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Environmental installation.

Environmental installation The term "environmental art" refers to an art form that fills an entire room (or outdoor space), surrounds the visitor and consists of any materials whatsoever, including lights, sounds and color.

IT IS POSSIBLE THAT MANY PEOPLE have never been exposed to the type of art defined by Mr. Kaprow, but when one recalls the interiors of Europe's great cathedrals, a well-designed architectural space, or a rock concert consisting of performers, lights and music, it is feasible to say that this is not a truly new art form.

Jeanette Cole created the environmental artwork shown here. She came to Murray State University from Nebraska to teach painting at the graduate and undergraduate levels. After arriving, she learned that a small gallery could be made available for an installation. It was rectangular, enclosed and had no windows. Her plans called for a three-part work: Sources, Rift and Restoration. The Rift portion was to dominate the space.

The experience Due to the nature of the work, only one person was allowed inside the environment at a time. The viewer entered through the one door and then would stop to allow his or her eyes to adjust to the dim light. Directly in front of this entrance was a translucent black curtain suspended from the ceiling. By walking around this rectangular barrier one could see the main body of the installation which consisted of the beige ceiling and side walls, and dark tile floor. The majority of the floor area was covered with approximately 1/2" of fine white sand, carefully edged to form a perfect rectangle on three sides. The sole source of light came from a suspended 15 watt bulb in the front of the space. The distance from the black curtain to the bulb was approximately twenty feet (6.1 m). Because of the darkness and perfect order of this environment, many viewers expressed feelings similar to those experienced when entering a worship sanctuary.

As the viewer moved forward on the dark tile edging the white sand, attention was directed to the focal point of the installation which consisted of numerous floating forms of white paper that collectively formed a horizontal rectangle. These pieces were hung with black thread attached to the ceiling. Any movement through this space caused them to move back and forth, gently colliding to generate a wave as each consecutive bump set the next piece in motion until the energy died. The sand rectangle stopped short of reaching the suspended paper forms, and unlike the back and side contours, this edge was soft, ragged and slowly disappeared into the tile. Carefully positioned on this feathered edge was one tiny oval rock--one that might be found along any shoreline. Repeating this form was another rock of the same size and color resting on one of the floating rectangles. The viewer was allowed to pause and view the entire space, reflect upon thoughts and feelings that had surfaced in the mind and body, and then withdraw from the room.

Understanding the work In order to fully understand the nature and objectives of the work it is helpful to refer to the artist's easel-scale studio production which consists of watercolor and colored pencil images. These rectangular works contain pastel areas of airbrushed watercolor and hand-rendered colored pencil marks that produce forms that might be perceived as nonobjective (rectangles within rectangles) and realistic (forms and objects one might find at the seashore). The overall effect of these high value and low intensity images is one of peacefulness and tranquility similar to feelings associated with repetitious sounds and experiences of beach environments.

In planning and constructing the installation, Ms. Cole recalled the same concepts and objectives found in her two-dimensional works and transformed them into a work that was three-dimensional and room-size in scale.. In the artist's own words, "My original intent was to be able to walk through the spaces of one of my drawings. I wanted it to contain the quiet of a still life and the expanse of a landscape form. I wanted it to have some aspect of the rectangle within a rectangle theme."

Considering the artist's objectives, it seems that Ms. Cole was successful in the attempt to physically (sand, paper, etc.) and formally (repetition of colors, shapes, and forms) organize a large three-dimensional space that allowed the viewer to respond in an individual manner. The "rectangle within a rectangle" theme refers to the shape of the room, introductory curtain, floor tiles, sand form, suspended paper pieces, space between the vertical strings and the final rectangle that was adhered to the rear wall. On the physical scale, the artist cleverly repeated the rectangle theme within a horizontal and vertical position. On the formal scale, textures, values and forms were carefully contrasted and complemented.

Although Ms. Cole's installation no longer exists, hopefully this account will inspire teachers and students to become aware of past installations and possibly plan one of their own. Projects could include designs for proposed installations, scale models, actual installations and documentation through movies, videos and slides. Since this type of project can involve numerous individuals from various disciplines (art, music, drama, industrial art, history, etc.), grant money might be available provided proper guidelines are met. Unrestricted size, endless sites (storerooms, window wells, alleys, parks, gymnasiums) and unlimited themes make it possible to produce a piece of art that positively affects all members of a community whether they participate in the construction or simply experience the final product.
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Author:Speight, Jerry
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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