In my installations, I provide an environment which creates relations between different elements. I provoke a dialogue between these entities in order to create a piece, which is "living" and evolving, where each element has an influence on/ a relation with the others.
I am concerned with both the "tangible site" (as a physical structure and elements) and the "functional site" (as a source of information on its past use). My interest is angled on issues such as: how to interact with a particular space, what is the best way of tackling Time related concepts, how to deal with the audience and provide an interactive, enriching environment, which materials to work with and why.
The way our cities landscapes evolve over the years and how it affects our lives is an important issue for me. I find that looking at it on a small scale, choosing a particular area of a city, concentrating on the changes of a particular building often reflects what is happening on a larger scale.
My work starts by researching a site, as this space will become the core element of my installation.
I set to discover a building, which had a particular space in the history of a community or where a significant social event took place. Of course there is often a part of fortuity involved. As I often hear about a building by word of mouth or by chance (i.e.: spotted while walking down a street or travelling) as the buildings used are not art venues.
Once I have found an edifice, which is available to use as a temporary art space, I investigate further into its history, in order to have a variety of views, I ask people of the surrounding community about there knowledge on the past of the building and also ask the authority in charge of the edifice if they have old texts recollecting particular periods of its history.
I also spend time inside the building, as I find each space has remnants of the atmosphere that use to exist when it was in use.
The whole of these researches provide me with an insight in an earlier epoch when the space was an active part the community.
I found the digging into local history sometimes revive and therefore re-actualise, for a moment, issues that have been hidden or forgotten. I believe, as Julie H. Reiss pointed out talking about Matta-Clark, that his work: " was within a social context, rather than removed from society. He created his works within existing architecture-spaces created by humans for humans, and his work altered and called attention to these spaces.
This is the reason why I have used buildings, which use to have an economic importance in their community (ex: factory, power station, bank, tram depot), spiritual importance (ex: church, synagogue, hostel) or cultural importance (music hall).
I have another motivation for using non-official art buildings. Art galleries, museums or even general buildings that are still in use by the public have restrictions on what can be achieved inside. Health & safety restrictions limit the public involvement in a work; requirements such as emergency exit, lighten passageways, usage of fire are a few of the usual restrictions imposed. Political restrictions can also impose constraints on the creation of an event; some themes are considered too taboo for established art venues that are dependant on sponsors and official funding.
I find that by using disused spaces I can get more freedom to experiment inside. I am then faced with the possibility (whether I decide to exploit it or not) of using materials from the site, altering the building features, involving techniques and situations not necessarily in agreement with health and safety requirements. It is therefore a conscientious decision to place myself in an environment less exposed to censorship, and where I can enjoy a greater artistic freedom. Disused buildings also often have materials that have been left there which I can then employ for my installations.
I do not only treat the space as a source of intellectual inspirations but also as a tangible element. I see the space as a reflective interactive element, which presents me with various options. I can choose to use not just the walls but also the floors, the ceiling and the inside of the rooms. I treat the building as material, as opposed to a frame like it is used in galleries.
I choose a part of building with interesting details, such as unusual structural bits or features directly related to the former activity of the building. As for example, in my installation "Past-present-future. Film in situ", sited in a former battery-testing factory, I chose to use a battery acid pit. But my choice might also be dictated by more functional reasons such as the need of dark space for video or slide projections or the need of height.
The issue of Time has also an important place in my work at different levels. I find that, in our western societies, we tend to forget (willingly or not) that our lives are so ephemeral. I therefore seek to underline this in my work. Using "abandoned" edifices is one way of reflecting this temporal notion.
The ephemeral aspect of my installations (they are destroyed once the event is over) reflects the temporal quality of the buildings and the even shorter period of activities, which took place in them.
Spontaneity is a feature implied in my way of working, as I decide nothing before I can see and "experience" the space in person. Miwon Kwon drew attention to this matter: "Generally, the in situ configuration of projects that emerge out of such a situation is temporary, ostensibly unsuitable for re-presentation anywhere else without altering its meaning, partly because the commission is defined by a unique set of geographical and temporal circumstances and partly because the project is dependent on unpredictable and un-programmable on-site relations." As this statement suggests, I too create work especially for a specific exhibition. The only time anyone will have the opportunity to come into contact with it is in this place and at this time. This feeling of exclusivity is another way of putting across this concern about Time. The documentation of my installations (photos, videos, sketches and written notes) is the only tangible trace of the work posterior to an exhibition.
I am concerned with providing my audience with an active experience. To do this, we therefore need to go against centuries of learned behaviour: the "DO NOT TOUCH" signs in museums. Although this approach is not new, there have been various different movements and artists dealing with these issues; the public seems to have been conditioned to such an attitude of reverence towards artworks that artists seeking audience participation need to use signs to transmit this request across. This raise another issue, highlighted by Margaret Morse: " it is the visitor rather than the artists who performs the piece in an installation. In this respect I am the creator of a context for the audience to explore and the initiator of the rules it will follow, although I am constantly aiming to make the experience a freer and less controlled event I believe that there will always be some element of guidance involved. As Allan Kaprow described it: "There are freedoms for the visitor (as there are for the artist). But they are revealed only within the limits dictated by the artworks immediate as well as underlying themes."
I believe that pushing the audience to more interaction opens other paths of understanding and procures additional feelings of connection with work. For example the touch and smell senses are more immediate and provides a more "living", direct experience and understanding of a work. I endeavour to provide my audience with an "art lived experience", where it has the opportunity to act, observe, transform, sense it, make it happen or even destroy a physical part of the work (as in "Past-Present-Future, film in situ" where the audience was asked to remove tools of an electrified wire and take them away with them, leaving the wire bare).
I choose to invite a mixed audience to move away from a feeling of cultured elite found in museums. As I use spaces that had a specific place in a community I find it important to also invite the people that might have been affected by the "loss" of the edifice. This is why my audiences tent to be a cocktail of art goers, passer bys, and local residents. This is a concept that has been dealt with by other artists, such as David Hammons whose work was said to have always " been site-specific, emanating from and finding its place outside the gallery world. Hammonss audience as well comes from his chosen locales and he aims for his art to reach a general rather than art audience."
Placing the audience in a disused building also makes it deal with a more romantic and daring situation, waking feelings of curiosity and envies of discovery, as describe by the curator of Charlestons Spoleto Festival: " Martin Gropius Bau and the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Arsenale and Prigione for adjuncts to the Venice Biennale; and the Chapelle de la Salpetriere, Paris. The use of such locations also contributed a specific identity to the shows staged by injecting into the experience the uniqueness of the place, the unusual nature of the sites, and the experience of finding works within the common fabric of a city." Using local edifices also breaks some of the boundaries that non-museum goers can fear. As the building is a sight they are accustomed to, they feel less reticence in going in.
The materials I choose to work with have also a role in highlighting the social aspect of my work. The scale I work with is of human proportions to increase the relation between the work and the audience.
The use of objects and materials found on the site is also a way of keeping the audience within an identifiable setting. Technique explained by Kurt Schwitters: "The aesthetics of "junk" dominated, as the artists aimed for a continuity between their works and everyday life."
Found objects also raise another issue parallel to the temporal aspect. They remove the economical value from the installation, as I use trash that will be disposed of when the event is finished. This lack of commercial value, this move away from object fetishism and from collection, is another reminder of our temporary presence. Furthermore they confront the audience with vestiges of the former activity of building, like small "proves" of history, which I re-actualise by "bringing them back to life", as for example in "Lost Time" where I painting the objects I found on the site and used them in conjunction with other materials.
Another medium which is often present in my work is video. I find that the public is used to television and cinema and that it facilitates the absorption of the data. I place videos in a different context to move away from the passive consumer / viewer state. By immersing them with the other materials I push the audience to mix their reading with the other materials instead of just sitting in front of it just receiving data.
Videos also enable me to introduce additional information about the site, as for example in my installation "Refuge?" sited in a former hostel for prostitutes managed by nuns, the video gave information about the past events that happened in the building and the area that were not necessarily visible to audience.
In my previous work I have also used materials such fire (in an old wood factory, "angel fire") and candles (in a closed power station, "Lost Time" and in a religious hostel, "Refuge?") to accentuate the mystical aspect of the building and to increase respect for the space. I find that placing the audience in such an atmosphere helps to generate speculations about the past of the building.
I recently experimented with low voltage electric shocks, from 14 volts batteries, in my installation "Past-Present-Future, film in situ". I introduced a sarcastic comment on the title of exhibition "Helden der arbeit", which referred to the medals given to "good workers" during the communist era in East Germany. I asked the audience to take part in a pseudo act of heroism by removing tools covered with gold dust (which felt when touched) from electric wires to mimic the useless medals given to the workers in the past. By doing this, the audience received small electric shocks, too low to be of any significance as far as heroism was concerned but high enough for the participants to feel the electricity going into their body. I intended to provide the public with the opportunity to feel an artwork physically. I aimed to place the audience in a situation where it could understand the work with the body and senses as well as with the mind and engage in a more complete experience. Creating such interactivity triggers a sensorial awareness, which causes the audience to take conscience of its own activity, and investment, and of the consequences emerging from it.
I have also become increasingly interested by sounds for a similar reason. I am attracted by their abilities, whether it is to act as a non-tangible invitation to come in a space or as additional non-visual information. I find that their attributes generate other ways of working with a space, sounds can, for example, be echoing and bouncing of a buildings structure. They also stimulate a different sense than the view and therefore reinforce the comprehension of the work in a different manner.
I wish to carry on investigating these issues and themes to a greater extent. I am also interested in experimenting more with materials, which can self-destruct or disappear, such as ice, water, smoke to reiterate the aspect of Time and of an ephemeral state. Sounds and video projections (and their relations and interaction with a space) are two media, which I want to explore in more depth. Another important aspect of my work, which I will carry on researching, is the audience participation and how to encourage it while offering more freedom of involvement.
Sandrine Albert's web pages are found here
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