In: Marcel Duchamp

December 15, 2016

Becoming Immersed in Art

Art installations are not a new concept in the art world. In the early 20th century, Marcel Duchamp set the roots for future artists to create site-specific pieces that made viewers redefine what they know. For instance, in the 1942 exhibition First Papers of Surrealism he hung several hundreds of feet of twine throughout the exhibition space, creating a weblike veil between that separated the viewer from the artworks hung on the walls.

John D. Schiff, Installation view of 'First Papers of Surrealism' exhibition, showing Marcel Duchamp’s 'His Twine', 1942. Gelatin silver print Gift of Jacqueline, Paul and Peter Matisse in memory of their mother Alexina Duchamp. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

John D. Schiff, Installation view of ‘First Papers of Surrealism’ exhibition, showing Marcel Duchamp’s ‘His Twine’, 1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Jacqueline, Paul and Peter Matisse in memory of their mother Alexina Duchamp. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Some critics claimed it symbolised the difficulties of trying to understand surrealist art, but Duchamp stated that there was no such intention, and that the focus of the piece was on its functionality. Duchamp, who was fascinated by how we look at art, challenged and changed the roll of the audience by creating obstacles within the space; he activated the viewer within the piece, which inspired other artists to explore how visitors could be part of an art installation. 

Art lovers will always go to museums and galleries to see their favorite artists and pieces. However, many people still think that going to see art is usually a boring experience. Artists like Miguel Chevalier, Yayoi Kusama, Lucas Samaras, and many more are changing this with their installationsToday, immersive installations have become a huge attraction for people all over the world. For instance, more than two million people went to spend forty-five seconds in Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life” during the two years it toured in Central and South America.

Yayoi Kusama, 'Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life', 2011. Room with mirror, LED lights, water pool. Image Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery.

Yayoi Kusama, ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life’, 2011.
Room with mirror, LED lights, water pool. Image Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery.

So what makes them so sought after? The answer to that is simple. As humans, we have an inherent desire to escape from the confines of our reality. Every form of art, be it literary or visual, could be an example of our escapism. If you’ve ever seen the infamous Disney movie, Mary Poppins, you would remember the scene in which Mary Poppins, Bert, Jane, and Michael all jump into the sidewalk chalk paintings. Immersive art embodies that fantastic ideal. It creates a physical alternative reality which allows the participant to transcend known perceptions of reality and experience a completely new and unknown environment. Gallery, museum, and art fair visitors are no longer viewers; they are activated within the piece and through interactaction, they become immersed.

Lucas Samaras, 'Room No. 2 (popularly known as the Mirrored Room)', 1966. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery. © Lucas Samaras, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Lucas Samaras, ‘Room No. 2 (popularly known as the Mirrored Room)’, 1966. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery. © Lucas Samaras, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Being surrounded by an installation is one thing, but what separates this genre from any other type of arti is what the artist does to activate the individual and make them completely engaged. In Lucas Samaras’s “Room No. 2”  (1966),  one walks into a space that is covered in mirrors. The room has concrete, finite limitations, but it is completely transformed into endless reflections, forcing the viewer to redefine their perceptions of space. Artist Yayoi Kusama, like Sumaras, uses mirrors to create her surreal installation “All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins.” She inserts her well known, psychedelic pumpkins into the space and they, along with the participant, expand into an endless vision.

Dear World…Yours, Cambridge” (2015), by Miguel Chevalier, is another example of an installation that challenges the perception of space. It took place in the historic King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, and was commissioned to commemorate some of Cambridge’s renowned alumni. Chevalier filled the chapel with projected images linked to specific alumni. For instance, he used images of vast galaxies and black holes to honor Stephen Hawkins. People walked into what they knew to be a chapel and were transported into a space that was an awe-inspiring visual experience. The manipulation of the known chapel created an aesthetic environment which reconstructed a different reality. 

Miguel Chevalier, 'Dear World… Yours, Cambridge', 2015. Image Courtesy of Open City Projects.

Miguel Chevalier, ‘Dear World… Yours, Cambridge’, 2015. Image Courtesy of Open City Projects.

In 2012, Random International a collaborative experimental studio based in London- created an immersive environment entitled Rain Room”, where water is continually falling, like rain, but pauses over an individual as they walk through the space. It completely challenges the human experience of being caught in the rain, and that is what makes the installation immersive.

In 2015, Japanese art collective teamLab created an installation that was also based on people’s movement through the exhibition. In the piece, entitled “Floating Flower Garden”, 2,300 flowers hang from the ceiling and whimsically recess as individuals walked through. This surreal environment entices the participants’ senses and uses their bodies as the interface by having the environment react to them. Such unrealistic physically experiences make visitors respond in new ways before an artwork and, in a way, their reaction becomes the actual piece of art.

Random International, 'Rain Room', 2012. © Felix Clay. Courtesy of the Barbican Art Gallery.

Random International, ‘Rain Room’, 2012. © Felix Clay. Courtesy of the Barbican Art Gallery.

It may be fair to say that the popularity of these immersive installations stems from the idea that, though we don’t know what to completely expect, we know that we will be experiencing something completely different from any other aspect of our life. Our perceptions are challenged in ways that create emotions of wonder and awe; we are thrown into an abstract reality like Mary Poppins jumping into a chalk painting. 

 

In my previous article I discussed what I think are some of the most interesting pioneer feminist artists. But how do feminist premises fit in contemporary artistic practices? Below you can find a selection of ten artists from all around the globe that reflect on the struggles that women still face today in their fight for equality. Whether they consider feminism as central to their discourse or not, their work explores different aspects of what being a woman entails in each of their own realities.


Beth Moysés

Beth Moysés, Red Bed [Lecho rojo], 2007. Image homines.com

Beth Moysés, Red Bed [Lecho rojo], 2007. Image homines.com

Brazilian artist Beth Moysés is best known for organising parade-like performances with local battered women, many of whom live in shelters, in South America and Spain. In Lecho rojo [Red Bed], however, it is a group of beautiful young women who enact a mysterious ritual. They form a circle around a 30-kilo pile of red lipstick, and mould this sensual matter into hearts while their bodies and the white sheets that cover them get more and more stained with the red substance. Domestic violence, pain, death, and regeneration are at the centre of Moysés poetic oeuvre, in which wedding dresses and blood form an intimate bond.

Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos, Lavanda [Lavender], 2008. © Joana Vasconcelos.

Joana Vasconcelos, Lavanda [Lavender], 2008. © Joana Vasconcelos.

Joana Vasconcelos was born in Paris but lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal. As she states in her website, her creative process is “based on the appropriation, decontextualisation and subversion of pre-existent objects and everyday realities”. In Lavanda [Lavender] she reinterprets Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain by covering this object, which only men use, with colourful handmade crochet patterns. This material, traditionally associated with the domestic environment (and, therefore, with “women’s work”) is often used by Vasconcelos as a means to explore the relationship between popular and erudite culture, and between tradition and modernity. Check out how her works invaded the Versailles palace in this 2012 unique exhibition.

Cabello/Carceller

CabelloCarceller, Suite Rivolta. An Aesthetic Proposal for Action, 2011.

Cabello/Carceller, Suite Rivolta. An Aesthetic Proposal for Action, 2011.

Cabello/Carceller is a Madrid-based artistic team formed by Helena Cabello (Paris, 1963) and Ana Carceller (Madrid, 1964), who started working together in the early 90s. Their work is influenced by feminist and queer theorists such as Judith Butler, and often revolves around the contradictions of gender stereotypes from a conceptual, politically engaged approach. In one of their most recent projects, which could be seen at the Spanish Pavillion in the 2015 Venice Biennale, they explored the idea of a multiple and undefined identity in relation to the figure of Salvador Dalí. Installation, performance and video are their preferred mediums, and in Suite Rivolta they examine the need to take action in the streets in order to keep public space as a place of dissent. The title derives from the radical feminist movement of the 1970’s known as Rivolta Femminile (led by the art critic and theorist Carla Lonzi), and presents a structure loosely based on the musical form known as ‘suite’.

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu, People in Glass Towers Should Not Imagine Us, 2003. © Wangechi Mutu.

Wangechi Mutu, People in Glass Towers Should Not Imagine Us, 2003. © Wangechi Mutu.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Wangechi Mutu is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. From her extensive oeuvre, I am particularly taken by her collages, where she explores gender and racial identities through the female body. In her work Mutu continuously questions the way women are represented in western culture, and disrupts common stereotypes by introducing animal and machine parts in her images. Uniting art and activism, she has recently launched Africa’s Out!, a platform that supports and celebrates the rights, lives and creative freedom of African LGBT+ individuals.

Li Xinmo

Li Xinmo, Memory, 2013. © Li Xinmo.

Li Xinmo, Memory, 2013. © Li Xinmo.

Li Xinmo is one of the most controversial Chinese feminist artists. In 2012 she participated in the group exhibition Bald Girls, which has become a platform for the promotion and development of cutting-edge feminist art and theory whose goal is to fight against the social reality of sexual discrimination in China. Xinmo’s work is based on her own personal experience and usually takes the form of body performance, where the artist’s body becomes the centre of different ritualistic actions. This is the case of Memory, in which she deals with the painful experience of abortion by tearing off her dress into pieces and turning these strips into dolls.

Anna Jonsson

Anna Jonsson, Al infierno [To Hell], 2014. © Anna Jonsson.

Anna Jonsson, Al infierno [To Hell], 2014. © Anna Jonsson.

Born in Sweden, Anna Jonsson has lived and worked in Seville, Spain, for more than thirty years. Sculpture and female social roles are the basis of all her work, although in the past decade she has also produced several performances in collaboration with professional dancers. One of my favourites is Perdón [I’m Sorry], in which a woman spends 20 minutes asking for forgiveness. According to the artist, “it is based on the feeling I have that I always have to apologize when I say I’m a feminist”. In her colourful clay sculptures she approaches issues such as maternity, relationships, sex, mental health and fashion, always with a great sense of humour.

Regina José Galindo

Regina José Galindo, Piedra [Rock], 2013.

Regina José Galindo, Piedra [Rock], 2013.

Regina José Galindo is one of Guatemala’s most internationally renowned artists. She specialises in very shocking and often violent performances in which her body is the protagonist. Her work explores the ethical implications of social injustices, and aims to firmly criticise gender and racial discrimination. Her extreme performances have led her to carve the word ‘perra’ (‘bitch’) on her own thigh, to record the surgical reconstruction of her hymen, and to shave her body completely and walk naked through the streets of Venice. In Piedra, pictured above, she adopted the static role of a rock and let members of the audience urinate on her in order to protest against abuse and unequal power relations in modern societies.

CANAN

CANAN, Perfect Beauty series – Smallness, 2009. © CANAN.

CANAN, Perfect Beauty series – Smallness, 2009. © CANAN.

CANAN (formerly known as Canan Senol), a self-proclaimed feminist artist and activist, lives and works in Istambul, Turkey. In her art she continuously addresses the oppression and harassment of women by family, government and religion through a mixture of the old and the new, tradition and modernity. This is the case of her series Perfect Beauty, which consists in the appropriation and manipulation of Ottoman miniature paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which are accompanied by several texts describing female beauty traits from a book of sexual subjects written during the same period. Although the standards for women are drastically different nowadays, the artist aims to demonstrate that interference with the female body and the supremacy of the male gaze are equally present in both realities.

Candice Breitz

Candice Breitz, Mother + Father, 2005. Image MUSAC.

Candice Breitz, Mother + Father, 2005. Image: MUSAC.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Candice Breitz currently lives and works in Berlin. Her main corpus of work consists in video installations where different strategies of appropriation can lead to the exhaustion of meaning. In Mother + Father, Breitz carefully edits and manipulates scenes taken from famous Hollywood films where men and women express their frustrations and feelings towards parenthood. Although her work is usually very open to interpretation, she is often concerned with identity and its representation (in her Ghost Series, for example, she explores the violence that can be performed by whiteness), as well as with contemporary mass culture and its influence on people.

Andi Arnovitz

Andi Arnovitz, Acid!, 2013. © Andi Arnovitz.

Andi Arnovitz, Acid!, 2013. © Andi Arnovitz.

Born and raised in the United States, Andi Arnovitz emigrated to Israel in 1999. Much of her work is informed by the experience of living in the Middle East, and reflects the challenges that women, and particularly Jewish women, face during their lives. As many of the artists featured in this list, she also uses art forms that have been traditionally relegated to the realm of women, such as textiles, “to create awareness, protest, dialogue, and disapproval”. I particularly like her works on paper, which adopt many different shapes and formats. In her series of etchings entitled Acid! and Before/After, Arnovitz uses nitric acid, a substance that is part of the process of making etchings but also a common weapon against women in many countries, to destroy the etching plates where she had depicted women at risk of suffering these violent attacks.

Recommended links:
Brooklyn Museum – Feminist Art Base
re.act.feminism – a performing archive 

It’s basically impossible to narrow London’s top modern and contemporary galleries down to 10. With the wealth and vibrancy of the arts scene in the British capital, there are too many to mention. Indeed, London has long been a global powerhouse in the modern and contemporary art world, so much so that this list simply sums up the starting points, merely scratching the surface of the city’s endless offerings.

We’ve created two lists examining galleries in London. This first one will guide you through London’s classic and long-established names such as the Tate and Serpentine, whilst the second will focus on London’s more recent additions to the modern and contemporary scene like Blain|Southern and Victoria Miro.

1. Tate Modern

In a nutshell: The Tate is one of the most famous art institutions in the world and, undoubtedly, a force to be reckoned with. Its neat “family” of four British galleries show its dedication to demonstrating the scope of the arts – old and new – and has thus become a household name across the globe. The Tate Modern is arguably its most impressive offering. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, the building was repurposed into a gallery by architects Herzog & de Meuron who decided to reinvent the structure rather than demolish it. Now, with its chimney intact, the Tate’s commanding physical presence on the bank is symbolic of its prevalence in global culture. Its brilliant permanent collection includes world-class works such as David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). The Tate Modern is known for exhibitions that spectacularly transform its interior such as Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (2007) which took the form of a long crack in the floor of the gallery’s Turbine Hall. Don’t miss the Thames-view café and the superb bookshop.

Where: Bankside, SE1. Open 10am-6pm everyday with late closing at 10pm on Friday and Saturday.

2. Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

In a nutshell: Cited by the Independent as “the place to promote a new belief in the good of art”, Whitechapel Gallery was actually one of the first publicly funded galleries in London, and its history is one of education and outreach. What’s more, it organises exhibitions according to local interest. This loyalty to locale make it uniquely personal when considering its international renown. With a penchant for catching up-and-coming artists and catapulting them to recognition, the Whitechapel has premiered the likes of Frida Kahlo and Mark Rothko. It even brands its history as one “of firsts”, having also been the only British gallery to exhibit Picasso’s Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and the first one in the country to produce a major survey of Jackson Pollock’s work. So, you might see the next big thing, perhaps the polar opposite…or something completely unexpected. Such is the Whitechapel, and it is not to be missed.

Where: Tower Hamlets, E1. Open 11am-9pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

3. Saatchi 

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

In a nutshell: As the urban legend goes, major British art patron Charles Saatchi apparently accidentally destroyed one of Marc Quinn’s legendary Self sculptures – consisting of the artist’s head cast and frozen in his own blood – when the freezer in his house was unplugged during construction works. Saatchi’s reputation precedes him, his name being one so powerful that an attempt to rename the gallery the Museum of Contemporary Art for London in 2010 completely flopped, ‘Saatchi’ enduring as before. Anyway, you must be doing something right if you’ve got a  in your freezer and Saatchi’s art empire is no weak feat; he opened a gallery in order to showcase his personal collection. The gallery boasts its temporary exhibits nearly always being by artists that no-one has heard of, providing a “springboard” to launch careers.  In a similar vein, the Saatchi is currently showing the rare effort of an all-female exhibit – Champagne Life.

Where: King’s Road, SW3. Open 10am-6pm everyday.

4. Gagosian Galleries

Gagosian

In a nutshell: Larry Gagosian’s art empire spans continents and, unsurprisingly, holds a firm base in London with no less than three galleries in the capital. While the galleries roots are in New York and Los Angeles, London was the first international location that was opened by Gagosian. Although that gallery on Haddon Street is now closed, three more have risen from the ashes including one on Britannia Street which started in 2004 with an exceptional opening exhibit of paintings and sculpture from Cy Twombly. Gagosian’s empire is publicly active and always expanding; in Sothebys’ recent Contemporary Sale, the gallery purchased Yves Klein’s Untitled, Anthropometry (1960) for a cool £1,025,000.  Expect a constantly evolving program of contemporary art in sensitively curated interiors from all three galleries which are all located within reasonable distance of each other. And, of course, all three galleries are commercial, so all the art is for sale…

Where: Britannia Street, WC1 // Davies Street, W1 // Grosvenor Hill, W1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

5. The Hayward

Hayward

The Hayward Gallery facade, London, the Uk

In a nutshell: Located on London’s vibrant South Bank (as part of the SouthBank Centre) amongst many other major arts centres, the Hayward’s Brutalist concrete exterior looks like it popped straight out of one of Orwell’s dystopian narratives. The Hayward doesn’t house a permanent collection, however, it hosts three or four major exhibitions each year; one of its many iconic shows having been Martin Creed’s What’s The Point of It? (20140 and Carsten Höller’s Decision (2015). Whilst its output is largely contemporary, the Hayward brands itself as embracing visual arts from all periods and has, in the past, shown work from Leonardo DaVinci and Edvard Munch. The gallery is well-known for doing ‘survey’ shows of contemporary art, including How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art from the Art’s Council Collection. The SouthBank centre location sees it sharing a setting with some of London’s other cultural epicentres, such as the Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall, and these make the area the arts hub that it is. As if that weren’t enough, it is adjacent to the Thames and on top of the famous (and luckily still-standing) Undercroft Skatepark so you shouldn’t be stuck for things to do once you finish in the gallery.

Where: Southbank Centre, SE1. The gallery re-opens in 2017. 

6. Serpentine Galleries

Serpentine_Gallery

Serpentine Gallery facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: With two galleries that are within walking distance of each other in the coveted Kensington Gardens of Hyde Park, the Serpentine Galleries are an extremely popular tourist destination. Named after the Serpentine Lake which separates the galleries, you have to cross a bridge to get from one to another if the romance weren’t already enough. They both showcase diverse contemporary art programs, and each space is housed in Grade II listed 19th and 20th century buildings: the original Serpentine in a former tea pavilion (it doesn’t get any more English) and the Serpentine Sackler in an ex-gunpowder store. Every summer the Serpentine commissions a leading architect to design and erect a temporary summer pavilion to be built on its lawn. Each building stays up for three months and, in previous years, has been designed by Pritzker Prize-winning names such as Jean Nouvel – famous for designing numerous iconic galleries worldwide – and Zaha Hadid to name a few.  

Where: Serpentine, Kensington Gardens, W2 // Serpentine Sackler, West Carriage Drive, W2.  Both galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

7. ICA

ICA

Institute of Contemporary Art facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a cultural centre that houses galleries, cinemas, a theatre, a bookshop and a bar. And, located just off Trafalgar Square, it is as geographically central to London as it is to the city’s arts scene. It is a membership institute that promotes and encourages an understanding of radical contemporary art, initiated in 1947 by Londoners in an attempt to endorse an approach that went beyond the traditionalism of the Royal Academy. In the ’70’s the ICA was known for its anarchism, this period is marked by an attack on the director of exhibitions at the time – Norman Rosenthal. In a demonstration of their alternative spirit the ICA decided to keep Rosenthal’s bloodstain and it remains at the institute today, framed and preserved under glass and affectionately signposted ‘This is Norman’s Blood’. Historically, The Independent Group began meeting at the ICA in 1953 which ultimately lead to the launch of British Pop Art. The ICA’s association with events such as this, combined with its history of anarchy (and nonchalance) have made it one of the more exciting, forward-thinking institutions in London today.

Where: Pall Mall, SW1. Open 11am-11pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.