Engaging affect – The cultural construction of scripted escapist space

My research seeks to complicate the relationship between fine arts practices and the practices of the rapidly emergent experience economy. I am engaging with spatial design, specifically, controlled environments concerned with point of sales situations - an arena in which these two domains currently overlap most salaciously. What is the relationship between an affective environment and the individuals who experience it? Can cultural capital and brand identity be built through an immersive spatial encounter? How much is an audience able to buy into the constructed sense of an escapist space and how much are they reminded of the props and elements that construct it? Through a series of live projects I explore the interiority of affect - the psychic, perceptual, space created when artwork, viewer and context intersect. I extend these questions to address the politics of representation, aesthetic sensibility, and the spectacle. My practice seeks to analytically diminish the boundaries between existing disciplines to reveal the relationship between the contemporary consumption of art and design. The practice is driven by the cross-pollination of established industry conventions, and by employing the techniques of fine art criticism to analyze affective escapism in controlled environments. This commentary yearns for a redirection of the sensibilities of the commercially driven spectacle to a contemporary art context.

 

Affects are emotive or sensual responses in/on the body at a level of matter, ‘A bloc of sensations’ waiting to be reactivated by a spectator or participant. You cannot read affects, you can only experience them: which brings us to the crux of the matter: experience. (Osullivan, 2001). I have noticed in my research that affective environments are usually enclosed spaces eliminating the possibility for the viewer to compare the environment that is being depicted with the reality around it- or outside it, to transport the viewer into an illusionary space, protected from the flow of time. Brian O’doherty, author of ‘Inside the white Cube’, describes the modern gallery space as “constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church or Egyptian tomb”. “The outside world must not come in”. (Odoherty,1986). My fine art research extends to the commercial sphere, environments such as promotional events, department stores, show rooms, malls, and casinos. Similar to the gallery, these spaces suspend reality into a constructed spectacle. American product designer Marc Gobe has taken this notion of affect to create a manipulative form of sensualist advertising in which he calls “Emotional Branding”. Emotional branding uses all five senses to connect people with brands in a subliminal and emotional way similar to that of the immersive effects of cinema, which mainly relies on sight and sound, Gobe has added smell, taste and touch, so that the viewer becomes immersed in an atmospheric three dimensional sphere, rather than a two dimensional screen.

 

I am particularly interested in the history of natural and representational landscape painting and its effects when hybridized with installation. With respect to cultural forms, hybridization can be defined as “the ways in which forms become separated from existing practices and recombine with new forms in new practices. (Petersen, 2010). Working across disciplines allows me to contextually rethink the relationship between fine arts, spatial affectivity, and branding. This reconsideration brings about changes in the relationship of artwork to viewer, the exhibition space, the art institutions, the market and other contexts of the artwork, turning the exhibition into a work of art in its own right. Painter Julian Opie quoted, “What I would really like to do is make a painting and then walk into it”, and he did just that. (Opie, 2000). Opie employed installation arts spatial distribution of objects to explore the idea of landscape painting as a space, fulfilling the dream of literally walking into the painting to empathize with it more deeply. The result of locating the viewer at the center of the work creates the impression that he or she has walked right into the painting. By submerging the viewer they point to the fact that, in principle, there is no distance between the work and the viewer; they are connected parts of a whole, a total situation which the viewer cannot transcend or step out of, but only experience from different view points that are always viewpoints defined from ‘within’ the situation. What makes these works special is the combination of painting and installation, giving substance to the dream of physically entering a picture. (Petersen, 2010). Involvement in the ‘here and now’ of the work directs the viewers attention to his or her bodily and performative navigation through the space of the installation. On the other hand, the viewer also experiences a sense of absorption, of being embraced by a fictious world that introduces other time-space relations, and pushes corporeal gravity and navigation through space to the back of the viewers mind. (Petersen, 2010). This is a mode of reception that viewers usually adopt when contemplating a painting or pictures in general. Painterly installations impose this conflict between the feeling of loss of self and a heightened awareness of self on the viewer with a greater intensity than most installation art and any easel painting.

 

Within my practice I am interested in extending my research from these forms of artificial landscape representations to the commercial sphere. Artificial habitats such as zoo enclosures, aquariums and Zen gardens contain a variety of elements from the environment/idea they are depicting or thematic affect they embody. These spaces imitate and emanate the essence of nature, not its actual appearance resulting in ‘typical’ representations, which are ultimately cliché. They are a form of landscape where component parts are carefully selected in order to express the essential qualities of a particular kind of environment. These components are props- elements added to the spatial representation purely for ornament or decoration. This method of condensing the environment is similar to Neo-Classical taste in landscape painting by 19th century Colonial artists in Australia and New Zealand. This is described as a ‘Typical Landscape’, which involves the act of placing plants and animals in a decorative manner to embellish the landscape. Representational faux terrains are spectacles that blur the boundaries between the real and the fake, the authentic and the superficial, and are not specifically bounded to their physical form they are a spectacle that harbor the non-physical ‘Space-in-between” which is the space mediated by images and the imagination that comes from it. Staged landscapes are representations that create false myths about our experience of the ‘real’ natural world and reflect how audiences desire an ideal and perfected experience of nature. This reveals that audiences want to escape to the cliché of paradise, the idea of heaven on earth.

 

 

 

Figure 1 and 2. Entrance to Star City Casino, Star City, 2009.

 

The multiple entrances, exits, signs and staircases make it difficult to find the entrance to the casino inside Star City, (Sydney’s largest casino located in Darling Harbor). The entrance is presented like an opening to a hidden oasis. Something that “you” discover, although could have been easily stumbled upon amongst the confusion of Star City. (Figure 1 and 2).

The illusion is used to encourage the feeling of free will and adventure, thus creating a sense of abandon. This is perfect in a commercial space that relies on chance and gambling. As Norman Klein argues in Vatican to Vegas, a scripted space is a walk through or a click through environment. (A mall, a church, a casino, theme park, a computer game) which is designed to emphasize the viewer’s journey.

Klein recognizes that in these spaces the signage and fixed entrances and exits limit the direction of the viewer and their experience or journey in the casino is predetermined by its creator. The casino itself, the ‘oasis’ isolated from the outside world, is an immersive environment that relies on low lighting and high ceilings that are decorated by hanging props. These elements are used to create a protected cave like atmosphere, where time stands still, devoid of day or night. I am interested in Star City because of its obvious paradox, where natural subjects are used to suggest opulence, reassurance and security in a place where the act of gambling offers uncertainty and the risk of negative consequences. These deceptive representations alter the viewer’s mood via the reassuring façade of a cliché ‘paradise’. In order to critique this deceptive experience, I have decoded a visual language by looking at how imitations of nature are constructed, and what the different manipulations of form are used to represent. As an artist I have attempted to use a similar language to reflect, distort and reveal how these representations affect our experience in a scripted space, such as Star City.

 

‘Dirty Magic ‘is a commissioned body of work in which I art directed for New Zealand fashion brand Stolen Girlfriends Club’s 2013 fashion week show. The work was exhibited in two contexts and stages of construction in order to analytically interrogate the work from a fine art perspective and on the commercially driven platform of the experience economy. Firstly I will discuss the work presented at fashion week at the Red Bull headquarters in Grey Lynn. (Figure 2). I will then analyze the work at Flagship, a gallery/studio where the work was created and presented as a work in progress in terms of fine art practices. (Figure 4).

 

 

 

Figure 3. Photo documentation of installation structural elements. Paris Kirby 2013.

 

 

Figure 4. Installation view of Dirty Magic at Fashion Week. Paris Kirby 2013.

 

 

Figure 5. Media using set as photobooth. Paris Kirby, 2013.

 

 

Dirty Magic at Fashion Week had the intention to create brand identity through commodity aestheticism and the sensibilities of the media industry. It looks at arts affectivity above its existence as a cultural object, with the intention to create an imaginary portal to somewhere else. Suspending the real world in favor of a simulated one. Thematically based on the representation of gothic, psychic, gypsy subcultures, the work incorporates cliché features such as tarot cards, gypsy tents, and dead trees. It was my role as artist to project manage a team of 8 spatial and fine art students to create a visually impactful, atmospheric space in order to frame to the fashion collection. The work consisted of a large-scale PVC print stretched over a wooden frame with bracing secured by staples, screws and sandbags. 4 gypsy tents draped with custom fabrics from the collection, found branches set in concrete bases decorated in voodoo-esque style with gold tape and string. (Figure 4). A custom made neon lit sign, boldly titling the event ‘Dirty Magic’ was created and suspended from the ceiling by chains. Integrating dry Ice machines, black lights and directional stage lighting created ambience, heightening the audience’s affective encounter. Commercially viable Attitudes such as marketing, public relations were incorporated into the environment to excite consumption and consumer image distribution via the social media platform. The set backdrop provided the guests with a photo booth to get their photo taken in, these photos were mostly taken on Iphones and uploaded to Instagram and Facebook with the Dirty Magic hash tag- allowing the consumer to feel part of the lifestyle and building brand identity within the online sphere. (Figure 5). As I am artist from a fine arts background, I became interested in the entirety of the structural installation, not just the image-based versade displayed before the guests at the event. I became fascinated by the relationship between the flawless surface applications that protected the raw, constructed elements only visible to those backstage. (Figure 3). I began to question the authenticity of the work and the authenticity of the imagination of the viewer/art consumer. How much of my audience is able to buy into the constructed sense of an escapist space and how much are they reminded of the props etc. that construct that sense of another space?

 

 

 

Figure 6. Installation view of Dirty Magic at Flagship. Paris Kirby 2013.

 

 

 

Figure 7. Installation view of Dirty Magic at Flagship. Paris Kirby 2013.

 

 

Dirty Magic was also presented as a work in progress at Flagship; the studio in which the work was created, where I was able to further explore the relationships between surface, support, context and viewership. The entirety of the space was utilized, and presented the work at all stages of construction. The work exhibited in this context emphasized a viewing in which the props can be seen as props first and foremost as oppose to buying into a constructed world. Refined, finished areas such as printed surfaces applied crudely onto recycled wood frames. The finished Dirty Magic neon sign suspended from a beam, exposing the novice approach to electrical wiring on the back, emitting an atmospheric glow into the space and the materials within it. Piles of wood and sticks waiting to be used, paper with a remnants of paint rolled out onto the floor. Casually dispersed throughout the space are ladders, tools, fabrics, extension cords, even bikes and other personal possessions of the usual inhabitants of the studio. It is only made possible when the work is exhibited in the space of its creation. It could be argued that this type of constructed space is still very much affective, as I witnessed when viewers encountered the work and had a very sensual response. The awareness of the constructedness engenders a more critical reflection on the staged nature of affective escapist spaces yet simultaneously gives a sense of a theatrical set partially deconstructed. This confusion creates an ambiguous affect in my displays and installations.

My ongoing research into the spectacle, affective escapism, and scripted space in industry and art contexts will lead to further critical analysis on the subject. I hope to use this study to further extend the contexts of existing disciplines and media with ranging motives in order to create a dynamic experience and affective encounter. Additionally, confusing the audience weather to buy into the ambience of a constructed space, or be reminded of the clichés that go into creating these representational faux terrains. Ultimately highlighting the psychology behind contemporary art and design consumption.

 

 

 

 

Reference List:

O’sullivan, S. (2001). THE AESTHETICS OF AFFECT: thinking art beyond representation. Angelaki, 6 125-134. Retrieved from simonosullivan.net/articles/aesthetics-of-affect.pdf

Petersen, A. (2010). Painting Spaces. In A, Petersen (Ed.), Contemporary Painting in Context. (pp. 123-137). Copenhagen, Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press.

O’Doherty, B. (1986). Inside The White Cube: The Ideology Of The Gallery Space [monokop.org version]. Retrieved from www.monoskop.org

Schneider, M. (2009). Imitating Imitation. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=gmail&attid=0.1&thid=

 

Image list:

Figure 1. Entrance to Star City Casino, Star City. Marilyn Schneider. 2009.

Figure 2. . Entrance to Star City Casino, Star City. Marilyn Schneider. 2009.

Figure 3. Photo documentation of installation structural elements. Paris Kirby 2013.

Figure 4. Installation view of Dirty Magic at Fashion Week. Paris Kirby 2013.

Figure 5. Media using set as photobooth. Paris Kirby, 2013.

Figure 6. Installation view of Dirty Magic at Flagship. Paris Kirby 2013.

Figure 7. Installation view of Dirty Magic at Flagship. Paris Kirby 2013.