Use of Space
Releated Pieces: Cuboid | Nothingness | __-- | __-- (b) | If; slowly |Static (i&ii) | Cycle | Forms & Perspectives
An early example of space as an artistic material comes from Naum Gabo, a pioneering sculptor originating from Russia. He is famed for his sculptures, as well as for establishing constructivist art, and in 1920, along with his brother Antoine Pevsner, for publishing the Realistic Manifesto. The manifesto announced that space and time should be fundamental aspects explored in art, by stating: “Space and time are the only forms on which life is built and hence art must be constructed” (Gabo and Peysner 1920). This is shown in his work, Model for “Rotating Fountain” (1925), in which he used transparent materials to invite the space behind the work to become a part of the piece and created a kinetic element to the piece that will change over time (Treves 2000).
A second example of space can be found in his 1969 piece Construction in Space with Rose Marble Carving (Variation No. 1). The work features a piece of rose marble that has a pierced centre, allowing the viewer to see through it. It explores “the relationship between void and solid, mass and space through carving.”
From another art movement and time era comes Richard Serra, a renowned and celebrated sculptor with a career spanning over forty years and a particular influence on this research. Serra’s work is concerned with architecture, balance, movement and time. He is perhaps most known for his works which involve very large metal forms, for example Strike: To Roberta and Rudy (1969), Snake (Sugea) (1994) and Intersection II (1992). However, the focus of these works is not the metal structures themselves, but on the spaces created in between them. The viewer is invited to travel through the space in the work and experience a “psychological feeling of different spaces” (MoMA 2007). The way the metal forms lean, taper or angle can give the viewer a sense of openness, weight or confinement. Serra uses these large steel sheets to frame space and cut out certain shapes from the wider installation location.
I decided the height in relation to my body movement. At a certain point, if [the] work becomes too high, you look up [and] the physical space won’t be registered with your body. It just becomes like a building. (Serra 2007)
From this it is clear that Serra thinks about the relationship with the human body in his work and aims to create works in which the viewer can physically interact.
Dan Flavin’s work also takes the focus away from the materials used and utilises space as a creative medium. Flavin dedicated his entire career to working with the artistic potential of light, focusing mostly on using neon tubes. In his 1963 work Pink out of a Corner (to Jasper Johns) he activates space by illuminating “what is, by convention, a darkened area of the installation space. Invigorating ‘dead space’ with light became a powerful technique of the artist” (National Gallery of Art 2004). Flavin manages to engulf the installation space through light and bring awareness to a space that is often seen as empty, nothingness or a void. Similar to the works of Serra, the space is used by the artist to produce psychological effects on human perception through connotations linked with colour, shade and intensity.
Both Flavin and Serra use boundaries in their work to define the space that is to be experienced by the viewer. By defining a shape in space, they are giving what is often seen as a void or nothingness a certain physicality. They create works that use space as an experience and focus on how that experience changes as the viewer moves through the space. This allows the viewer to engage with, navigate and understand space in new and original ways.
Sound as Sculpture
The use of space in this way has also been explored by some sound artists. Brandon LaBelle, for example, writes on this subject:
Activating space through implementing and inserting auditory features shifts architectural understanding. Fusing listening with spatial narratives, audition with inhabitation, and movements of time and body as dramas of discovery, sound installation heralds new forms of embodiment. (Labelle 2006)
Other artists have focussed on space as a parameter: for example, Alvin Lucier’s works I Am Sitting in a Room (1969) and Quasimodo The Great Lover (1970). These pieces look at how space can colour sound, however, my own work is concerned with the use of sound to change or activate a space in new and unique ways. Cuboid, in particular, is concerned with the human experience of space and new ways to engage with it. (This work is discussed in more detail below.)
A sound artist working with sound to activate space is the sound artist John Wynne, who is perhaps best known for his work Installation for 300 Speakers, Pianola and Vacuum Cleaner (2009), which was the first sound art piece to be added to the Saatchi collection. Wynne’s work Installation No. 3 for High and Low Frequencies, exhibited in 2014at Gazelli Art House in London, was tuned to the venue’s acoustic properties in order to allow the building to “participate” in the work. Wynne particularly mentions the physical and sonic effects gained from the tin roof resonating when it was presented with certain low frequency materials (Wynne 2011). Wynne used the building as an instrument that merges sound and architecture and gives the sonic piece a sculptural presence.
The technique of tuning sound to a room or place is also used by Michael Brewster, a Californian artist who has been working on what he terms “acoustic sculpture” since 1970 (Brewster n.d.). Brewster, whose background and education are in sculpture and visual arts, works with sound to extract its sculptural capabilities. He often uses standing waves and nodes in the location to allow sound to become almost solid, and give it a tangible and materialistic form. In his 2001 exhibition “See Hear Now” at the Los Angeles Contemporary Gallery, Brewster’s work not only looked at how to use sound, but also how to use space to better equip sound to become acoustic sculpture. Brewster himself constructed the physical space in which the sonic compositions would play in an attempt to bring out certain aspects of the sound that might otherwise not be realised. He is not interested in the musical applications of sound and re-thought his approach when his work started to become “too musical” (LA Artstream 2014).
Brewster is interested in how different sounds can be used to draw different lines in space, even calling some of his works “sonic drawings”. The manner in which sound can draw was asserted in the press materials from the exhibition:
Each portion of the [sound] spectrum exhibits unique qualities and behaviours. Low frequency sounds, for instance, which have long wavelengths, are omnidirectional and volumetric. High frequency sounds have short wavelengths and are monodirectional and linear. (Brewster, cited in LaBelle 2006)
In his work allAROUNDyou, he presents pockets of palpable sonic space using short and linear sounds. These ideas of sound as definable and definite pockets of space give rise again to the idea of boundaries which the artist is using to choose which part of the space is to be engaged with by the gallery participant.
Brewster, M (n.d.) Artist Profile. [available online] Available at http://www.michaelbrewsterart.com/pages/artist-profile-michael-brewster-american-sculptor (Accessed 10 June 2015)
Gazelli Art House. Gazelli Art House - Sound and Space (Air I Breathe) part I [video file] Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_AGq-cDyKc (Accessed 2 June 2015)
LA Artstream (2014). Ear Meal with Michael Brewster [video file] available at https://vimeo.com/107233761 (Accessed 11 June 2015)
Museum of Modern Art. (2007). Richard Serra at MoMA - Intersection II (1992) [video file] available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_OmWlMjsxQ (Accessed 10 June 2015)
NA9223's channel. (2011) Naum Gabo & Noton Pevsner - The Realistic Manifesto (Manifesto Extract, 1920). [video file] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k-JGuhyqKE (Accessed 25 June 2015)
National Gallery of Art. (2004) Dan Flavin: A retrospective. [online] Available at (Accessed 25th May 2015)
LaBelle, B (2006). Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art. Chapter 11. Continuum: New York
Treves, T. (2000) Model for ‘Rotating Fountain’: Summary. [available online] Available at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gabo-model-for-rotating-fountain-t06974/text-summary
(Accessed 25 June 2015)