Installation, Process

Ren Adams Art installationThe first week of October, I flew to Sacramento, then on to Oroville/Chico to install Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe at the Butte College Art Gallery.

The body of work is adaptable to different kinds of spaces, and for this particular install I brought works on paper (large diptychs, triptychs and quads and smaller grids), videos and View-Masters. I used alternative installation methods, rather than framing, and the smaller pieces were rather modular and flexible in ways I hadn’t quite expected beforehand.

The Butte College Art Gallery was an excellent space–not incomprehensibly large and pretty straightforward in terms of lightning, surfaces, flooring and usable space.

After being given a tour of the art building (more on that adventure in a future post!), my first task was, of course, to unpack and curate. I had already done a mock-up of the potential installation, using the gallery floor plan, so I knew where I wanted the large pieces, and where I wanted grids, but I remained responsive to the unique characteristics of the space itself–its bouncing light, its angles and surfaces.

I laid out the largest pieces, following my original mock-up, ensuring they would interact the way I’d intended. The View-Masters, with each reel already pre-assigned to an informed color choice, huddled until appropriate pillars were chosen for each.

Though part of my first day’s install was interrupted (I gave a printmaking demonstration to one of the Intro to Printmaking classes that afternoon, which led to an insightful and productive pause), I tackled the larger works with their alternative install structure.  No frames. No traditional enclosures.

I had already experimented with traditional framing, only to find the static, predictable nature of the enclosed box killed the dynamism of the pieces, and dampened their cross-piece dialogue. There was just something vital about having them suspended, perhaps indeterminately, between each other, between walls and corners–like the fragile nature of the moments they suggest. To frame/not frame has often been a frustration of mine, and even when conceptual reasons insist on pieces being left unframed, some spaces require framing (probably justifiably so, as framing also helps protect works on paper). Thankfully, university spaces are typically more experimental and open to non-traditional installs and I was able to do what I wanted.

To suspend the works, I used a combination of Gaffer’s tape and Stick and Peel, a special polymer, glue-like product that firmly adheres paper to walls, but does not damage either the paper or the paint.

As an unexpected bonus, the printmaking professor Max and his fellow printmaker/artist friend Dean decided to assist me in hanging the large pieces. We made short work of them and cut out for a tour of downtown Chico.

Installation continued the following day, this time concentrated on the multi-part grid installations. I laid out the many smaller arrangements that could potentially fill the walls I’d outlined as installs:

I only needed about 75 individual works to create the structures suggestive of TV-screens, but I’d brought more than 300. Overkill? Maybe. Flexible? You bet.

Thus, the second day was dominated by the tremendous task of narrowing down the final 9-piece grids, from the 300+ individual image-moments I’d brought. They were already grouped by title, of course, but I had to select which grids uniquely conversed with the large pieces in their final placements. This required real-time review of color, form, and suggested semi-narrative. Were too many of the grids reiterating the larger works, unnecessarily? Which grids brought new dimensions to the dimensional web of “before,” and “after”?

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Having such an amazing, wide floor to work on was beyond useful. I was able to really grapple with the smaller works, addressing each image-moment, each fluid cell, as potential moving blocks in a larger implied catastrophe.

Viewing so many selected extracts from the archive, off the monitor and laid out in real space, invited investigation of new kinds of visual and conceptual connections between the grids, and within my own methodology.

Once the panoply of potential grids had consumed the floor space, I enlisted the help of one of the Butte College Art Gallery assistants. Kong and I analyzed, discussed and dissected the suddenly movable parts, and he was clearly drawn to his own newfound ability to reshape and restructure grid-relationships with his own hands. In fact, he couldn’t resist.

This was a valuable, spontaneous critique and dialogue, and it emphasized the viewer’s desire to rearrange frames for their own sense of understanding. I do plan to allow viewers to install the 23,000+ archive by hand in a future version of the exhibition (a real-time, collaborative event where attendees can stick small versions of each frame anywhere on the wall, in any way they like) and we also addressed the potential (even the want) of each image to exist as a physical, movable, and invitational object. Like words in a sentence in Latin, where order is determined by the writer’s conceptual decisions, not by formal structure, we could see each cell mounted on a sturdy backing, perhaps prepped with velcro, and walls upon which the cells could be arranged with just pressure. I’ll be investigating this further when I return to the studio, but for the Butte College installation, I stuck with my immovable grids.

I swapped, moved, scaled, adjusted and mutated each grid relationship.

A surprising, delicate and uncertain overall semi-narrative suddenly crystallized. Kong saw it. I saw it. We followed the threads.

Reading the completed gallery install, from the south wall around to the east entrance, it began with Sonny suspended in the agony of learning terrible news to the final cell, where Sonny appears to die in his partner’s arms.

If viewers began with the east entrance wall, and followed, the cells seemed to suggest the indeterminate passage of moments prior to the disarmed hero’s apparent death. If viewers attacked the install from any angle, they received a mosaic flutter of information that danced around the before and after of my suddenly emergent main character’s last few days or moments.

Another reason the artist’s conceptual engagement with the gallery space they use is absolutely primary, vital, revealing. And amazing.

The final install:

The opening night (I was so busy, I only got shots at the beginning, but it gives a great idea of scale):

 

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