The Degeneration of Theatrical Art:
My Response to Fried
‘’Art degenerates as it reaches theatre.’’ (Fried, 1967)
When creating an installation, the focal aim is to change the perceptual understanding of the space and the work being viewed. To create a successful installation, the beholder must interact with the art for it to be complete. Without their interaction, my work evokes just a visual registration of information. That is acceptable, but for the beholder to truly experience my art, their being is a requirement.
Without movement, the work cannot transform the space. The art utilises motion sensor lights that are scattered around the perimeter of the room, illuminating the space from varying angles. Requiring motion to be triggered, the lights act as a catalyst for the objects to become animated. In Ursula Meyer’s text, ‘’De-objectification of the Object’’ (1969), Meyer used the term ‘’anthropomorphic allusions’’ (Meyer, 1969) to describe the materials in the Castelli Warehouse Exhibition (December 1968). This anthropomorphic allusion congregates with relation to creating the animated objects. Although the objects are not kinetic, the performative aspect relates to the animative character and presence the sculptures create. The geometric wooden objects are coated with light reactive pigment. The object requires exposure to light as it ‘charges’ the pigment. Experience is a considered element that aids with creating the artwork. Incorporating light reactive pigment allows the beholders to experience the artwork in two varying settings. Both settings using illumination, but one of the settings utilise the motion sensors lighting, whereas the second setting glows in the darkness of the room. I want the beholders to experience my artwork even when the lights go off.
The work that I create is somewhat theatrical. The incorporation of lighting and participation of being is what completes the work and creating the installation results in a space that references a stage-like setting. To lead on from the theatre theme, the beholders will be named as the actors. This is because, categorising the beholders as actors, emphasises the theatre element within installation art. The motion sensor lights and the actors perform within the space, creating a narrative of unique understanding and experience. The difference between a performance at the National Theatre in London and my performative artwork, is the audience. The actors in relation to my art, are the audience, yet they do not sit and watch from afar, they interact with the artwork.
Art critic Michael Fried’s 1967 essay, Art and Objecthood converses about Minimalist sculpture. A comparison is heavily applied throughout the text-regarding Abstract Expressionist painters and Minimalist sculptors. The discussion towards the end of the essay expresses Fried’s views on the theatrical incorporation with art. One of the points states that ‘’Art degenerates as it reaches theatre.’’ (Fried, 1967, p.8) Meaning the ‘’barriers’’ (Fried, 1967, p.8) between art disciplines are in the process of crumbling (Fried, 1967, p.8). Fried’s concern relates to the artwork during the Minimalist era. The artwork did not represent its true self, therefore resulting in it acting to be something else.
Theatricality was used to describe the presence of Minimalist sculpture. Although applied to the working of art during the 1960s, it can still be challenged in relation to contemporary art. The terminology ‘’degenerates’’ avert the text into belief that once applied within art, it lacks success as a product. Degenerating of art can have various meanings; typically associated with classification in relation to deteriorating physically or morally. Fried may have used the term ‘’degenerate’’ to describe certain work regarding to the lack of realisation from the Minimalist artists that a theatrical presence is evident within their work. But as an application when applied to installation art, especially my own artwork, the theatrical degeneration is far from evident.
As earlier stated, the presence of a being is what enables my work to reach completion. The presence of my artwork evokes experience. Unlike Donald Judd, whom Fried was referencing regarding not acknowledging a presence with the Minimalist sculpture, I willingly admit my work not only requires presence but also accentuates a presence.
To be a literalist, all art is somewhat theatrical. A Caravaggio painting emits a pictorial composition relative to a staged scene. Abramovich’s performances emulates theatre. A Henry Moore sculpture, requires the beholder to view the artwork, allowing the art to be visually understood from all angles. Art does not need to be kinetic or consciously acknowledging presence to be described as theatrical. But to apply an inkling of degeneration regarding theatre being incorporated into artwork is incorrect and somewhat degrading.