Nostalgia II - Public intervention throughout Nelson
Wednesday 29th of July,
Unlike subjective experiences, episodic memory (the memory of events rather than facts) is constructive rather than reproductive in nature. Holding on to that positive idea, this multi-sensory installation created by Nelson-based artist Lee Woodman, which randomly opened up in several spots throughout Nelson, was exactly what we, as proud directors of the gallery, and the space needed.
Over the course of five months (of which almost two were spent in isolation), we organised 12 exhibitions in which our modest gallery was perpetually reinvented and dressed/covered with carefully selected pieces of the puzzle called “life”. Whereas we surprised our audience with a ballerina, with a live-vinyl performance and with our truck being transformed into an audiovisual sound box, we realized that the focus had, until now, always been on admiring the architecture and its matching materiality (the objects).
In light of our gallery’s experiences and our experience –soon to become memories- as organisers and spectators, Woodman came with the idea of a visual and conceptual "tabula rasa". In other words: an erasure of all mental content and clues related to what had happened in the gallery (which also happens to be our home) by installing a visual and sensory mindfuck, totally based on the experience and perception of the moment itself. This led Woodman to cover the entire gallery space with sheets of Mylar, which is a reflective material with a near metallic sheen, and to pair it with a self-orchestrated ambient soundscape called “Hymn for the house”. Such installation reminded us of contemporary artworks that foster mirroring acts (such as the installations by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Enzo Mari, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, Ken Lum, …) , which situate viewers on the boundary between real and virtual spaces, thereby forcing them to accept the fact that the past is the past, encouraging them to meditatively embrace “the irrevocability of the past and human finitude.”(Svetlana Boym)
Besides the embedded visual idiosyncrasy, and by operating in an “atemporal" vacuum as an outpost of nostalgia, Woodman's audiovisual installation was deprived of any rules triggering individual or collective participation. The reflective surfaces, mirroring both the viewer and its environment whilst also grasping images of the display context and the galleries’ surroundings, meant viewers could watch themselves seeing. In an instant, the art gallery transformed into a social laboratory in which the binary relationship between the beholder and the invisible art object is challenged, thereby heightening viewers’ awareness of the socio-emotional and spatial context of the aesthetic experience.
Besides such awareness, the installation also enhanced the public dimension of this visual experience. Our goal was to encourage participants to become alert of the public dimension of art reception and the variations these can bring to the perception of oneself and our mental baggage in relation to the artwork. In a sense, this installation infused contingent relations between perceptual observations and mental pictures.
At the time, we had no idea of the future impact of the installation’s conception and construction but, retrospectively, it is something we look back to as a pivotal moment in our gallery’'s existence and our lives. Woodman was able to weapon nostalgia and thereby to shift our proximity to the lived experience. This private/public and interpersonal form of art spectatorship allowed us to appreciate our beautiful and sad memories for what they are, to reflect on mental recreations (or exaggerations) of past experiences, and to take aesthetic pleasure in our present experience of a moment without fretting over the fact that we will never be able to relive that moment in time.