Installation art

Installation art is a genre of western contemporary art which came to prominence in the 1970s. Installation art incorporates almost any media to create a visceral and/or conceptual experience in a particular environment. Installation artists often use the space of the gallery directly. Many trace the roots of this form of art to earlier artists such as Marcel Duchamp and the use of readymade objects rather than more traditional craft based sculpture. The intention of the artist is paramount in most installation art due to its roots in the conceptual art of the 1960's. This again is a departure from traditional sculpture which places its focus on form.

Materials used in contemporary installation art range from every day and natural materials to new media such as video, sound, performance, computers and the internet. Some installations are site specific in that they are designed to only exist in the space for which they were created.

Installation art is often described as a "new art form" as if hatched from nowhere, outside of history. Roland Barthe, in his essay The Death of the Author, written in Paris during the 1968 political uprising, challenged the belief that 'original' ideas emerge with no provenance from the mind of a 'genius'. Barthe's point is illustrated by the history of installation art.

Firstly, the conceptualisation of spatiality, the principal element of expression in installation art, has a history as ancient as disciplines such as architecture, sculpture, music and dance. Secondly, installation art characteristically resides at the intersection of many disciplines - architecture and sculpture, sound and movement, and in this respect has close affiliations with traditional sites in which cross disciplinary cultural practices are performed.

In contrast to the exhibition designer's consideration of aesthetic factors in the display or presentation of art works in an exhibition venue, the installation artist articulates the spatiality of a particular site through a conceptualised process of placement and inscription. The artist interacts with the site's inherent physical qualities and architectural features, and engages the cultural significance of the site itself as an active element in the interpretation of the work.

The artist's actions integrate the art work, conceptually and physically, into the site and its context, much the same as a telephone is installed into the fabric of a building to extend the user's body and mind to vast exterior networks. The unmediated physical, sensory qualities of installation art - real space, real time, sound, materiality, the haptic and olfactory, invite the 'viewer' to engage in a performative relationship to the work's kine aesthetic immediacy. That is, all the senses of the artist's and viewer's bodies are connected as receptors for meaning.

Installation art has dominated mainstream art of the late C20th and continues to claim this position in the C21st as advances in electronic and digital technologies create further possibilities for the viewer's immersion in spatiality and extensions of the body. The English artist Graham Nicholls explores these immersive qualities through both psychological and technological means; whilst Australian artist Stelarc explores extensions of the body. The following factors have driven these developments:

A fundamental, formal element addressed by the visual artist is the relationship of figure to ground, object to spatiality. An analysis of how they "front up" to each other signifies the value a culture places on that which is considered most significant, and that which is considered to be secondarily significant spatiality is often described by Western art historians and theorists as "negative space", which notably illustrates the point]. In C20th, mainstream Western art the gradual shift of focus from the dominance of the 'figure', or object, to the 'ground', has characterised all modernist art practices.

However, this shift does not have its origins in the innovative articulation of space found in the works of modernist artists. Brancusi's representations of movement in infinite space, the non figurative spatial constructions of Rodchenko, the ruptured spatiality of Picasso's cubist sculpture, the gendered spaces of Barbara Hepworth and Australia's Ola Cohn, shifted the viewer's attention, however subliminally, away from the material object as the focus of interpretation towards the spatial. This shift has, to a significant extent, its conceptual origins in the West's encounters with the metaphoric articulation of spatiality and the spatial inscription of narrative in the cultures of its colonised territories. This growing awareness of conceptualised spatiality has completely transformed the lexicon of Western art practice. The study of Eastern philosophies by artists such as Brancusi and Klein, psychologists such as Jung, and Antonin Artaud's analysis of exotic drama and ritual, influenced a focus away from concrete materiality, permanence, and preoccupations with aesthetic conventions of beauty aligned with notions of truth, towards an acknowledgement of the ephemeral, the temporal, the embodied, uncertainty, flux, the abject, the void.

This in turn has affected a problematising of the construction of epistemological reality that identifies binary opposites to represent truth and totality. The West's exposure to Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Buddhism has encouraged strategies towards a cathartic resolution of opposites by discriminating subtle degrees of difference - that which is 'in between' - the taboo, the hybrid, the mutable. In Taoism the edge where opposites meet and merge is as significant as the dualistic components as the edge embodies the amorphous primal chaos, the source of creation and creativity. This allows a complexity of dialectic, the assertion of differences within difference, a release of the imagination from convention, and established art as a location for catharsis, the irrational, dissent, slippage, disjuncture and transgression. Advances in science and technology have also uncovered the hidden structures and dynamics of matter and spatiality.

Feminism as a social force for change has brought to the foreground an analysis and critique of patriarchal paradigms, symbolically represented by Western culture's emphatic focus on the material object.

Correlative theories surrounding qualities of a 'female sensibility' have aligned with a strategy to feminise sculptural practice by an articulation of spatiality, which in itself is identified with the 'female principal' in Taoism: Yang/male/active/object - Yin,female/passive/space. The feminist critique of assumptions that underlie biological determinism have embraced strategies to reinvent relations between the mind and the corporeal, nature and culture, emotion and intellect, the vernacular and the sublime. This strategy attempts to mend the 'mind/body split', the psychological paradigm that enables reasoning to dominate and dismiss the verity of emotions such as empathy, quarantine the intellect from sensuality, and justify with bogus rationale horrors such as fascism, bigotry, racism and misogyny.

Artists have responded to the commodification of art by removing it from the centre of commerce, the gallery, and rendering it unsaleable.

Throughout the C20th the visual arts have been personalised and politicised - the personal is political. Installation art with its decommissioning of the object as the dominant vehicle for meaning, has emerged as a most appropriate form through which all of these often tendentious, transgressive and always interdisciplinary ideas may be poetically investigated.

Let us travel back in time and space, before the C20th, to sample ways in which the characteristic qualities of installation art have precedents in a diversity of traditional sites of cultural practice.

Ise, Japan, is the location of the Shinto religion's creation myth about the sun god, who is the progenitor of the Imperial family. The Ise Grand Shrine has two components. A high enclosure surrounds the inner shrine [circa 4BC] a traditional thatched roofed shrine that contains space. Beside it is an identical compound of open space that contains a miniature replica of the shrine. From the C7th, every twenty years the temple has been dissembled and rebuilt in the adjoining space. The emptied site then contains the miniature, thus effecting a metaphoric transformation of cyclic spatial relationships. This fluid temporality, poetic process and spatial metaphor are precedents for the methodology of many installation artists.

Interdisciplinary complexity is another characteristic of installation art. A fabulous traditional example is Vithala Temple in Hampi, Southern India. The village of Hampi in Karnataka was once Vijayanagar, City of Victory. Sited on the sacred Tungabhadra River it was the residence of a dynasty of Hindu kings who ruled over a fabulously powerful empire from the 14th century until 1565, when the city was sacked by Mogul invaders. It was never re-built.

Just as indigenous Australians have inscribed their country with mythological narrative, the narratives of the Hindu pantheon are located within the spatiality of contemporary India, locking the present into a temporal relationship to the genesis of the Hindu religion, its sacred ritual practices and epistemology. It is within this mythologised spatial context that one encounters the Vithala temple at Hampi, the location where in the Ramayana, Rama saved Sugriva from defeat in battle against his "tyrant brother" Bali.

The temple's dominant spatial device is a three dimensional framing that discloses, encloses, conceals. The spatiality creates a complexity of intricate passages through sculpted architecture that in its convoluted whole, could never be fathomed from any singular point. Rather, it unfolds as a journey into numinous mystery. Elaborately carved pillars support the granite slab roof of Vithala temple. Surrounding their stout inner cores are clusters of slender pillars that produce musical notes when strummed with the fingers - the architecture itself is a musical instrument, and the site for sacred dance and ritual. The sacred significance of the site, sculpture, sound, dance and ritual activities conceptualise the corporeal experience of the viewer and could be said to be precedents for contemporary installation art.

Similarly in the West, Le Notre's gardens at Versailles, [1661-1700], Monsieur Monville's architectural follies and stroll garden at Desert de Retz near Paris, [1770s], and Sir John Soane's antiquities museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, [1792-1827], are examples of European precedents for contemporary installation. However, the influence of Eastern cultures' dramatically different spatial articulations in painting, architecture and gardens have drawn a focus to the cultural encoding of gardens and architecture in Europe, with the realisation of the influence of Chinese gardens and follies upon C18th European design, perhaps where the appropriation of Eastern spatiality first began

See also

External links

de:Environment es:Instalación fr:Installation (art) pl:Instalacja


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools