To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. In this, the second of six pieces, I look at a piece whose extent may not be immediately apparent in the gallery.
“Un Tour d’Horizon”
Installation and Performance, 2011
“Un Tour d’Horizon” – a French idiom having the meaning of a quick reflection upon the various perspectives of a topic. This is the exclamation made by a viewer upon experiencing this installation/performance work by Belgian artist Kelly Schacht.1 And, to that end, this work literally provides itself with a number of viewers of the ‘installation,’ thereby creating its own demonstration of a number of ‘perspectives.’ However, distinct from ourselves as an independent ‘audience’ per se, these viewers are part and parcel of the piece having been engaged by the artist to remain looking at the ‘installation.’ The ‘installation’ (in this case) being a layered set of minimal white sheets attached to the wall in front of the viewers.
At first glance “Un Tour d’Horizon” is a straightforward presentation of the ‘work’ that the audience does in their engagement with a visual artwork. But such a simple reading is made problematic by the fact that one of the artist’s ‘viewers’ is blind, throwing immediate assumptions about the piece’s activity and meaning back in our faces. The inclusion of the blind ‘viewer’ forces us to re-assess the assumptions we made about the way a piece of art ‘works,’ the way that an installation is provided for contemplation, and this installation’s relationship with the other elements of the piece (the hired audience) which contemplate it. All these stages in the presentation of the artwork by Schacht point out the formalised and institutionalised ways in which we engage with art, particularly visual art. By putting these processes on view, in front of us, as part of the artwork, we are made aware of our own position as a ‘second-level’ audience, in front of the artwork’s own artwork-audience.
The blind ‘viewer’ in this piece forces us to appreciate an always present but overlooked(!) understanding and engagement with art in general. For instance, it’s difficult for me to write about art without making the assumption that the audience are sighted. But this piece makes this patently questionable, indeed this is an assumption that dictates much of what I understand about the experience of art, part of the mythology of art which usually goes unthought.
Kelly Schacht’s work often confronts us with the mechanics of its production and the creation of the myths that art naturally assumes, and we essentially buy into in our appreciation of the artwork. By foregrounding the construction of her pieces, in this case by leaving the ‘installation’ as these ultra-simple unmarked white sheets, Schacht attempts to bring the props and stagecraft of the artwork into view. The tripods, supports, lighting, and in this case the audience all given equal importance as part of the artwork.
Cinematography is mentioned in relation to Schacht’s work,2 and the tropes of the cinema and the theatre all play a part. The performative aspects of the elements of the work are central: the installation does not represent so much as perform itself in a mise en scène. This is equally true of the performers: they play the audience within the piece. In this way, our understanding of the elements is held between their meaning through that which they might be read to represent, and their meaning as themselves being themselves – as elements of an artwork.
This piece, for which Schacht won the “Best Young Belgian Painter Award” in 2011, reveals the unthought mechanisms at play in our experience of art. As the artist says: “I wanted to reflect on the way the art world always seems to approach a theme in the same manner. I wanted to question whether we still had anything meaningful to tell if we continued to do that.”3
Author: Edward Sanderson
- Clappaert, Sabine, “Young Belgian Painters Award: The young lions of art,” Flanders Today, July 20, 2011, http://www.flanderstoday.eu/content/young-belgian-painters-award. Accessed 13 March, 2012.
- Benedetti, Lorenzo, “Kelly Schacht: One Voice Makes Two Perspectives,” De Vleeshal, http://vleeshal.nl/en/tentoonstellingen/kelly-schacht-one-voice-makes-two-perspectives. Accessed 13 March, 2012.
- Clappaert, op. cit.
- Originally published in Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, Su Wei (eds.) (2012), Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World, Guangzhou: LingNan Art Publishing House. pp.232–237.