Watch this trailer for Kasuma (Infinity), about the artist.
Ai Weiwei is an artist from Beijing, China. He is a filmmaker, visual artist, installation artist, author, and architectural artist. He is, or at least was, an extensive blogger, finding a place to express his vitriolic commentary on the Sina Weibo platform in the early micro-blogging days of the internet.
His most notable works include teaming up with architects to design and create the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, but make no mistake, this man’s legacy cannot really be summed up in just a couple of big pieces.
Ai Weiwei is a human-rights activist that has been publicly vocal about his distaste for the Chinese government.
In fact, Ai has been embroiled in several controversies over his long and storied career, including a tax scandal, and being arrested. He always seems to have the government nipping at his heels.
Despite being at odds with his own government for things he says or does, he is the recipient of many awards over his lengthy career, including the Appraisers Association Award for Excellence in the Arts and the Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award.
Here is an interesting interview with Ai Weiwei that will give you an idea of who this man is.
Up next…Damien Hirst.
Damien Hirst is an English artist and art collector. His most notable work that seems to be his big (though perhaps improbable) “hit” is called The Physical Impossibilities of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which is a large tiger shark suspended in blue formaldehyde in a tank, created in 1991.
Here’s a video featuring this catchily-titled piece, with discussion between Beth Harris, Sal Khan and Steven Zucker.
This shark piece is quite notorious by now, and elicits many different reactions from onlookers. Is it beautiful? Is it horrifying? It depends on who’s looking at it, and their mood on the time, not to mention their own relationship with the subject matter imposed on the viewer by the artist: death.
Hirst is a two-time Turner Prize recipient. Some of his other works includes the recreation of a chemists studio, called Pharmacy, Away From The Flock, which was a dead sheep in formaldehyde and The Dream, which was a unicorn suspended in formaldehyde.
And just when you thought you’ve seen it all when it comes to unicorns suspended ominously in tanks of formaldehyde, there’s also this…
A central theme of Hirst’s work is, as you may have guessed by now, …. death.
Born in Colombia, Doris Salcedo is a visual artist most known for her usage of commonplace items in her work.
She is the recipient of The Guggenheim Fellowship for Visual Arts, a prestigious grant for exceptional work in the arts, along with many other renowned awards.
She has shared that her approach to creating installation art is: “The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”
Check out this video, where Doris talks about the nature of her work.
Bruce Nauman is an artist from the United States that is well versed in many different art forms. His work spans drawing, sculpting, working with neon and more.
There is an undeniable sexuality to his work that, when combined with the somewhat crude, universalized advertisement-like overtones in his work…the sort of eye grabbing modernity…that make the viewer subject to a wide array of reactions and emotions.
Since his first exhibition in 1966, his work has become widely known. His work has been featured in numerous prestigious museums, including Documenta, the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale.
He is the recipient of 8 awards and accolades, and is generally celebrated as a progressive artist the world over, going by the credo that “the true artist helps the world”.
Joseph Beuys was a German artist who practiced all forms of art. His art philosophy was “extended definition of art” and the idea of social sculpture as a gesamtkunstwerk, which means a work of art that uses all art forms, or tries to.
In other words, he once covered himself in a blanket and got in a room with a coyote to see what would happen. The title here was “I Like America and America Likes Me”. Well, it sure does!
His impressive body of work includes visual, installation, and performance art, but he also contributed in an academic way, with art theory.
He also had an impressive list of exhibitions that have been held posthumously.
Here is a short video asking the question, “Who is Joseph Beuys?”
Up next…Allan Kaprow.
Allan Kaprow was an American artist best known for his installation art and paintings.
He described his philosophy on art as “concrete” or using commonplace materials like “paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies” to make an impact.
He studied art and philosophy in school, and began teaching. He created a series of well-known installations called the Happenings, as a mixture of performance and installation art.
Here’s a video from 1988 in NYC that delves into some of Allan’s interesting happenings, and what they involved.
So far, we’ve discussed famous installation pieces, artists, and the background of the medium. Installation art has been disruptive in such a short amount of time and has given us some incredible artists with impactful work from all over the world.
But why is installation art influential? What about it makes it a necessary form of conceptual art? Well, there are three main reasons why we need it: critical thinking, inspiration, and emotion.
When you ask an installation artist the meaning behind their work, it’s often intense and thought-provoking.
For example, Doris Salcedo focuses her installation pieces around the themes of death, war, violence, and violence against women in her home country of Colombia.
Judy Chicago focuses her work on Feminist issues, and her piece “The Dinner Party,” is critically acclaimed and world-renowned.
These themes are underlying, and they’re abstract compared to the pieces themselves, which means audiences have to think critically about what the subject matter they’re ingesting.
The ideas and the impact of them are more important than the installation itself, as the artist is presenting a message in a way that makes people think.
Installation art aims to shift the focus from the literal visual representation of a piece to what the conceptual meaning is behind it.
Reworking how we consume art requires critical thinking and a shift in subjective perspective among individual viewers.
While the themes are not always immediately apparent, the artist is deliberate in every aspect of the piece. There is no texture, medium, or detail that is not intentional in a piece of installation work.
Over and above critical thinking, installation art fosters a dialogue between viewers. It sparks a conversation among critics and other artists in the installation community.
It creates an experience for the audience, more so than a painting or sculpture. Installation art breaks boundaries in many ways.
“If a traditional work of art allows us to appreciate the craftsmanship of the artist, an installation allows us to experience the ‘artwork’ and perhaps even rethink our attitudes and values.” – Encyclopedia of Art
Installation pieces are not confined to the walls of museums and galleries.
Some pieces, like Yayoi Kusama’s outdoor sculptures, Ai Weiwei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” or Arnaud Lapierre’s “Ring – Chain,” are all beautiful examples of artwork that are in public spaces.
It’s inspiring to be living your daily life and come across a large-scale piece of artwork that makes you ponder. Artwork that makes us question, deliberate, and inspires us is a gift.
The idea that anything is possible through art is exciting. As a creator, there are no limits. Creating art is ingrained in our being, which is why it inspires us so.
An installation piece provides a different kind of experience for someone, and each person looks at it and interprets it a little different.
Installation art can inspire change. So many artists explore heavy themes that are deliberately brought to the attention of their audience that they may not otherwise have been aware of.
These pieces of art inspire people to continue to spread awareness and create change in their communities.
Installations are typically temporary, which helps convey the concept of attachment.
In Buddhism, the idea of attachment is the cause of all suffering. We take with us our memories, and nothing else, so installation art can help inspire us to be less attached.
“Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact; it can affect change – it can not only move us, it makes us move.” – Ossie Davis
Installation art can have some dark themes behind its creation. Cultural issues, political issues, war, death, oppression, and other subjects that aren’t necessarily easy to discuss.
The goal behind installation art is to evoke emotion and conversation and to bring light to issues that are important to the artist.
For example, artist Damien Hirst focuses a lot of his artwork around death. His use of dead animals suspended and preserved with formaldehyde called “The Physical Impossibilities of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” is intended to make audiences feel a bit uneasy or uncomfortable.
Being able to assimilate the experience of an installation piece makes it all that more special. It creates an intimate moment between the viewer and the artwork in a way that a painting or more traditional piece can’t.
This moment only grows more profound when the installation piece is interactive, or the viewer becomes a part of the story.
“I think art, more than anything else, helps humans to synthesize emotion and to synthesize parts of ourselves, so therefore, as an artist, I feel a responsibility to try and facilitate that synthesis.” – Jennifer Nettles
Why is Installation Art a Need?
Installation art transcends aesthetic preference, since typically it uses materials that are mundane and ordinary, and goes straight for symbolism and meaning.
It demands critical thinking and emotion of its viewers, and it inspires other artists to create. It creates meaningful connections between the artist and the audience, mainly if their work is speaking for those who do not have a voice.
In the history of art, conceptual art is relatively new, but that doesn’t demean its significance and authority in the art world. Installation art is an experience, and it’s a necessary medium in our society.
Whether you’re personally a fan of this art style or not, there is something to be said about the impact it can have on us when it’s created with care.
“All of the significant art of today stems from Conceptual art. This includes the art of installation, political, feminist, and socially directed art.” – Sol LeWitt
Each of these artists listed are extremely talented and well-known individuals in the installation art community, and now, hopefully, you will have a better understanding of installation art in terms of its context in the art world, place in history, and possibilities you may wish to pursue if you were questioning whether or not painting or drawing is the medium for you.
Again, leave a comment if you wish.
“Just as the development of earth art and installation art stemmed from the idea of taking art out of the galleries, the basis of my involvement with public art is a continuation of wall drawings.” – Sol LeWitt