The Tate defines installation art as “large-scale, mixed-media constructions, often designed for a specific place or for a temporary period of time” (Tate, 2017) but what is large scale? and presumably an installation could use just one medium (although the fabric of a location might be deemed to be a medium also). It seems clear however, that an installation, to be fully realised, should arise from its location and the location should be an intrinsic part of the work. There are three dimensional works, or even two dimensional works in non-traditional materials, which are described as installations by galleries but which are not site specific because they are for sale and will move on to another site, so installation can be a catch-all for works which don’t fit any more traditional art niche or which the artist wants to move beyond a label such as ‘sculpture’. However, thinking about installation in the context of the next project, I am thinking about line and location and extending the one into the other.
An installation work which epitomises this approach is Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s epic ‘Running Fence‘ , 1972-6. This line of fabric snaking across the landscape draws attention to its undulations. The texture and colour of the fabric contrast with and highlight the textures and colours of the terrain and link it with the wind and the clouds above. The work creates variable sinuous lines when viewed from different locations. Of all their works, this seems to me the most poetic and the one where the installation and the landscape speak to each other.
In the Pais Vasco, in 1984, the sculptor Agustín Ibarrola created an ‘animated forest’ in the Forest of Oma by painting a huge number of trees with undulating strips and shapes which join up or fragment as you walk through them. The scale of the enterprise is amazing with hundreds of trees painted. However, whilst this is site specific and inspired by the prehistoric paintings in a nearby cave, the man-made nature of the paints and their riot of colour sits a little uneasily in this beautiful environment. The work has been imposed on the place and has taken it over.
Jim Lambie’s psychedelic staircase transformation for the Royal Academy’s 2015 summer exhibition, like Ibarrola’s trees, brought colour to a place which is little regarded compared to the exhibitions beyond. Here the installation was ephemeral and had the dual purpose of making us look again at a familiar place and drawing the visitor up the stairs and into the galleries. Although the jazzy colours may seem as out of place here as in the forest, the work is completely rooted in the location and the fact that a work is temporary can have the effect of making us pay attention to it whilst it lasts; it never becomes old hat.
A key component of installation seems to be a sense of theatre. The artist requires the public to be startled, shaken out of their expectations and dragged into involvement in the place and art. Perhaps this is where scale comes in because, whilst intervention can be small and quiet, Installation is Big and attention grabbing.