Installation Art: Intercession of the Corporeal, ruminations…

My installation work is an intercession of the corporeal.

A Natural History diorama creates a loss of viewer interaction. Nature is preserved and glassed in. The viewer is only that: a bystander, not a participant. In this position, the viewer cannot catch the glassed in, formaldehyde-pickled frog between his/her hands, cannot feel the muscular squirm of a live frog as it tries to flee, smell its viscous yet delicate skin, peer at the bronze filigree in it’s iris. There is a veil of glass, poison and death between the viewer and the once live frog. The diorama or simulacra, while easily kept, is a replacement for visceral reality, the interaction between subjects in time and space within a dimensional environment (without glass). The diorama creates a layer of distance, of abstraction between the viewer and the subject.

What creates this distance? The Post Modern allegorical denial of death? Attempts to suspend one moment in time (suspension of death)? Disavowal of physiological interaction by making life too safe (avoidance of potential death)? The wolf in a diorama will not eat the viewer, an IMAX audience won’t fall off a precarious cliff, no matter how many times the film shows such a scene. The lack of physiological interaction with subjects has created a situation of abstraction – a one degree removal from visceral reality. The viewer can see the simulacra, can watch and look, but not taste, feel, smell or get eaten by the same. As corporeal entities, the human being interacts in a corporeal world, and that same corporeal world interacts back. In the diorama situation, however, human interaction is limited to the gaze only, and even this is a one way interaction.

“There are no singularities in nature, and entity and its action cannot be separated, and vice versa, action can only occur as initiated by an entity.” (Fenellosa, pg 14-15) If a red bird flies into our field of view, the bird has entered our visual and corporeal space in time. The bird is acting upon our space as we act upon the space of the bird.(ibid) Even unmoving, geological features share this space time component. A subject drives to the Grand Canyon, parks at an overlook and peers at the canyon from the car. Consider the car as the equivalent of a moving vitrine; air, temperature and light are filtered. The car as a containing field for the viewer is an artificial construct which limits human interaction to the gaze. Even the act of walking through space is obliterated, all interaction is filtered through the vehicle. However, once the subject leaves the glassed in zone of the car and walks to the edge of the cliff to peer into the canyon, the canyon’s rock, gravel, convected air currents, heat, humidity all act upon the subject, as the subject acts with their body upon the environment, immediately displacing gravel or squashing a bug or plant under the passing pressure of their feet.
What I am considering here is a quantity and quality of interaction versus passivity, or lack of interaction. The more the human species limits the effect of the environment upon his/her safety to the point of encapsulating themselves or conversely, bits of the world within glass cases, the less visceral any experience will be. The more the human interacts with his/her senses in space, time and with other subjects, the more danger and unknowns that human will face, but at the same time this human will have an interactive, visceral, experience.

Dioramas result in death and objectification of the subject, death of the visceral experience, the suspension of death of the viewer. This is a dreary, unexciting, unaffecting, situation. These considerations have made me reexamine why I dislike the pedestal as presentation for my own work. How do I prevent my work from becoming a deathless diorama? As I pull many ideas from botanical readings and microscopic photography, the work could easily fall into the diorama mode of presentation. How can I make sure that the work goes beyond the realm of the gaze? I would like the art to serve as a tool to encourage the curiosity of the viewer, encouraging viewer interaction, reaction and thought. Enticing the viewer into coming in for a closer look.

Even though it’s just art.

pandra williams

Work Cited:

Fenollosa, Ernest. Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry .
ed. Ezra Pound. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1991.

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