Types of installation art:  Transforming perceptions in a time of uncertainty
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Types of installation art: Transforming perceptions in a time of uncertainty

Types of installation art: Transforming perceptions in a time of uncertainty

Kylie Bolton

To salute the COVID-19 pandemic as the time that changed everything is surely a truism at this point. World events have refashioned our everyday lives, and consequently altered the way we perceive and receive art. As galleries and museums shut their doors, artists were faced with a new challenge: how to become inventive quickly. Installation artists took this opportunity to either use their creativity to speak to what was happening in the world, or distract people from the dystopian realities that were ensuing. 

Types of installation art

Installation art emerged from a growing interest in site-specific, sensory, and conceptual ventures that combined a temporary duration with immersive effects. Technological growth brought more opportunities to play with different types of installation art such as digital interactive art, installation advertising, and interactive immersive public art. Today, installation art is all about creating a dialogue between an artwork and its audience. It aims to engage viewers on multiple levels and does more than make you want to touch, smell, hear or see it. It entices you to decode a message. 
Fantastic examples of installation art all want their viewer to interact or contemplate what's before them. The type of installation art you witness and the interaction they offer will be determined by the medium, which can be video, sound, immersive virtual reality, or performance – to name just a few. 

These subcategories are neither fixed nor static. Instead, the experimental nature of installation art calls for mixed media, and it foregrounds the relationship to its surroundings and the people who move through it.  From brightly coloured pumpkins and mischievous rats to immersive runways, these installations are a reflection of how resourceful and creative contemporary artists have been during these uncertain times.  


Balenciaga Spring/Summer in a digital tunnel 

What’s a fashion show without a visual expression of the mental overload facing us today? As guests sat inside the tunnel at the Cite du Cinema in Paris, awaiting Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2019 line, they were taken on a suspenseful journey.

At first, viewers were confronted with a blue error screen and programming codes. Then, panic spread as the message became indecipherable and digital liquid began dissolving down the walls. In collaboration with digital art Jon Rafman, finding your seat inside a video tunnel escalated into a journey through a computerized brain that projected digitized lava erupting, the ocean and supernatural landscapes. With the entire interior from floor to ceiling fully paneled with LED screens, this video installation became immersive and transcendent. The show is a stunning example of this type of installation art, which uses all aspects of the surrounding environment to enthrall the audience through a sensory experience, made up of a virtual dreamscape.
Types of installation art: Video and sound art taking over the catwalk at Balenciaga. Source: vuepix.tv

Against this dystopian background, men and women strutted past with padded blazers, oversized jackets and laser-sharp silhouettes that introduced 3D molding techniques into the fashion line. Balenciaga’s mixed media approach displays a striking combination of visual and auditory stimulation such as video, music and light that played with people's sense of reality and invoked a new digital consciousness. 

Netflix original: Mosaic made of 130,000 fake ecstasy pills

While everyone waited in suspense for Netflix’s second season of How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast), advertisers heightened anticipation with a branded installation like no other – a 1000 kg mosaic installation. This 10 x 3 double-sided installation was designed by legendary artist Chemical X (produced by Old Yellow Studio via Basa Studio) and was quite the site to behold.

Type of installation art: a billboard for the Netflix original How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) - HTSDO(F)_©Junala-19
As people entered and exited the adjacent shopping center, the billboard appeared to display a mural painting of Maximilian Mundt, the show's main character. But once people came closer, they realized the painting was more like a puzzle made of 130,000 fake ecstasy pills. The stimulant was a reference to the plot of the show, which centers on a young man trying to run an online drug monopoly. The artwork also included subtle symbols such as a laurel wreath crown, evoking images of Julius Caesar or even Jesus. 
130,000 fake ecstasy pills used to bring the billboard to life.

This type of installation art is experimental and extremely intricate for an advertising campaign. Colors had to be precise, a crane had to be used and 46,000 pills had to go into the construction of Mundt's face alone. The artwork also relied on 3 different layers: acrylic, "dibond" sheet and aluminum, each helping to ensure the longevity of the fake pills that needed to withstand 6 weeks. In the end, the pills worked perfectly for the billboard and created an interesting juxtaposition of legal art and illegal substance.

Banksy’s bathroom installation: “My wife hates it when I work from home”

Lockdown...There may have been a moment for everyone when being inside started to reach the point of cabin fever, and legendary street artist Banksy took it upon himself to use irony, dark humor and his home bathroom to comment on what many people were going through – especially those sharing space with a significant other. This type of installation art is categorized as conceptual, as it is based on an idea rather than on aesthetic quality. Captioning his installation “My wife hates it when I work from home”, Banksy cleverly pointed to the daunting times we’re living in as he depicts rats causing havoc in his bathroom.

Mischievous rats cause havoc in Banksy’s conceptual installation art. Source: Colossal.

With the number of days in quarantine marked on the wall, one rat plays on a nearby towel rail, while another wastefully unravels the toilet paper. Toothpaste is being splattered on the wall as another rat pees aimlessly on the toilet seat. Banksy is known for his social and political commentary in public art, but here he places 2D images of rats within a 3D indoor space and turns our attention to our own private dwelling and the order or disorder that may have occurred within, speaking to the state of our personal space and how we’re coping – or not – during a period of disorder. 
A scene reminiscent of the disorder and chaos that characterized pandemic life. Source: Colossal.


Giant pumpkins: using public art to lighten the mood

Public art is one type of installation art not bound by any artistic genre. Photo: Danica O Kus.

While Banksy eagerly utilizes conceptual installations to encourage critical thinking about the ever-changing social and political climate, the iconic polka dots of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are seen covering oversized pumpkins, flowers and trees in the New York Botanical Garden, immersing people in the joyful, almost childlike atmosphere of a new season. 

Yayoi Kusama’s Cosmic Nature installation featuring her signature polka dots. Source: Colossal. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner. Photo via: New York Botanical Garden.

Kusama’s bright yellow pumpkins, patterned with polka dots and squiggly legs, prance around the 250 acre garden, while blooming flowers in the greenhouse and on the grounds signal a time of rebirth and the importance of the natural world around us. Kusama’s public art, also known as street installations, is a form of street art found in an urban environment.

“Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity” (2017). Collection of the artist, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts.

It’s characterized by its site-specificity and interactive 3D shapes; visitors can even navigate the underbelly of the pumpkin. While public art can include sculpture, painting, stained-glass, installations and even performance art, the key factors here are the rich sensory elements and the temporal nature. Kusama’s creation is a type of installation art that prompts people to engage with the objects they encounter, and through doing so make connections with the broader environment and public space.

From 2D drawings making you think about your untidy bathroom, and a large pumpkin with polka dots bringing out your inner child, to the inside of Balenciaga’s digital brain, there are various types of installation art that produce adventurous and unforgettable experiences (read more on experiential marketing). The art form’s ability to intentionally or even unintentionally take over a space and leave a lingering presence even after it has been removed is why installation art is an incredible medium of expression that finds unique ways to blur the line between art and life, making us question our experiences and giving us the tools to envision new beginnings. 

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