As the final months of 2015 arrived and the year sped towards its final hour, I visited a flurry of participatory art exhibitions across London, all of which had something in common. In a city which constantly churns out exhibitions and events, it was, as ever the immersive shows which won my time and appreciation. The Old Masters never did appeal to me; a child of the times, it has always been Contemporary Art which strikes a chord.
Viewing art is always fascinating on some level, but truly experiencing art is something altogether more memorable. With so much visual stimulation in today’s world, now more than ever it is not enough just to look, we want to get involved. Art which forces the viewer to in some way participate is not new. In the 1960s American artist Bruce Nauman’s ‘Performance Corridor’ forced his viewers to walk down a 20 inch wide corridor, and experience the constraints of space - not too dissimilarly to Höller’s opening corridor in his 2015 ‘Decision’ show, albeit with light rather than space being withheld. Such experiences place the viewer in situations which stimulate the senses and provoke a reaction; this is the artist’s intent.
When the viewer becomes a performer in the work, they are given a role to play in creating its meaning. It is the participation itself which completes this kind of work; unlike a painting which needs no viewer to add the finishing touch, without the viewer participatory art remains incomplete.
Of course, with immersive art not all control is given to the viewer. In Carsten Höller’s Hayward Gallery show he deliberately orchestrated uncomfortable experiences, but our experiences of these was only limited by the safety of the gallery walls and our ‘Decision’ to participate or simply view. Back in the 1960s Bruce Nauman made an important point, speaking of ‘participation pieces without participants being able to alter the work,’ confirming that the viewer’s contribution to meaning only penetrates so far. The following three exhibitions touched on the above thoughts...
Ann Veronica Janssens – yellowbluepink Installation,
part of States of Mind: Tracing the edges of consciousness - 15 October 2015 to 3 January 2016
Ann Veronica Janssens
Janssens installation follows in the footsteps of Anthony Gormley (Blind Light, 2007), Olafur Eliasson and Ma Yansong (Feelings are Facts, 2010), and Carlos Cruz-Diez (Chromosaturation, 2010), using colour and air to disorientate visitors and engage the senses. Impregnating the air of one of the Wellcome Collection’s gallery spaces with colour (unsurprisingly yellow, blue and pink), she creates a multi-sensory experience designed to make us explore consciousness. Hanging like a veil within the space, the colour is so thick that it is almost blinding, thick enough to get lost in. By destabilising perceptual norms Janssens engages with our senses, making us hyper-aware of the process of seeing. The experience is a form of escapism, the heavenly colour cloud removing you from the world outside of the gallery walls, forcing you to be present, fully conscious, and to stop the perpetual train of wandering thought. The experience is social, fun, yet individual. To be four steps away from your friend is to see them slip away and eventually disappear. The fear of not being able to navigate your way through the space is pacified by the knowledge that you are, after all, safely contained in a gallery space with four walls.
Janssens’ installation formed part of States of Mind, a year-long investigation into the experience of human consciousness, ‘a topic seemingly defined as much by what is yet to be understood as what can be readily explained.’ The next installation of the series, 'The Whisper Heard' by Imogen Stidworthy, runs from 4 February until 24 April.
Wellcome Collection, 83 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE, UK
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Marcus Lyall, with Rob Thomas and Alex Anpilogov - On Your Wavelength,
part of MERGE Festival - 18 September - 18 October 2015
The MERGE annual festival should be returning to disused spaces in Bankside September to October 2016.
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Dominic Harris - Moments of Reflection - Phos Art + Design - 18 September to 31 October 2015
Phos Art + Design, 15-16 Brooks Mews, Mayfair, London W1K 4DS
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No doubt 2016 will throw up much more to be deliberated. As ever, critics will bash this type of interactive art as mere entertainment, and proclaim art is no longer as skillful as it once was, back in the day. But one thing's for sure, galleries are starting to feel less and less like hushed libraries. They are becoming more social, and at the same time more determined than ever to take us somewhere else; to remove us from our tiresome mindsets and to make us feel more present, more alive.
Long may that continue!
Author: Sarah Moor