I thought that installations and environments would be the major art form of the 21st century when I was a teenager. The total environment, the multiple techniques and media used in their construction all appealed to me. There are a lot of installations and environments on exhibition but they are not the major art form although video art has contributed to the growth of installation. But my enthusiasm for them has been tempered.
Firstly allow me to make a technical distinction between ‘environments’ and ‘installations’; not that it really matters that much which word is used. Installation art emerged from Minimalism and Conceptual art and are often site-specific works; the word refers to the installation of the work in the gallery. Environments emerged from Dada and Surrealist activities and are three dimensional but not intended for a specific location. Maybe I can illustrate the distinction with a few recent examples, but I might get it wrong, it is partially dependent on the artist’s intentions.
“The Phantasmatic Forest” by Mila Faranov is a neo-baroque environment that extended across two walls of Seventh Galley. It featuring cut outs of erotic nude female figures and strange male figures and lots of beautiful baroque foliage forms of painted transparent plastic. A great many artists have in recent years used cut out baroque forms in silhouette on walls but Mila Faranov has taken it further with a mood and implied narrative. The theatricality of the work is not surprising given Mila Faranov’s experience in costume design for the theatre. “The Phantasmatic Forest” is engaging and evocative even if it weird and funky in places.
West Space was showing 3 installations/environments (Feb/March); I have already reviewed Penelope Aitken’s installation in my blog entry: Current Hippy Art.
Matthew Shannon’s environment “the persistent presence of the endless” looked like a set from the low-budget days of Dr Who or Blake’s 7. Shannon’s artist’s notes describe it as “the centreless gravity of a space craft’s interior”. There is lots of black plastic creating a whole world in the small Gallery 2 space; there is really just enough room to walk around in it. Light by a single blue tube of light there is not much to see in this dark environment except for the grey ovals.
In Gallery 1 DongWoo Kang’s video installation “ME (Mara Experience)” just doesn’t work. As I first looked at the videos I thought that it was about being in an empty gallery, it is a boring empty experience. Then I read the artist’s notes. The multiple video images projected, plasma screens and cathode ray screens, doesn’t convey the surreal nature of such an experience. The installation almost put me to sleep without any fear of having a Mara experience.