Professor Deb Todd Wheeler
Group 3 – Research Paper
Seeing –what it is to see- has been intriguing to me since birth. I was born with no muscular control over my eyes, a condition that was corrected by medical intervention at age three. Therefore, for the first years of my life I could not see 3D, and then suddenly I could. My heightened awareness of sight was reinforced later because of the timing of a daily ritual. As an older child, starting at age 8, for years I would go horseback riding with my father at 6 AM. In the winter this meant I started riding in the pitch black of country night. I could feel the horse and the reins, but, aside from the sparks of the horseshoes hitting an occasional stone, the gravel road would only gradually become visible. As darkness slowly faded, I could see silhouettes and then slowly the light of day brought color and dimension. Perhaps it is no surprise that my work is about feeling first, then the shift from 2D to 3D with light and color.
I work with fabric and I create work that plays with dimensionality. The three elements that are key to my work are: fabric, light, and color. For this paper, I sought artists who work in these three areas. Robert Irwin, Do Ho Suh and Ernesto Neto all use fabric in their work. James Turrell and Dan Flavin work with light. In both Turrell’s work and Flavin’s work, color is also prominent. Pippilotti Rist works in video, but concepts of light are also considered in her work.
As an artist, I choose to work with silk organza: it is both material and translucent. The organza is physically present, but, depending on conditions of light and color, more or less visually obvious. I use the cloth as a means to examine perception.
This interest in perception is the driving force in Robert Irwin’s work. Lawrence Wexsler describes Irwin’s 2004 exhibit at the Guggenheim in the Spring 2008 edition of the Virginia Quarterly Review; for the exhibit, Irwin painted the room white and then spread a “pearlescent” scrim from floor to ceiling along the opposite wall to the viewer’s entrance. When the viewers arrived, at first it appeared that there was nothing in the room to see…
But if one lingered a few moments, the far wall would suddenly seem to dematerialize before one’s very eyes: something was there, but what? A sheer fogbank?... Or nothing ?… How, suddenly, was one managing to tell anything at all? And (why was that) such a delicious experience?” (Web)
Irwin uses translucency to create a situation that causes the viewer to question what they see.
Another artist who is well known for his use of fabric is Do Ho Suh. His work focuses on his personal history. Certainly my personal history influences my work, although I do not literally interpret it in the manner that Do So Suh does. Do Ho Suh uses turquoise organza to create a precise replica of his childhood home in Korea in his piece, “Seoul Home”. He chooses organza for its translucent qualities; the cloth reminds him of the rice paper used in Korean architecture. In the exhibition catalogue for his 2002 show at the London Serpentine Gallery, Lisa Corrin quotes Do Ho Suh:
I remember seeing through the rice paper; screen windows on our house in Korea, with the shadows of the bamboo leaves blowing in the wind and lit by the reflection of a full moon… I want my work to blend with the environment it finds itself in (34).
While Do Ho Suh builds life size architectural replicas, the Brazilian artist, Ernesto Neto, constructs even more immense biomorphic fabric installations of fabric. Both artists focus on building structures, which I also do on a smaller scale. Whereas I am playing with the intersection of 2 and 3D in my work, Do Ho Suh is interested in history, while Neto creates an environment that feels different than any other – as if one is entering the inside of a huge being. The cloth softens the work and creates a joyous atmosphere. I relate to Ernesto Neto for the sense of exuberance in his work. In his interview with Louisa Buck in the 2010 issue of ArtNewspaper entitled “I am interested in art, science, and underwear”, Neto describes his work as a celebration of how different each person is on the outside and yet fundamentally the same on the inside – and the importance of embracing the joy in that: “We have to celebrate life- it is a jewel, it is a very magical thing to be alive.”
I identify with Neto's quality of light and joy. My work is sourced very much in a place of discovery –of seeing, of dawn, of light increasing. A sense of positivity is also found in the recent work of Pipilotti Rist. Rist is a Swiss-born artist who, in her 2010 show at the Augustine Luhring gallery, uses layers of filmed images combined with abstract designs of light. In the September 27, 2010 issue of New Yorker magazine, Peter Schjendahl describes the good feelings that he came away with after seeing her show: “(Rist) resolves no critical problems of contemporary art. She just makes you forget there are any.” (Web)
Although Rist works in video, not fabric, she thinks of her art as letting her audience into a box of light – a box within a box. The way that Rist describes her work sounds similar to my sense of dawn creating the world each morning. In her interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in Phaidon’s Pipilotti Rist, she describes the experience of video: “At first you look at the box, at the (light), but when you concentrate on the sequences you feel as if you are inside the box, behind the glass, within the wall…” (15) Through movement , the viewer is swept into the 3D world of her art: in her work, light defines the space for the art to happen.
Light creates space; the world shifts from the shadows of dawn to 3D. Certain artists have made the study of light and how we perceive it the sole focus of their art. Perhaps the most well known is James Turrell. In his essay entitled “The Phenomenology of Light” in the Geometry of Light, Gernot Buhme’s describes James Turrell’s work as light creating space: “(T) he first experience of light is that it opens up a space. In a sense, that space is even created by light…The primary experience of light is one of … freedom” (73) The light creates the space and in the space we are free to move, both with our eyes and consequently our bodies.
In his art, James Turrell uses constantly changing natural light and plays it against artificial light to emphasize and blur boundaries. In his Sky Works, the glass opening in the ceiling of a room focuses on the shifting outside light while the interior lights come on as the daylight diminishes at dusk; the changing colors of the sky play against the interior lit walls to produce a contrast of the warm interior, which looks yellower as the evening sky turns bluer and darker. These same Sky Works also capture the contrast as it reverses the sequence during the increasing light at dawn.
Dawn is a gradual occurrence– that shift from grey to color is so seamless that it seems imperceptible. Yet that is what fascinates me. I identified with Turrell’s story of coming to a realization of what his work was really about as told to Markus Bruderlin in his essay, “The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld” in James Turrell’s book on his Wolfsburg exhibition. In the 1960’s, Turrell had just spent years working with American scientists on the Art and Technology program. At the time, the moon rocks arrived for display to a largely disinterested American public. Afterwards, Turrell travelled to Japan, where those same rocks were shown. In Japan, people poured out to see them. Turrell was struck. He saw that the Japanese could “…sense the existence of the whole universe in the stones…(that) the quiet contemplation of the stones brought one much closer to the secrets of the cosmos than billions of dollars spent…in science” (125-6). Turrell realized that the seeing that interested him was not through scientific understanding, but rather slower “decelerated” vision.
My interest in light naturally merges with a love of color, especially in its subtle shifts, something that Turrell excels in creating. Perhaps because of much time spent in Japan where low light is favored in architecture, Turrell tends to work with nuances of light rather than the bright white of the western white box. Because of this, his work is rich in expanses of color that make it difficult for the viewer to distinguish whether one is having an internal or external experience. This zen-like space has been described as spiritual. Turrell responds to this: “ I believe in the need and thought of dimensions beyond us but it (is) vital for me to take them away from the vocabulary of religion.” (Bruderlin 143). .” I am close to Turrell on this matter; I believe that art is able to touch on issues of the mind and its intersection with what one sees.
I was curious to note that Dan Flavin, another artist famous for his work in light, resisted any implication of light being about consciousness. J. Fiona Raghels in her essay, “On Situations and Lights”, in Dan Flavin’s The Architecture of Light , quotes Flavin: “Art is shedding its vaunted mystery for a sense of keenly realized decoration” (14). On the same topic, Brydon Smith in his essay, “An Artificial Barrier of Blue, Red and Blue Flourescent Light”, quotes Flavin: “My fluorescent tubes never burn out desiring a god.” (70) Flavin chose to use fluorescent lighting as the means to create an extensive repertoire of light works. Prior to Flavin, in a typical museum visit a viewer would travel from room to room (void to void) looking at art on the walls. Flavin inverted all that- using light along baseboards, corners, and stairwells: areas that had not been considered (Raghel 14).
Of all the artists mentioned in this paper, I am most attracted to Flavin’s use of color – his washes of salmon and pink, and even his more acidic colors are familiar to me from my experiences of the light at break of day. It is in his color, too, that another side of him emerges. Although this softer side can be detected in the titles of his works, which are dedicated to friends and other artists, his real warmth shows in his use of color. Not only are his colors beautiful in themselves, but also his soft peach or brilliant pink, etc., emanate from the work and wash over the viewer, bringing them together in the light. This joining of art and viewer was not lost on Flavin, as evidenced in his conversation with Maiten Bousisset for the May 1991 issue of Beaux Arts Magazine: “By making the space and the on-looker visible, light, in a way, creates them.” (133) Color creating and joining art and viewer – that idea is quite wonderful to me.
In this paper, I have focused on artists whose works mirror concepts that are at the core of the work I am exploring: the materializing of the world each day at dawn, the movement from feeling in the dark to seeing in the light. In Robert Irwin, I find an artist who explores the edges of perception. Do Ho Suh uses fabric for historical reasons; Ernesto Neto uses cloth to create art that celebrates life; the recent work of Pipilotti Rist is also uplifting; James Turrell actually captures the light of dawn in his art, while Flavin uses only artificial light to create the sumptuous light I associate with dawn. It is to these artists that I look while I explore the concepts of visibility and the sometimes-unclear dimensionality of what one sees.
Bohme, Gernot, et al. James Turrell: Geometry of Light. Ostfilern, Germany: Hatje Cantz. 2009. Print.
Buck, Louisa. “I am interested in art, science and underwear”. The Art Newspaper. July/August 2010, n.pag. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
Bruderlin, Markus, et al. James Turrell: The Wolfsburg Project. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz. 2010. Print.
Corrin, Lisa G. and Miwon Kwon. Do Ho Suh. London: Serpentine Gallery. 2002. Print.
Neto, Ernesto. Ernesto Neto, The Edges of the World. London: Hayward Gallery. 2010. Print.
Flavin, Dan, The Architecture of Light, Berlin: Deutsche Guggenheim. 1997. Print.
Sollins, Susan. Art:21: Art in the 21st Century (Art 21 PBS) (Pt.2). New York: Harry Abrams. 2003. Print.
Turrell, James, James Turrell: Spirit and Light. Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum. 1998. Print.
Wexsler, Lawrence. “Embeddedness: Robert Irwin in His Seventies”. The Virginia Quarterly Review. N. pag. 2008. Spring. Web.