This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Long, convoluted, and overdue reflections on an installation

I am writing these reflections quite a while after the installation came down. Originally, I told myself I was waiting to acquire the photographs taken at the installation, in order to use them alongside my ruminations. But it soon became clear to me that the delay that had nothing to do with the photographs. Rather, the delay arose because I felt that the project had reached an ending point. Although I wanted to, and felt I should, reflect on and document some of the experience, I was not motivated to sit down and write, but as soon as I realised the reason for my procrastination, I was able to overcome it. As a consequence, a lot of thoughts have accumulated, and this post has taken on a more essay-like length that I did not originally intend…
I wrote that the project has reached an ending point. The article is important—it has not reached the ending point, but an ending point, merely one of many points at which it feels it could end. This was definitely not the case after the performances in November, as at that point in the process I continued to want to think and write about the project. I felt there was a need for continued exploration of what had come up.
The installation provided the space for this exploration. It was fulfilling, and revealing, to come back to the content and themes of the project after the performances, and to look at them anew. Exploring different applications of the same ideas and different iterations of the same material allowed for new connections and realisations. Collaborating with Adj and Slim contributed hugely to this because they brought different perspectives. The collaboration also drastically altered the experience for me; although I was involved in the conceptual development, I was not directly involved in producing some of the installation components. Until I saw it installed, I did not know exactly what Adj’s floor piece (Dancing Through Time) looked like, or even what photos had made the final cut. Likewise, I could not predict exactly what Slim’s projections would look like, as I was not involved in the final stages of their design and creation. I had both a creator’s/insider’s knowledge and a visitor’s delight and surprise when I saw the installation.
I was delighted that people did not refrain from stepping on Adj’s floor piece, Dancing Through Time, and that many took time to read some of the quotes and investigate the double-layered images. It was interesting to have the excerpts and memories in text form directly under the ones in audio form featured in a soundtrack comprised of excerpts of recorded conversations about the Arcade. Unfortunately, the soundtrack was hard to hear in the space due to the level of noise—both conversation and the soundtracks from the other works on display in the building. The different volumes and speeds of different voices likely contributed to this, and may have made this component of the installation more suited to a private display space, or more effective on headphones. But perhaps the odd detail that came through for a visitor here or there made for a more organic experience of those memories than if a visitor sat down with an intention to listen to them on headphones. Perhaps those fragments of memory filtered into someone’s subconscious.
Due to practical constraints, some elements of the installation had to be tweaked a little. The projectors in each of the living rooms did not have the mobility we had hoped for, and so Slim and I could not quite realise the projections that we had envisioned. One of the things that Slim responded to in the performances was the way that the audience had to make choices, and had their passivity challenged. To that end, he wanted the installation visitors to also have to make choices and to use projections that shifted between the two “living rooms” on different levels to make the aware of those choices. He entitled his component of the installation Move!  The technical limitations altered our plan, but Slim was able to work within the constraints to try and facilitate the same fundamental idea. I am still not sure how successful it was in terms of the original goal, and I have not been able to get feedback that helps us evaluate that. But I saw people commenting on the projections, or just spending a while watching them, so their presence was definitely noticed, and people will have drawn from them what they will.
The green taped line emulating the Independence Trail in downtown Providence was the other element to undergo some alterations due to technical constraints. Originally envisioned running along the floor and up the staircase, the tape would have damaged the unsealed concrete on the steps. The compromise was to have it run along the floor in the living room spaces and then up the side of the stairway rather than on the steps themselves. This made the line less prominent. But it also dictated less, asking less obviously to be followed, and more subtly suggesting a connection between the two levels.
The two elements where a compromise needed to be found were the two whose purpose it was to link the living room spaces together. The decreased visibility of the green line detracted from this function, as it less prominently lead from one living room to the other. Similarly, the movement of the projected images was much more subtle, and did not link the spaces as clearly as envisioned. Nevertheless, connections existed. The cantilevered design of the staircase (where the landings are the “living rooms”) allows for an uninterrupted stretch of white wall that runs the height of the building. The balconies and landings are angled such that often both projections and both living rooms were visible, creating connections between the two halves of the installation in ways that I had not fully anticipated.  So perhaps our objective of linking the two living rooms in an emulation of the way that the performance linked the various spaces of the Arcade was not met as clearly as envisioned. But hopefully others made connections that I had not planned, and did not see.