A Guide to Viewing Art or the Art Public Users Manual

Section 1: Art Objects – understanding artworks

For years now we have walked into the gallery and have looked at the artworks contained in the gallery space. Each artwork sits on the wall in a not-isolated space, but is ‘totally’ isolated from each of the other works; no matter how close one work is hung in relation to the other. The artist has made the artwork as a ‘positive’ gesture, a gesture that erases the spaces that were present before the artwork was hung. We un-wittingly enter the gallery with the un-intention of viewing ‘positive’ objects of erasure. This applies to painting and sculpture but less so to installation. Instead of the installation site being simply an erasable space for isolated artworks as in a traditional hanging, the installation is made up of elements that interact with the space, as it enables the viewer to enter it.

In our viewing of ‘isolated’ artworks, the dastardly thing is that we are slapped with a modernist attitude. In this light we view artworks as we would read writing. Writing brings about the displacement of positive-negative space. We read the positive marks on the ‘blank’ page – the word as a positive entry is simultaneously a displacement of the negative space on ‘paper’. We cannot stand to be confronted with the void, so we fill it with the positive gesture – words, images or objects.

In other words, knowledge is the negative-positive most possibly erasing the positive- negative. So when we stand in front of the work of art, we negate the negative-positive, excluding the inclusive and including the exclusive.

So we say: “Yes, it is hard to understand, to see the work.” It is even harder when we realise that the negative is encased in a history or histories, an encasement of words with meanings of past meanings. The history/histories are more positives hidden in the negative (space). They can erase the negative-positive, making the positive-negative readings more prominent.

Therefore we seemingly confront the artwork positively but due to the effects of acquired histories, we are in ourselves displacing the meanings even further. The ‘I’ is the greatest mis-leader, dangerous for it has the power to mis-represent.

With the installation, we go not to view the object/s on display but rather the gaps between these objects. We go to observe the positive-negative. The actual objects that the artist has chosen or created are not as important as those that were not created or chosen.

We are given the opportunity to ‘un-read’ the gaps between the negative-positives, this time we immerse the positive-negative ‘I’ into the work, becoming part of the overall un-included item. Although we are a negative-positive, our position is more un-stable and ultimately more positive-negative.

In a Machiavellian attempt we try to overthrow the negative-positive by negating the ‘I’. We focus on the installation as singular object, as if the negatives are removed.

To ‘un-read’ an installation is like attempting to ‘un-read’ the negative spaces that are left on a page of writing. The way of viewing the installation is a process of ‘un-reading’ the meanings. Yet, like the ‘I’ the installation can never be free from the positive-negative scenario. It is configured as part of the displacement machine, but, just maybe, it offers a way into the gaps of un-understanding. It is this un-understanding that is the key to ‘un-un-reading’ the negative-positive.

So when you go to view an installation:
• Un-read the history/histories of the objects
• Un-understand the position of the ‘I’ as part of the positive-negative scenario
• Read the scenario into the matrix of the installation, and
• “Watch out for that bamboo shoot”.

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