Installation and Site-Specific Artwork Essay

Published: 2021-07-30 12:55:08
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Artworks are a product of the context in which they are created, formed through the skills and interpretation of the artist.
The events and issues of the time and place which the artist experiences determines their ideologies and inspiration. Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira’s utilises discarded pieces of wood from his home country in order to create his gargantuan installations. From Sao Paulo, the 40 year old artist showcases issues in regards to urban degeneration to promote thought and increase audience awareness. Mark Jenkins is an American installation artist living in Washington DC, who works with interactive sculptures using plastic tape casts. Born in 1970, he insists the art of his creations is in how the sculpture affects the area and audience around it. Jenkins uses his installations to shock and raise social consciousness around the issue of suicide.
Henrique Oliveira’s work Baitagogo is an installation artwork which interacts directly with its surroundings in Palais de Tokyo museum in Paris. The 22,000 ft. tructure encapsulates a tumour-like growth emerging from the buildings beams, writhing around itself in a knotted, tree-like form. The outer “bark” of the structure is comprised of wood fencing from construction sites in Brazil. This peculiar source of his materials is almost cheeky in the way that he’s taking from the rich to support his artwork, in which he is supporting the poor. By taking this material he is also quite literally breaking down barriers between the rich and poor, as the wooden beams are in place to restrict general access to the construction site.
He also makes use of native wood from around his home, interweaving his Brazilian heritage into the components. The artwork is a response to the increasing amount of ‘favelas’ or slums emerging in his hometown, Sao Paulo, in a similar tumour-like fashion. Taking inspiration from medical and biological textbooks, the tumorous Gordian knot of the structure conveys the chaos and violent disarray of slum cities. Oliveira takes inspiration from many aspects of his life; “I believe that all everything that we make is the result of our life experience, our culture, our language and the exchanges we have made with other people during our lives,” The installation represents a reverse in urbanisation, in the way that the wooden structure of the building is returning to its former self, but in a negative light.
As poverty in Brazil increases so does this parasite infect the structure of the building. The growth seems to burst forth from the beams, indicating the overwhelming surge of sickness it represents. The irony of this message is that the artwork appears to be harmless and graceful, a natural commodity, though what It represents is so toxic. The artwork, though it appears graceful, is a weed, set to strangle the building, frozen in time and space for us to consider. The stark white flawlessness of the gallery contrasts with the rough, organic, textured appearance of the structure, highlighting the vast societal gap between the rich and the poor in Sao Paulo while the overwhelming size of the artwork identifies the magnitude of the economic and cultural crisis. The artwork delivers a strong message to the audience in regards to our own self destruction.
It comes as a warning of the escalation of this parasite, this poverty. The installation resembles a tree, but it was created by man, this identifies man as the creator of this problem, and the potential for the creator to become the disarmer. Just as the artist created this work, so can he take it down. Economic equality is the issue Oliveira is presenting, and awareness of this issue can help to prevent an intensification of this problem. Mark Jenkins’ Dublin from his outside series depicts what is first interpreted as a woman stepping off the edge of a building. The artwork was situated in Dublin, Ireland, during September 2011’s suicide awareness week, on an ordinary street, pedestrians unrestricted and unaware of the artwork prior to its installation.
With a much closer inspection of the artwork, the figure is revealed to be made out of a plastic tape cast, wearing a wig and plain clothing as a disguise. Jenkins describes his art making process, “First I was only installing clear tape figures made from casts of myself but later I began dressing them with my own clothes with the idea to camouflage the art as reality. ” This gives the artwork an initial authenticity and shock factor. The blonde hair of the figure hides any expression from view, giving a mysterious anonymity to the artwork. Her facelessness allows the audience to substitute their own imagination into the identity of the figure.
The figure is shown with her hands in her pockets, a casual gesture which is juxtaposed to emphasise the dangerous circumstances she is in. The figure is exposed to the elements, the wind being able to flutter in the wind contrasts with its stillness, the only indication we have that it is not alive. The positioning of the figure is one which would not be sustainable as a human, the rigidity of the cast allows it to balance precariously on the edge of a building where a real person would most likely fall and die. This captures a moment between life and death which would not usually be able to be studied.
The artwork forces the audience – which is anyone who passes the installation – to consider the issue of suicide, and what their response would be in a situation when the figure was a real person. It brings the idea to the mind of anyone passing by, regardless of if they wanted to or not. In this case, the audience were not necessarily art enthusiasts or gallery-goers, any member of the public could have been subjected to it. In this way, the installation is brutal in its message, however effective.
It also instils a sense of relief within the audience upon the realisation that the subject isn’t alive, and is suspended in space rather than falling to its death. The controversial artwork was placed atop a building where it was not particularly authorised, and as a result of many alarmed phone calls, was taken down soon after its installation. Despite the brevity of the artworks exposure, it stirred much interest in the general public, with people stopping to pause and ponder its meaning. The attention given to the artwork, Mark Jenkins believes is a fundamental part of its significance; “The more people that stop to look at it, take pictures of it, it kind of grows the piece. ” The artwork used the idea of an urban theatre – using the street as a stage and catching the audience unawares for maximum coverage and impact. Scandalously, this artwork is one of the more tame artworks of his collection in regards to suicide, as the figure is identifiable as being inanimate, unlike some of his other controversial works, which have had ambulances and police called to the scene of what appears to be a life or death situation.
Henrique Oliveira and Mark Jenkins are artists of vastly different cultures and environments. They are both affected by significant issues in desperate need of society’s attention. Despite the vast difference between the issues upon which they focus, both demonstrate through their art making practice and the ideologies they display, that artworks are a product of the context in which they are created. This is not art, static in a frame upon a wall, this is life.
Bibliography: Architectural Anthropomorphism (8/3/14) Henrique Oliveira (8/3/14) Henrique Oliveira talks to Yatzer (8/3/14) It’s Nice That: Art (8/3/14) Testing the Limits (10/3/14) Mark Jenkins (10/3/14) Using His Indoor Voice (10/3/14)

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