(Visit to the Hirshhorn’s exhibit Ways of Seeing)
1. James Rosenquist: The Light That Won't Fail I
The idea of Llight and Space Art and Conceptual Art were found in the two pieces I will talk about.
The first being James Rosenquist's The Light That Won't Fail I. When I first saw this painting it appeared much like that of a billboard: large with its own wall, much like a billboard that may have its own space in the skyline. The billboard aspect almost made it feel like an ad. It was fairly simple and bold because of the contrast the artist created by using minimal colors within green and gray scales. Within these colors he painted a collection of events that seem particular to the woman's everyday life style of whom the painting portrays. In half of the piece her face appears as she blows smoke from her noise. The moon she stares up at replaces one of her eyes. In the bottom right corner a hand holds a cigarette but appears to be a shadow against a green wall. Above this section it appears that the woman is putting on her stockings. Spanning the top of the piece a large comb is seemingly erasing the painting, as above the comb all is gray.
This painting gave the impression that these things were confining, inescapable. The woman's daily routine is represented as torture, and until she breaks away from it, there can be no purpose to her life. The piece first struck me with its inherently simple composition that begged questions of a more complex nature. At the end or the beginning (depending on which way one enters) of the exhibit there is a quote by Guiseppe Panza on his classification between Conceptual, Minimal, Light and Space, and Environmental Art. By his classifications I see this paint in particular as Conceptual. As Panza believes “philosophy had an image and became art. Art is the expression of ideas and emotions. Study of the relationship between the mind and what we do is art.” The philosophy of Rosenquist’s painting is that of an existentialist, the connotation of the piece. He reflects through his work the existentialist’s anti-system mindset. The comb is the symbol of the system and she must break from it. He shows that very relationship between what the woman does and what her mind is thinking. By the woman staring up at the moon the viewer has a sense of her confinement on earth and knows that her mind is distraught by it, while on the other hand the viewer sees her confinement in a routine that reflects her actions, the ones she has yet to change. The title is a statement that shows the woman will stay ordered just to make sure she doesn’t fail. She has not fully reached the level of an existentialist in her life. So just as the moon is on a cycle she too will continue on her cycle, the one that will not lead her to failure. Though in the sense of the existential, the cycle and the system of events in her life are her failures, and she is failing by continuing on with them.
It is relatable to Film and Media Arts as being similar to a narrative. Brushing hair is something people are expected to do every morning, just as putting on socks or stockings before putting on shoes is, and for some smoking a morning cigarette and exhaling the smoke. They are all a part of life, of its routine. Much of film and media art tell a story and contain some linear narration of events, so in this sense the painting can be reflective of the arts revolving around media and film.
The second piece was by Doug Wheeler, called Environmental Light Installation.
This installation was that of a large box or room, with a blue light enveloping the entire insides. There were many footprints on the floor that were spotted by the light, similar to that of a black light.
According to Panza, “Light and Space Art [would show] the light from the sun or from electricity [as] real, not an illusion. It is pure energy. It is matter, less material, existing in nature. One of the most beautiful entities we can see.” As the artist calls his piece “environmental” Panza has another opinion. “Our life is both inside and outside our body. Environmental art shows how this relationship works.” So according to this and in relation to media arts and film I envisioned the piece as the inside of a television.
The idea of being inside and outside the body made me evaluate the footprints on the floor. Why are they there? I came to conclude they represent the viewer’s want to be on the inside, viewed by those on the outside. The viewer wants to walk to where the light is coming from because of its beauty and so the footprints are ghosts of that reality. They are the everlasting presence of those who chose to go closer. The footprints remain ghosts because without the blue light the footprints might fade away from view, or simply not be as prevalent to the eye. The light shows the viewer new “Ways of Seeing” and initiates the viewer’s want to be perceived in a new way by others as well.
The fact that there is so little to view here, and so much space, leaves much to interpretation. There is some connotation that there may be many invisible, or semi-invisible aspects to life that people tend to over look. The light shows the possibility that it can be seen, can be recognized if looking for it. Is it on the inside or the outside of the body that these invisible aspects exists? That is a search individuals should do for ourselves. So that search may be the reason some viewers have chosen to enter the box, to get closer to the light. Could that search end up be overpowering, start to hold something over us? I found it incredibly hard to go near it, for I feared it would lose that power that it had managed to take ahold of in me. I liked the illusion of that environment. If Light and Space art is meant to defeat an illusion, prove it's reality, then the environment created by the light is the illusion and by nearing the light then the viewer can start to realize it's reality. I only now wish I had entered the box. By dirtying the floor with my own footprint I could have helped correct what is perceive as real and what is perceive as illusion.