Tuesday, April 17, 2012

{PLAY} play as an aesthetic

mindy and i are going to begin a series of essays talking about 'play' as an aesthetic.  when i was in graduate school, beginning as a maker of functional pottery, and moving into installation, i discovered that giving up the idea of 'function' was difficult for me.  so i created a body of work that was 'functional' sculpture.  it asked the audience to participate by turning cranks or playing with dolls, or by moving something around the space that i'd created.

i didn't think of what i was doing (in 2004) as a 'play' based aesthetic, i was thinking of it as interactive installation.  since then i've created several different bodies of work that have utilized interaction in the gallery space, but in a way that is more a kin to going to an amusement park than going to a white box gallery.  and it is exceptionally different than how the audience involved themselves with the art of the past.

experience and interaction as an aesthetic is not a new idea (dewey wrote art as experience in 1934) but to think of experience as 'play' considers a different type of space as an art medium.   'play' creates mental subconscious space where reality and surreality exist in the same state, a sub-real space.  games, for example, challenge the player by controlling the space, rules, and context of the experience.  if the goal of the game is to knock over bottles with a baseball, then the basic intention of the game itself has created a controlled environment where the player's attention is focused in such a way that he/she mentally creates a space by ignoring a majority of the actual surroundings.  play intends to create a space that controls its audience's inner-self-identity.  by this i mean the quiet thoughts and personal space that we all exist in.  our own worlds, or the voice in our heads.  what i understand to be the core mental human.  play seeks to effect the 'own world' of its audience.

Warhol's Marilyn
the static painting and sculpture of the past (and the present) ask the audience to consider it as a physical thing.  you stand before the work and consider the materials and the vision and the meaning that the artist created, but you consider it in a kantian art for art sake way.  anymore, this way of attempting to affect an audience has become boring.  make a loop around the gallery glancing at the stuff on the walls.  forgettable.  not that these are not great masterpieces of art.  that has not changed.  however the audience has.  the human condition of living today has developed shorter attention spans and the idea of 'viewing' is lost on many.  but this began happening in the 1950s with minimalism.  then warhol changed the art world by relating to his audience through images of people and places they recognize and admire and admonish, but still in a static 'viewing' way.  the development of installation art began to ask audiences to consider themselves in the space that surrounds them.  and the space that surrounds them is a manipulated surreality created by the artist.  this places the audience in the world of the artist, but this world exists in the 'real' world.  video asks its audience to enter into the 'own world' of the maker.  the video world is a completely visual/audial surreality that we step into.  an 'un-reality.'  play and interaction ask the audience to ignore the real space and enter into a virtual space or a sub-real space of their own making, controlled by the creator of the experience.  this is a new way of thinking about medium.  the audience becomes the medium.  all the things that the artist makes are made with the intention of affecting the participator and leaving them with a real experience, however controlled that experience may be by the maker.

this is an initial idea base for this series of essays.  with mindy's breadth of knowledge of 20th century aesthetic philosophy, and my unadulterated bullshit, we are hoping to create a new way of thinking about art.  many artists are working in this medium, including me, the clayton brothers, carsten holler, and i'm sure many other who i've not yet even seen or heard of.  but this is what's coming to the world of contemporary art near you.  thankfully.

Clayton Brothers, a piece from the show Inside Out

Carsten Holler, Upside Down Mushroom Room (photo via airdeparis.com)

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