Installation Art: Showing You How We Play

Installation Art: Showing You How We Play Why did I opt for the Installation class at ECLA? It was not because we do not have to write any papers; to balance this “advantage” there are many hours of practical work involved, not to mention the inevitable creative blocks and the concerns over possible technical break-downs during showings. I joined out of appreciation for this form of art, which I often find incomprehensible and yet intriguing. I wanted to construct an experiment about how creative can one become with close to zero background in any artistic field.  What I discovered: installation art is a slice modern of art so flexible and open to the public that anyone can consume it, and as a result, be inspired, in turn, to produce it. To be honest, I experienced that playing with technology today helps one not be embarrassed by lack of craft, or even lack of talent. Setting the imagination loose and then giving it the necessary form, or surrendering to the games of chance while creating a piece are the two creative options whose interplay I find most useful in this class.

We have eight students enrolled in the class taught by ECLA professor David Levine, and the funny coincidence of an all female group. The course is structured according to the main media of installation art: sound, light, and video. In the first weeks, we immersed ourselves in theoretical discussions about the practice of this form of art, its reception, and the renowned artists to which Claire Bishop refers in her book Installation Art: A Critical History.  Meanwhile, the practical task was to learn how to manipulate sound, video, or how to program lights. Every two weeks, on Wednesday evenings, each student opens her studio to the entire ECLA community and its guests, for an event entitled ‘public showing’. Part of learning and teaching something  which apparently requires no instruction is the common class critique, the morning after the showing, where the pluses and minuses of our week’s work are spelled out without remorse.

This week, dedicated to video installations, offered every visitor something of personal interest; the media of expression and the subjects of the pieces happened to be widely varied: performance, aesthetic spaces, love, comedy, abstraction, music, and politics. The imposed restriction (read: ‘class assignment’) was to have a video of at least 3 minutes in length, shot in the studio, and digitally edited.

Elizabeth Hanka kept our attention the longest, with her 26 minute-piece entitled “Colour Play” which was a projection of a performance, which mirrored an actual performance. She calmly painted one of her studio walls in rainbow coloured stripes, while opposite this performance, you could see Elizabeth again, in a video of the exact same action. Observing people carefully watching Elizabeth reminded me of a tennis match, where heads turn from one side to the other, the difference being that the focus was not on a central object, but on the extremities of the space.

Across from her studio, Lorena Baric used video projection on a paper screen, red light and a disco ball, to create an ambiguously feminine atmosphere. We all left her studio singing “your love is mine”, the almost-hypnotizing refrain on a loop which she used as the audio background for her installation.

From Isolina Rivarola Lopez’s studio, one could hear passionate screams. Two young lovers separated were struggling to reach each other, trying to break free from two opposite walls of the space. To enhance the visual experience, she played a touching melody behind their desperate cries. Afraid of trespassing into personal anxiety, nobody asked the artist for further explanations.

Our Russian classmate Anna Dushina offered an amusing, but perturbing piece—a video projection of a little object in a parody of a dance. With clear references to pop culture, Anna inserted split-second frames of a whole banana, observable only after having spent more time with the video.  She claims that she was not making art, and that the work was born out of the frustration of being in the position to present ‘art’.

Ena Gojak’s work was composed of two completely different videos projected on one of the walls and the ceiling of her studio. One was abstract, while the other contained self-referential touches.  The audio background picked up on the abstract video, and sounded like music only Ena could introduce–fragile, strange; almost celestial.

Music also played a great role in the piece by Tatyana Ilichenko, who projected a never-ending sequence of piano keys on the ceiling; a classical-style piano bench in the middle of the empty room invited the spectator to sit and strike the keys on the screen with one’s shadow.

Daria Coscodan presented a stop-motion animation of objects pilling up and populating her studio. She used split screen as video montage and a very ingenious arrangement of the projection screen to emphasize its qualities. The clear-cut rigidity of the trapezoidal paper screen on which the video was shown contrasted with the chaos of tables, chairs, and fabric in odd random movement. What I still need to discover about her piece is the identity of that frantic soprano on the background, genuinely sending shivers down our spines.

The core of my piece was a video collage, projected alongside the sculpture of a reconstructed tree, which also featured in the video. Outside the studio, one of the lights periodically lit up to reveal Lego people hanged from the branches of a garden tree. A duet of chainsaws could be recognized in the audio background.

This showing brings us all a step closer to the final one, in which specific tasks or restrictions from the professor are abolished. With more freedom, of course comes more responsibility! Ultimately, everybody will bring forward their favourite themes and subjects, and use the media they feel most comfortable with.

By Brindusa Birhala (PY09, Romania)

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