Isabel Lewis at the Tate
I visited Tate Modern’s exhibition ‘Ten Days and Six Nights’ the other day, and Isabel Lewis’ ‘Occasion’ truly stuck with me.
Isabel Lewis trained as a dancer, before developing her work as a DJ, editor and fine artist. Her influences are drawn from art performances, philosophy and cultural criticism, as well as contemporary art, music, and club culture. She compares them to French Salons of the 17th century (a gathering of aristocratic females discussing intellectual topics), Greek drinking parties (described by Plutarch as “a passing of time over wine, which guided by gracious behaviour, ends in friendship.”), or dinner parties. This is an interesting idea, that art as an ‘occasion’ could be used to create an environment in which certain topics or behaviours are prompted, thus sparking an environment fitting for friendships to be made and learning to take place. This is an unusually direct effect of art unto the private life of the viewer/ participant. In my next term, I wish to collaborate with a group of theatre designers (and perhaps more people i.e. musicians, dancers etc.) and the idea of creating an Occasion similar to this is tempting, as a means to raise awareness perhaps or stimulate certain thoughts or questions. Indeed, in some of Lewis’ Occasions, she offers food, making it even more so like a gathering of these sorts.
Isabel mentions how she had wanted to work with smells for a long time; she had long been discontent with the way in which watching dance in the theatre is a purely visual experience, whereas in clubs, there is less emphasis on the visual language and more on smell and sensations of touch. She mentions how she took a tip to Berlin nightclubs solely to focus on the smell, which heightened her experience incredibly. This idea of scent could be something which I incorporate into my installation. Indeed, my piece in the exhibition will consist of rather abstract film clips and sculpture; I focus on the texture of the fish rather than the object itself, and I believe that my interest in the ice was less political and more textural, so I am constructing a reality in a sense. I am using mundane objects to heighten the awareness and focus on the mundane. I believe that when I decided to focus on ice aswell as fish, it was this connection that my mind had with ice to the ocean and thus to fish. So there will be a connection made for the viewers, naturally, as it is rather obvious. Perhaps therefore, I could also incorporate the use of scent. I would therefore be making use of the mundane to create a sublime environment, whilst stressing the lack of nature in urbanised London. In her piece, I was very moved by her use of scent; she wandered around the room (indeed, I had not realised that she was the main artist), and handed me a piece of paper which she smelt. When I myself smelt it, the scent was overwhelmingly strong but unusual and pleasurable; a mix perhaps of mud and some kind of sweet herb? It smelt like the memory of a festival .. nature .. the whole environment, being so nature revolved, was incredibly beautiful and refreshing when in London. The room was dark, only certain areas/ trees/ people were lit up, and so you, as a participant, did not feel part of the environment, rather more as an onlooker.
It felt like I was dipping into somebody else’s memory, of a festival from a long time ago; the dancers moved incredibly slowly, heaving the whole thing away from reality almost. The music grew louder and faded again; yet it wasn’t music in the traditional, mainstream sense; there a deep, steady drum-beat.
Nine words flashed in huge, four letter letters from the right hand side, emphasising the sense of nostalgia. This included the words ‘I miss you’ and references to 1964 and events that took place in somebody’s personal life in this date. This projected ideas for the meaning behind the use of forestry/ dancing/ the set-up of the occasion.
Lewis emphasises the importance of dance for learning about cultures i.e. how dancing differs throughout different cultures and how this can put you in contact with different cultural values. She is interested in the way you can move your body into different shapes, to the pulse of the music, from the imagination and/or from a shape you’ve seen.
She makes use of plants because of the energy that they give off; they pull people in, encourage people to stay around, indeed, they had a very beautiful energy to them. you felt less like you were in London and like some foreign environment had crawled inside. Given the weather, presenting this in the summer was particularly effective. This is all important in creating situation/ occasion. Perhaps I should consider using more than just one block of ice if I am to create an overwhelming environment where the insignificant becomes overwhelming. Indeed, perhaps I’d like to create a balance between the insignificant and the overwhelmingly significant.
In an occasion, there is no set time limit for staying. You enter the environment, contained within a space, much like theatre, but you may leave whenever you wish.
From visiting this exhibition, I have realised the potential in creating environments and combining different mediums such as installations, scent, lexis, performance, and sound in order to create an overall heightened experience. This is something I should consider when exploring the sublime; the inferiority of man to nature, and battling this with the simultaneous overwhelming power of the ‘insignificant’ moments. I thought of a metaphor the other; the idea of a man sitting at the top of vast mountains, gazing out into the seemingly infinite stretch of land rising to the sky and falling towards the earth’s core; the trembling feeling of insignificance and fragility felt by this man. Yet when he unscrews the lid of his flask and pours a mug of warm cocoa and sips it, this has a near equally powerful effect on the man sensually, the effect of the warm, thick chocolatey drink seeping into his mouth and awakening his taste buds, feelings and memories return, the memory of running home in the pouring rain after falling and grazing his knee, cradling into his mothers bosom while cupping a hot mug of cocoa. Life consists of both the huge, powerful moments as-well as the many ‘small, insignificant, in-between’ moments. They are both of vital importance.
This is something which I want to emphasise. The use of the texture of fish is an attempt to capture the sublime in an insignificant object, although it could be improved by reaching feelings of homeliness and nostalgia, so that viewers see it and it could strike a chord of nostalgia within them. however, I do not think that the work needs to relate to experiences of the viewers, for Isabel Lewis’ work created a sense of nostalgia and yet I did not feel I related directly to the happenings. They reminded me of a festival from perhaps another time, before I was born. The words reminded me of someone else’s story.
I think that the records of fish would be capturing a sublime, as would the melting, lit up ice.
I could combine the texture of fish with other sublime textures so that it is not strictly fish related, such as the texture of the ice I have recorded. I could also experiment with thick, black oil running down dry gravel/ building remains.
I wonder whether the ice sculpture is unnecessary. If the films are creating the overwhelming (are they?) then perhaps a more ideal sculpture would be something which is subtle, yet pangs emotions/ nostalgia. i.e. an arm chair and a light. The scent of baking.
Next, I will edit films and collect building materials, before oozing a thick liquid substance down it and filming it, to create an abstract sublime.
I will then watch these films and consider a juxtaposition suitable.