Contextualisation, 5 Key Posts.

1. Jean Francois Millet, ‘The Gust of Wind’,1871

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This painting marks the starting point of the re-occouring themes that I explore throughout the two years that I have spent studying fine art. The subject of the sublime, which becomes a fascination of which I have tried to understand and explore. What drew me to this painting was how the artist had captured and portrayed the definition of sublimity of nature. The sheer power and force our our world, yet being beautiful and even awe inspiring. Despite being surrounded by a golden glow, it reminds us of our human qualities as he cowers from the falling tree. It is overwhelming and dramatic. I was inspired to be able to make my viewer feel something so powerful from my paintings too.

I realised quickly that  I am unable to paint such powerful images, most importantly I couldn’t even pin point the direct definition of the ‘sublime’.  I looked into philosophical definitions – which proved to draw direct connection with the human consciousness. How do we comprehend such things on a vast scale and space? Ultimately how do we comprehend anything? The vast forces that surround us give us a sharp reminder of death and out seeming meaningless existence.

2. Yayoi Kusama, ‘Peep Show’ 1966

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The Polka Dot and the Relationship with the Zen -The polka dot is the form of the sun, the symbol go energy, world, air, like and also of the moon, which is in calm, round and soft. The polka dot becomes the moment – the polka dot is the way to the infinity.

Yayoi Kusama has explored the philosophical concepts through her obsession with dots, which she gives us an ability to almost  visualise and comprehend what infinity is. She makes the unimaginable, unthinkable infinity of space our brains cannot usually comprehend into something that we can visualise, in a beautiful way. Using psychedelic colours, repetition and pattern inspired from her hallucinations, she creates an immersive environment that engulfs the viewer into another world – inducing a hypnotic state.

‘Become one with eternity. Obliterate your personality. Become part of your environment. Forget yourself. Self-destruction is the only way out […] I become part of the eternal and we obliterate yourself in love.’ (Yayoi Kusama poster for the first ‘Self Obliteration’ performance, 1968).

These ideas are typical of 1960’s, the free love and psychedelic fantasy of the shared love ideas of escapism through breaking up of reality. Through studying her words, the obscuration of space here clearly has a vast impact on the Kusama. It is well known that she struggled with hallucinations thought her life – there is undoubtedly a link between the disruption of the installation space and her mind.   This is an experience where there is  a lapse in perception of events, a different reality to what is considered ‘normal.’ Subconsciously, a human brain filters through what it believes to be important, alongside the views, memories and feelings which we draw upon, and which affect everything that we see. Our cognitions organise the external stimulus from the world, to what we perceive as ‘real’ – an approximate reality in which our minds make up. Different levels of reality are becoming questionable.

On the other hand, mediation is one practice used by many people to try to escape their consciousness – into hallucinations of one’s own free will. For example, within Buddhism, the stages of enlightenment are only experiences through repetition of this method, eventually reaching Nirvana. Demonstrating how hallucinations are not always seen as negative occurences and implies that sometimes the cause of a hallucination can become important than the hallucination itself.

3. Richard Serra, ‘The Matter of Time’ 2001


Disorientation, a feeling of vertigo becomes relatable in the Serra exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

The sublime feeling that I intend to somehow encompass within my own installations  surrounded me as I walked into the object, getting darker as you walk in, slowly engulfing you into itself. It seemed to somehow posses a life of its own.

The time is not related to real time, but time is created by the art, altered by the experience of the work. Time is not present in the object but in the experience. Serra has created the work to be about ‘you’; the walk through the experience in relation to the body and movement through the space. Your experience of life during the viewing the installation has become manipulated by the artist himself. The space in which your are has become disrupted, the freedom of being able to move has gone and you become aware that you are inescapable from yourself within the art installation.

I have come to a realisation that time seems to be a major important aspect within my work. How the the illusion of time relates to the personal experience and the effects this has on your consciousness. Weather that would be seemingly pausing time with each strobe flash or (like Serra’s work) the experience of ‘you’ in relation to the body and movement within the space. 

4. Irwin-Turrell-Wortz Partnership

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In the interest of creating work that relied upon primary perceptions over intellection, considering his work to be available for everyone and not just the art communityIrwin created artwork for the current moment, for the ‘now’. He strived for an experience that couldn’t be captured by any other form of medium. This meant that the work can allow you to ‘see yourself seeing’. This links his work extensively to Merleau-Ponty’s writings; to be aware of the fact that we live within our own worlds, that we are responsible for our own living, and not simply for our own existence – but to make people aware, even just a little more than the day before of how beautiful the world is.

It was arranged that Irwin, along with James Turrell, were to be joined in partnership with scientist’s Dr Ed Wortz,  shared a common interest – of man and his own perceptions of his environment.  They explored the use of sensory deprivation and to achieve this they spent periods spanning six to eight hours a day in the tanks at the University of California, Los Angeles, as a vehicle of heightened seeing. Within these chambers, they studied its effects on their senses. The notes from the Irwin-Turrell-Wortz collaborations, and their experiences were later published. They read:

Allowing people to perceive their perceptions- making them aware of their perceptions. We’ve decided to investigate this and make people conscious of their consciousness […]. If we define art as part of the realm of experience, we can assume that after a viewer looks at a piece, he ‘leaves’ with the art, because the ‘art’ has been experienced. We are dealing with the limits of an experience- not, for instance, with the limits of painting. We have chosen that experience out of the realm of experience to be defined as ‘art’ because having this label it is given special attention. Perhaps this is all ‘art’ means – this Frame of Mind’ (Weschler, L., 1982, pg.127).


New realms of their own perceptions were discovered through the use of a sensory deprivation tank, relating to the methodology used typically in shamanistic practices in order to find a new way of seeing. This is achieved through isolating the self and the mind for long periods of time. Their research confirmed past testaments to the complexity of our own senses. As a person depends on other sensory inputs when they stay inside the chamber, a sensory shift seems to take place; a person can no longer rely on their primary senses, which in turn seem to be more complex on the return to normality Irwin described his experience:

‘After you came out, […]everything has a kind of aura, that nothing is wholly static, that colour itself emanates a kind of energy. So that what the anechoic chamber was helping us see was the extreme complexity and the richness of our sense of mechanism and how little of it we use most of the time. We edit this severely, in time to see only what we expect to see’ (Wechsler, 1982, pg.129).

Irwin reached a point where he claimed the world was transformed into energy patterns, much like the shamanic state of formless awareness, it gave the world a re-presentation of itself like a second reality. Throughout his career, Irwin used the technique of enduring the suffering of sensory deprivation and self-inflicted isolation to open his mind to things that have been experienced by few others.  He used a Shamanic  Vision Quest and realised:

‘It was about me, about my identity, my discovery. Whereas all that really mattered… was the places presence. In other words, if I’d taken you out there to a place like that, what you would have perceived is yourself perceiving’ (Irwin, R., 1972, cited in Wechsler, 1982, pg.161


Robert Irwin’s work shows a clear desire for a viewer who encounters his work to change their perceptions on life through a new way of seeing. He invited them to share his shamanistic visions that were suggested through his installations. These phenomenological installations intend to offer a higher consciousness in comparison to our mundane everyday activities. Whilst Irwin’s work is not as obviously disorientating as artists such as Kusama and her ‘Self-Obliteration’, it shows that the disjointedness of a disrupted environment caused by the hallucinations, can be applied within an installation to affect the consciousness of our minds – a new way of seeing a new realm of experience; a new realm of reality.


5.Olafur Eliason, The Hayward Gallery, 2011, The Weather Project, 2003, Beauty 1993.

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(The Weather Project, 2003, Olafur Eliasson)

Light, water, air temperature is used with the sole purpose of enhancing the viewer’s experience. Most famously, The Weather Project, 2003, installed in Tate Modern Turbine Hall drew in visitors globally to encounter a sublime mechanical sunlight experience. Art Critic Brian O’Doherty states that viewers were ‘intoxicated with their own narcissism as they ponder themselves elevated into the sky’ Frieze (2004) p. 56; as though his work incorporates a self-portrait of all that view his work as they bask underneath contemplating themselves and the environment and the experience it provides.  Viewers are submersed in the experience, although the construction of the installation is prevalent, of course they understand the quixotic nature and therefore allowing the questioning of all nature around us and the perceiving of it. The parallel to the weather outside, particularly in the unpredictable weather of the city of London and the varying composition of the empirical elements reflects the sublimity of the natural elements beyond our control.

We are still revisiting the question of sublimity. How do we configure the relationship between the body and the space? Does it matter whether we are in the space, how we live in that space; or does it matter if we are really there or not? The actions we take give us a sense of responsibility within our world.  A body that has consequences feels alive and a part of a space. He adds a dimension of time to a space and the link that brings thinking and doing together is experience; the responsibility of taking part in the world. Therefore, reality is dependent on your presence. This realisation can cause a viewer to feel particularly disjointed. Referencing to Plato’s Theory of Forms. Levels of reality are questioned. Our world is a world of change, and what we perceive of imperfect forms, is constantly becoming something else. As a human, can we ever break down the perception barrier and know of the outside of reality? Everything that we have believed to be true is only a fraction of what is real. This theory suggest that there are larger forces that govern what occur within our realm. This is then followed by the jolting realisation of the possibility of this occurring is unnerving for most; people re-act with aggression; how could we ever live a full-filling life when everything we know of what is ‘real’ is taken away?

(Model for a Timeless Garden, 2011, Olafur Eliasson)


The simplicity of the materials which draw out the ideas of the complexity related to the human consciousness, in my eyes  is the most accomplished way to do so. In this way the work has no target audience, no need for background knowledge, no pretentious stereotypical art world language is needed. Everyone is subject to simply their own experience. Everyone becomes equal within this environment, a void like space where to be human is stripped back to one single experience, a re-discovery of the consciousness.

The beauty is highlighted in the simplicity of the piece. I think this is my favourite piece of work I have ever come across – a key influence in all of my practice that portrays exactly the simplicity, subtle materiality and beauty I wish to see within my own work.


(Beauty, 1993, Olafur Eliasson)


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