6 September 2010 § 1 Comment
Bin bags and subway air. How often does one find that the very best ideas are the simplest ones – whether it be art, design, film, literature – perhaps anything for that matter! Joshua Allen Harris in New York has created animals using just tape and plastic bags, fitting them over subway air vents. As the trains pass they inflate and come to temporary ‘life’.
I was accordingly inspired to determine where else I have seen ‘air’ used in art. Although the impressionists looked to capture the fleeting effects of light in the open air they hardly painted the ‘air’ itself – although Albert Moore said of James Whistler in the infamous Ruskin vs Whistler libel trial of 1878 that he ‘has painted the air, which few others have attempted’. In reality Duchamp probably got there first (again) with the 50cc ampoule of Paris Air that he sent to NY dealer Walter Arensberg. It was broken but a copy was made in 1949.
Jeff Koons’ Rabbit, despite being rather annoying, is another that ‘jumps’ to mind. Appearing inflatable it visually challenges the viewer on several levels is and raises questions about the nature of art. Its mirrored surface seduces like jewellery,Koons stating that “polished objects have often been displayed by the church and by wealthy people to set a stage of both material security and enlightenment of spiritual nature; the stainless steel is a fake reflection of that stage.” The reflective surface also reflects the environment of the art – it changes with its surroundings.
Scraping the barrel for ideas I guess you could say that Dan Flavin uses tubes of ‘air’. Using the light from fluorescent tubes he literally paints the surrounding spaces – but not the air of course – with light (on reflection a bit too tenuous that one!) Meanwhile many artists have also used absence, empty spaces and for example closed galleries (famously Yves Klein’s empty Clert Gallery in NY 1958 entitled Le Vide) to challenge meaning in art – but here the air itself is actually an irrelevance as the debate is more about the space.
My last straws clutched are with examples of what you might call ‘air made visible’ with Francis Alys, recently at the Tate, and Olafur Eliasson. Alys repeatedly and determinedly rushes headlong into raging dust storms. See the video here. This is what Will Gompertz says:
For Alys, the dust storm suggests the imminent collapse of a system of government or of political order. The act of running into the storm, which we see repeated over and over again, also invites interpretation: is the artist no longer able to combat the chaos he encounters? Is he recognising the vanity of poetic gestures at a time of calamity? Or is it only within the chaos that he can challenge the turmoil around him? Reaching the centre of the storm, the artist is breathless and almost blinded, yet he encounters a furtive moment of peace that could hint at a new moment of possibility.
Eliasson in his excellent Berlin exhibition Innen Stadt Aussen concerns itself closely with the relationship between museum and city, architecture and landscape, as well as between space, body and time. It is with the latter relationships in mind that he fills the closing room of the exhibition with a thick mist which he illuminates with changing light. The air becomes opaque – all that is air melts into solid Marx might say? – and all your senses are challenged (youtube video below). Any more airy art suggestions anyone? Have I missed a whole train of thought?!
- Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit,” the Brain, and Postmodern Art (psychologytoday.com)