Use of Space
Releated Pieces: Cuboid | Nothingness | __-- | __-- (b) | If; slowly |Static (i&ii) | Cycle | Forms & Perspectives
This research is looking at the use of space as an artist material. This goes beyond the spatial aspect that all three dimensional sculptures and physical objects inhabit and refers to space being used as a key feature of the work in which the artist has utilised space as a method to further the aesthetic experience.
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 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 the subtractive process of carving.” (Gabo 2014)
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 space. 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 impressions such as openness, weight or confinement. Serra uses these large steel sheets to frame space and cut out certain shapes from the wider installation site.
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, cited in The Museum of Modern Art 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 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 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.
The use of space in this way has also been explored by some sound artists. Brandon LaBelle 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)
Within sound art works, some artists use space as a sonic parameter; for example, Alvin Lucier’s works I Am Sitting in a Room (1969) and Quasimodo The Great Lover (1970). In these pieces Lucier is exploring how space can colour and affect sound. This notion is also investigated in the works of contemporary Canadian artist Adam Basanta. Basanta’s works use loudspeakers, microphones, space, technology and objects to reveal sounds which are often hidden in the everyday sonic landscape of human life.
In A Room Listening to Itself, sound is produced through amplification techniques which "make audible" the physical relationships between microphones, reclaimed speaker cones, and the gallery’s surrounding acoustic environment.
Using the acoustic phenomena of tuned microphone feedback alongside recursive amplification networks, the gallery space is turned into a giant resonator that amplifies both acoustic activity and inactivity as a product of spatial relationships. (Basanta 2015)
In both Basanta's and Lucier’s works, space is used to affect or enhance sound. This research project is interested more with how sound can affect or change space and create unique ways one interacts with spatial environments.
An example of an artist working with sound using this approach, and a big influence on this project, is the artist John Wynne. Wynne 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, achieving further mainstream recognition for the sound art platform. Wynne’s work Installation No. 3 for High and Low Frequencies, exhibited in 2014 at Gazelli Art House in London, featured sounds were were actively tuned to the venue’s architectural acoustic properties, and therefore allowed the building to physically “participate” in the work. Wynne particularly worked with the physical and sonic effects gained from the tin roof resonating when it was presented with certain low frequency materials (Gazelli Art House 2016). Wynne used the building as an instrument in this work, therefore merging sound, space and architecture, giving the sonic piece a sculptural presence. The work also involved the audience exploring the space by moving through installation and hearing the work from different perspectives.
The technique of tuning sound to a place or space 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 create the sense and perception that the sound is a solid material with tangible 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 further 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 (Labelle 2006). 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.
In this research portfolio, space is used in various ways. As previously mentioned, the focus is on how sound can activate space or change the experience one will have in a space.
In the work Cuboid, there is the aim to sketch out a spatial shape around a static seated audience. This piece creates a passive experience for the audience as the space around them is redefined by a eight-channel loudspeaker presentation and the act of moving sound around these speakers in a cuboid formation. As there is no real way of creating a full sensation of a shape in space with sound, the piece relies on time and the audience somewhat using their imagination to pierce together the shape from the different locations the sound has originated from. This work is largely influenced by Richard Serra’s work as the audience is embedded in the new space that is defined by the sculptural work, albeit by using the sonic medium.
Space is explored is a more active way in the installation pieces. Works such as Static, Shimmer, Crossfade and Seesaw invite the audience to move around and explore the space, experiencing the range of auditory nuances this creates. The audience entering and leaving the installation is also determined by them, allowing them to decide the their personal duration of the work. The exploration threshold of the works is very precise as any slight movement of the head adjusts how the sounds are perceived to the listener. This ground-breaking sensation is possible through the use of otoacoustic emissions and the way in which the cochlea reacts to the stimulus changing by minute amounts of movement. Another engaging consequence of this work is how the movement of other audience members or perhaps objects in the room modify the sound which is heard as they absorb or alter the way the sound reflects in the space. Therefore, although the intention is for the all audience members to create their own composition from navigating through the installation space, one could remain static and allow other people’s movement to modify the sonic experience for them. These works that explore this aesthetic are again largely influence by Serra’s works as the audience become submerged in the sound and therefore, the piece.
Basanta, A. (2015). A Room Listening to Itself. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/135961039. (Accessed 5 December 2016)
Brewster, M (n.d.) Artist Profile. [available online] Retrieved from http://www.michaelbrewsterart.com/pages/artist-profile-michael-brewster-american-sculptor (Accessed 5 December 2016)
Gazelli Art House. (2016) Air I Breathe: Sound and Space seminar at Gazelli Art House [video file] Available at https://vimeo.com/155808077 (Accessed 5 December 2016)
Gabo, N. (2014). Sculpting the Line: British Sculptors as Printmakers. [Exhibition catalogue] Exhibited at the Hepworth Wakefield, 20 September 2014 - 6 September 2015.
LA Artstream (2014). Ear Meal with Michael Brewster [video file] Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/107233761 (Accessed 5 December 2016)
NA9223's channel. (2011) Naum Gabo & Noton Pevsner - The Realistic Manifesto (Manifesto Extract, 1920). [video file] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k-JGuhyqKE (Accessed 5 December 2016)
National Gallery of Art. (2004) Dan Flavin: A retrospective. [online] Available at (Accessed 5 December 2016)
LaBelle, B (2006). Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art. Chapter 11. Continuum: New York
The Museum of Modern Art. (2007). Richard Serra | Intersection II (1992). [Video file] Retrieved from Accessed 5 December 2016
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 5 December 2016)