Directly in front of you.

The experience of installation: re-presentations of the physical world as seen through the eyes of the viewer.

A compilation of found footage of exhibition visitors documenting their experience inside various art installations, as well as some original artists’ films.

First screening: AUX. Vox Populi, Philadelphia, PA , Thursday, February 16, 2012.
Revised version exhibited online at Light & Wire Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, July 2014.

Stills of the first version below. Contact me for a link to view the entire video.


Exhibition text, AUX Vox Populi version:

First there is a spark, a crash, then music. Zoom out and on to the next but everything is obscured. Then out again and upwards, outwards, circling and hovering between land and sky. Watch the clouds and the dusk. Then starlight, fireflies, the arc of the sun over the earth follows you through the exit.

Directly in front of you is a video compilation examining the experience of installation, primarily consisting of found footage recorded by exhibition viewers. Organized by environmental setting or sculptural type, the recorded artworks consider one’s relationship to landscape and the physical world. Core works explored include Bik van der Pol’s Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling?, Olafur Elliasson’s The Weather Project, Chris Burden’s Beam Drop, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, and Yayoi Kusama’s various “Infinity Rooms.” These surreal or extremely direct installations describe the tangible and microscopic, monumentality and aggressive confrontation, the mediated space of the sky, and finally the mysterious duality of intimacy and infinitude by negotiating a cosmic sublime, considering the ground as material or confronting the natural world outside of human experience. Playful negation of grandiosity is balanced with meditative reflection throughout as critical and equally valid experiences of perception. 

The program begins with footage of a work by artist and architect team Bik van der Pol, Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling? (MACRO, Rome, 2010), for which the artists re-created Mies van der Rohe’s glass-walled Farnsworth house and transformed it into a butterfly sanctuary, presenting confrontations of the built and natural world, obscuring the boundaries of visible and hidden. A video capturing the full installation in long stationary camera shots of people walking through, taking pictures, or carefully touching and observing the flora and fauna inside reveals these viewers’ apprehension of how to approach the living collection of butterflies as art, while also making clear the pleasure derived from this immersive space. Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds (Tate Modern, London, 2010) considers intimate tactility and mass production in an installation of 500 million hand-made porcelin sunflower seeds. Part way through the exhibition, the dust from the seeds was deemed a health hazard to visitors, though many simply took this as a cue to cross the flimsy barrier and continue to use the work as a casual playground. Further exploring a blurring of inside and out, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s Storm Room (Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, 2009) is installed in an abandoned house that has been rigged by the artists to emulate the physical and auditory elements of a powerful thunderstorm, complete with water pouring down the windows and crashes of thunder that shake the structure.

The Weather Project by Olafur Elliasson (Tate Modern, London, 2003) remains infamous for the extraordinary level of audience engagement, as visitors would frequently lie on the floor of the gallery, play, or otherwise casually inhabit the Tate’s Turbine Hall. Making great effort to capture the scope of the installation, videographers of the piece employ dramatic approaches and epic close-ups of the simulated sun at its center. Visceral pleasure is similarly drawn from other monumental works by Richard Serra, including the artist’s Corten steel “Torqued Elipses” and in footage of Vortex (Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, 2006) featuring a toddler who delights at the echo of a ball bouncing inside, exploiting the construction for its acoustic qualities. Steel appears again in Chris Burden’s Beam Drop (various locations), for which beams are plunged into the earth to resemble haphazard natural growth or industrial disaster, and likewise are regarded as spectacle and invitation for playfulness in videos of a crowd applauding its dangerous construction, and of a group of teenagers using its elements as a musical instrument.

At the center of the program is Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt’s film Swamp (1971), a seminal work of conceptual film, in which the pair enter into a dense marsh filming only the growth in front of them and with Smithson’s navigational guidance as its soundtrack; the title of the program is taken from this dialogue. Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (The Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970) is introduced by a wordless visitor to the site who circles its rocks investigating the hard salt ground, and a native of the area who recalls the artist’s first visits to the Great Salt Lake and the construction process, presenting two very different impressions of the highly mythologized earthwork. Following these accounts is an excerpt from the film Spiral Jetty, which features Smithson’s voice reading from a geographic survey of the site at the same time as swirling aerial views show him running towards the center of the spiral. This gravity defying perspective leads to the sky spaces of James Turrell, for which circular, square or slit cut outs are made in gallery ceilings, reducing the sky to image and seemingly flattening the dimensionality of a space. Two videos are selected here that record day and dusk, the first of which, due to an error in formatting by the videographer, appears to be a horizontal cut and reminiscent of an airplane window.

Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009),and The Gleaming Lights of the Souls (Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark, 2008) by Yayoi Kusama are two iterations of a series of “Infinity Room” installations by the artist comprised of a mirrored room filled with hanging lights. Recordings of the work are often framed by guards allowing access and signaling a time to leave, and are filled with laughter and exclamation, or silent sublime pleasure. Pierre Huyghe’s Wind Chime (after “Dream”) (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2009) recasts John Cage’s composition “Dream” as a set of wind chimes, one for each note of the piece, allowing the wind alone to guide the music as order comes from chaos in a sonically and visually all-consuming experience. The program returns to Bik van der Pol, however in this video only the entrance and interior of the butterfly sanctuary are shown, leaving to question whether what we are viewing is indeed recognizable as art or another world altogether. Lastly, footage of Ventilator by Olafur Elliasson (MoMA, New York, 2008) captures museum visitors chasing a fan swinging through the air as they almost but never quite catch it.

Just walk in a straight line
I think I am, or maybe I am…
it’s okay now,
you’re on fairly solid ground.
Straight in
just go right in
go straight in over that way
turn to your right
your right…
Right there, directly in.
It’s okay
go ahead
so much of it is out of focus
just keep going in
don’t worry about the focus
just keep moving,
just keep advancing in
as much as you can…
Here, head over that way
I can’t see anything
move to your right
straight ahead
to this area here
My legs are stuck in it
That’s okay
I think that there’s too much…
… movement…
hold it for a while then.
… where is it?
directly in front of you.

– Nancy Holt & Robert Smithson, excerpt from Swamp, 1971