BA Fine Art Year 1, Term 2, Weeks 2-4: Installation Workshop and ‘Petrichor’

My installation elective workshop started with a seminar on ‘How Artists Use Space’; this was a really engaging and succinct way to begin the next few weeks, and I felt really inspired as one of the artists mentioned, Michael Beutler, I had worked with on installing their exhibition ‘Pump House’, at Spike Island, and I ended up taking over the seminar for about 10 minutes, describing how we worked and the processes he used in the space.

We would have the next week (around 4 full days) to fully install a piece of work in one of the project spaces, as it would be in a gallery, for a group crit on the following Monday. I had already been planning an installation, to play a sound piece I’d produced the previous week in an environment created using dead Christmas trees, to be called ‘Petrichor’, intended to tell a story of my month travelling around Australia, and what I saw there. Honestly, this project was incredibly stressful, as I wasn’t used to having such a short amount of time, but I found it so helpful as it really gave me the kick up the arse I needed to learn about installing my work.

Petrichor Audio is here.

I decided on using the dark project space; a small room in the basement that was painted black, so I could turn the lights off and focus on it being a sensory experience of touch, smell, and sound. Originally, I planned to build a room inside the room, fill it with the trees stood up and cut into bits stuck to the walls and ceiling, and to have 4 speakers up on a shelf in each corner to play the sound, but my plans changed quite a bit. As I was working with another person in the room, I had to factor in their piece. I couldn’t build a wall in the short amount of time we were given, and then tried to use the corridor at the entrance of the room, but this would have been a health and safety hazard as the trees would have blocked the fire exit. I then decided to use a blackout curtain, but as I began to play around with the placement of the trees I realised I needed much more space than originally intended, as I wished to space them out to place a blanket down in between them for people to sit down on. This was due to a conversation with my tutor after playing her my sound piece, which was 10 minutes long, and she pointed out that it would be difficult to get people to stand for that long. I intended to get the group of 10 in my tutorial to spend 5 minutes each sat in the piece, as around 5 could fit. I also struggled with how to set up the trees, as I had wanted a very tight, claustrophobic environment, but there were not enough to do that with the amount of people I wanted to be involved and the amount of trees and space I had. They were then going to lead people through the space, but again it would be difficult to have them listen to the piece whilst doing this. Finally I set the 6 trees in a circle, held up by buckets filled with sand (I had tried to make stands using wood but this was too much considering the timescale). I also spread 75l of bark on the floor to add to the sensory experience.

The playing of the sound also proved to be a problem. I discovered that in order to play the sound from my macbook through 2 different sets of stereo speakers I would also have to use a mixing board. From a sheet of MDF (I’m actually mad proud of this) I made 6 shelves, one for each speaker and one each for my macbook and the mixing board, and painted them black to match the walls. I also painted over shiny patches on the walls with matt black paint, as when the lights were off and only the light from the door shone through these were reflective and were distracting. When it came to installing the speakers, however, I discovered that I had been given the wrong cables, and had probably been too ambitious with what I could do. I got the correct cables, cut it down to 1 set of speakers, no mixer, and installed the wires correctly. I could have done with longer cables, but I couldn’t do anything about it in the end, the only issue was that they weren’t all in straight lines, some were diagonal, and I had to tape them to the floor instead of fixing them to the ceiling.

When I showed the piece, the room was dark except for the light coming through the door and these LED battery powered circle lights that I installed at the base. This cast shadows on the walls, and you could see everyone else and the trees to some extent in the semi-darkness. On the wall opposite to where mine was situated, the other person had painted in glow in the dark paint on the wall, giving the effect that people said “if the gateway to Narnia led into a rave”. The sound piece was audible loudly, and filled the room. You could also smell the bark and the dead trees, which contrasted with the image of life I describe in the audio. Experiencing the Petrichor like this was actually amazing, as my orginal intention was to transport people in the traditional storytelling way, and in a way relive the moments described, however with the lighting, scent of decaying matter and fake SFX of rain and bug noises the whole effect was incredibly eerie, like those Victorian photographs of corpses dressed up to look as though they are still alive. But I was SOOOO happy with this, as in the audio I read out an excerpt from my notebook where I write about J Krishnamurti’s opinion on memory, on the past, and on truth, “a truth cannot be repeated”, so really the piece became more than I originally intended, and became an experience in it’s own, rather than a re-imagination of the past.



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