SUBLIME SPACES

by Aaron Slodounik

Sculpture Magazine | International Sculpture Center New York | Vol. 21 | 02

 

While charting his course to arrive at the pure object, Robert Morris articulated the unique circumstances of sculpture as opposed to painting: „Sculpture [has] never been involved with illusionism, he wrote in 1966. „Save for replication the sculptural facts of space, light and materials have always functioned concretely and literally.” Thirty six years later, German artist Wiebke Maria Wachmann installed an austere object of minimal form in a Williamsburg gallery. Instead of replicating the concrete and literal approach of her minimalist predecessors, she chose to obscure the principle physical conditions of he sculptural object as defined by Morris ˆ dimensionality, surface and mass ˆ by framing the viewer`s experience. Only by peering directly into the long, open, partially curtained window at the corner of the gallery were viewers able to discern the floating white object within an intense white void.  The incandescent light and starkness of the room reduced spatial clues and created a fog-like effect, which made it difficult to pinpoint the exact relationship of the object to its surroundings. Wachmann preserved the integrity of the illusion by keeping the viewers from using the door to the right of the window, thereby forcing them to stay at a distance and to always remain outside looking in.

The title of the installation “Ganze Tage Dazwischen” refers to hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences, that is, hallucinations that occur just before the onset of sleep or just before full wakefulness. Claims of alien abductions, out of body experiences, and ghost sightings, all of which are typically said to occur at bedside, are attributable to this state of consciousness in which dream imagery  is perceived as real. The abstracted object in the installation alludes to the site of such illusions, in that it is said to represent the „perfect bed”.

Wachmann`s exploration of the illusory properties of light parallels the investigations into visions infrastructural processes began by James Turrell in the 1960`s. Turrell abandoned the object altogether and instead used light and space to address visual perception. He wanted to engage the viewer in a primordial, sensory experience that is prior to thought, to have an emotive effect, and to heighten viewers‚ awareness of their own perception. Wachmann’s installation closely approximates Turrell’s space division pieces in goal and method.

Turrell deceives the viewer by creating illusory wall panels that are actually an opening onto a space of homogeneous light. However, in his installations the light occludes the interior space and is itself the solitary subject. The result is an experience of pure sensation devoid of literal content. Unlike Morris and Turrell, Wachmann does not focus on the purity of the experience. Instead, she creates an allusive object that highlights the installation`s continual indeterminacy. Its vagueness leaves room fo the viewer to interpret the environment according to his or her own experience. Such an illusion also requires us toadapt to new visual terms. Though we are culturally conditioned to accept the conventions of two-dimensional pictorial illusion, we rarely encounter such an llusion in an actual physical space. The initial effect upon entering Wachmann`s new realm, caused by the apparent lack of control over our visual faculties, is mood altering and even visceral. Once acclimated, though, the space can be calming, transcendent and – as the press release states – even sublime. By demonstrating the limitations of our own perception to an emotive effect, Wachmann compels us to question the accuracy of our perception and to recognize its emotional integrality.