John Robinson: Reflection, Platform Arts, Belfast, May 2013
On the mezzanine floor room separated thus from the rest of the exhibition upstairs, in a dark room, an apparition of digital moving image and a slowly dripping water into a black plastic on the floor, is a manifestation of an idea which Robinson first worked out in his painting: ‘In painting I use perception within a picture plane to mimic the experience of seeing … Recently I have experimented with video projections into pools of water or ink … I hope to provoke questions such as “Because the water is in a bag and the light is electrical, does that mean it’s not nature?”’
Ignoring the fact that electricity is a natural force, and that art connects with nature either in mimesis or by miming the natural processes, the question is typical of a learned perception of art as separate from nature, and of nature as a historical category. The most popular paradigm has been landscape painting, and more recently landscaping. The wondrous work of Capability Brown is still the benchmark, which even those who advertise the following cannot diminish or surpass:‘We are equipped to deal with all aspects of landscape related activity…” (www.belfastgardenservices.com)
In the 1983 Bongard Willi published his Pock and Balsa containing criteria of quality in the visual arts of the 20th C (Studio International UK, 1966:1001, Aug, 83, pp 28 – 31), e.g. mastery of artistic techniques, social commitment and continuity of artistic creation. Contemporary art appropriates what used to be not a part of artistic techniques, yet, at its best aims at the mastery of the new ones.
Helga Griffiths uses scientific techniques to make immersive installations when she collects 100 years of weather reports, visualising them in Wavespace, 2009.
I work with scientific data to test and reshape perceptions of everyday phenomena by presenting them in unfamiliar ways and contexts. Perceptual forms are interchanged and complex codes created, often beginning with the deconstruction of the familiar to open up new avenues of reception. Our confidence in familiar sensory perception is shaken, and an experiential space is created in which emotions, memories, and associations can grow and move freely. This can develop into a play between proximity and distance, for example, by having information that we normally receive only through touching an object suddenly perceived remotely through our senses of sight or hearing. The information is received through a completely different channel from what we are used to. My recent installation Wavespace is an example of this technique. This multisensory installation combines light and sound elements in novel ways to recreate the experience of weather and the sea in the exhibition space. (www.artesmagazine.com/2010/09/4233/)
John Robinson describes his take on expansion of artistic techniques in Reflection thus:
The piece is a custom made square pool with black plastic lining filled with water, a 30sec video loop of footage I took in Lagan Meadows showing the reflection of sky and leaves on the river, an LCD projector positioned in such a way (using a stencil) that the pool becomes a screen as well as a reflector that magnifies and reproduces the image onto the wall, a large bag of water (replaced each day) letting drops fall into the pool which become magnified in the reflection on the wall.
I wanted the piece to reference painting. I wanted to create an image that is visually compelling and beautiful, but also complex and consisting of various elements and layers. I am interested in the notion of the viewer ‘perceiving themselves perceiving’; becoming aware of the activity of discovery through looking and exploring. For me some of the things that happen when I paint (exploring a place in nature, building up and deconstructing an image on the canvas, discovering and appreciating things visually) are presented in this piece in a way the viewer can engage with. I’m intrigued by the atmosphere that emerged in this piece that is almost reverential, contemplative. (email to me May 2013)
The visual appearance of his immersive installation connects to Griffiths, but also to a work a female Fine Art degree student around 1980 in Belfast – a bucket suspended high above dripping water into a coloured pool, the ripples climbing fleetingly on the stud walls. I remembered the work, but not the name of the maker. I described it to several people. Luckily and independently both Tony Hill and David Ledsham recalled the same name. Then Viv Burnside asked her friend and I was given this charming recollection by Damian Coyle, quoted here with his permission:
I do remember Mary working on a piece similar to this in the sculpture annex. She was working in the small alcove area next to the hoist shutters. Mary had created a pool using a black plastic liner and was working with the play of light and the reflection of ripples. I have a vague recollection of a discussion with her about Fellini’s Casanova movie from 1976? when he used lighting on black plastic to create the effect of Donald Sutherland rowing a boat across at lake in the moonlight.That’s all the memories I have on that except I remember she was wearing jeans and navy blue jumper and was up a step ladder photographing the ripples…strange the things you remember! ( email, 25 May 2013)
At the time of writing I failed to locate Mary Grimes or an image of her sculpture, yes, it was done under that category.
Another artist working with a paradigm of everyday phenomena presented in unfamiliar way comes to mind. Deirdre McKenna. Her MFA show offered a dark room with light materialising two ‘objects’: A wall size illusion and a surprising small one above your shoulder formed Necessary Absence, 2007.
Water, touch, sight, even hearing, share the ambitious aim of convincing lie rich in sensual delights and of forming a paradigm that constructs nature as indelible part of visual art with the use of modern materials and techniques.
I do not subscribe to Richard Hartshorne’s thesis that natural landscape is a theoretical concept which never did exist (The Nature of Geography, 1939 / 1961) for several reasons, one of them is James Turrell’s work. In a review of his current retrospective at LACMA, Miranda quotes him as saying ‘We all have prejudiced perceptions – perceptions we have learned … I always thought I had a business of selling blue sky and coloured air.’ (via Carolina A Miranda, A Year of Light and Space, accessed 24 May 2013)
An immersive installation is usually a stationary indoors display of outside mobile reality. During the current Biennial, Joanna Vasconcelos sails a renovated ferry adorned with blue and white tiles and with suspended crocheting intertwined with LED lights on the deck around Venice lagoon at regular intervals. The installation having now both inside and outside.
The staged, indoor environments with their fleeting flickering image and spotlights in an otherwise dark space were set up to visit, enter, view. John Robinson stressed the dissonance between real landscape / nature and and art landscape / nature straight at the door. A closed door carried the word Reflection in a confidently autonomous manner, the word standing on its own easily as a concept, not referring to a made object or special arrangement, or movement or light, or video footage. This could be what Turrell called learned perception – from numerous conceptual exhibitions of words as images. For a moment I thought – this is it. Then another visitor opened the door behind which was dark space, which lit up only on aligning seeing with the dripping water and the spinning video loop.
The seeing embodies the immaterial projection and the dripping water as both equally real or projected until the hearing of the sound produced by the weeping leaking water introduces volume and mass, however minimal. From then on it is not two different natures, just one environment into which the entry is a closed door that you must open to get the sense of the place that differentiates it from other places. And that, you may recall is the classical definition of landscape. Present are Earth, Water, Fire and Air – believed by the classical Greek thinker to be the elements that make up the universe. And you and me – how much percentage of water are we made of?
Everyday familiar turned into less familiar. An aesthetic experience free from learned perceptions.