Caves of Requirement Alanna Lorenzon
The space of our primary perception, the space of our dreams, and that of our passions hold within themselves qualities that seem intrinsic: there is a light, ethereal, transparent space, or again a dark, rough, encumbered space; a space from above, of summits, or on the contrary a space from below, of mud; or again a space that can be flowing like sparkling water, or a space that is fixed, congealed, like stone or crystal.1 A cave is a space chosen for the metaphorical weight that has been built up around its form. We must physically inhabit any space differently and in a cave we might have to crawl or depending on its size, curl up. Caves are dim and hidden from the sun, they are also separated aurally from the exterior world, so that when in a cave we lose visual access to our own bodies and instead feel more acutely the beating of our heart and can hear more clearly the blood rushing through our skulls. Even if we have not had first hand experience of a cave we have imaginative access to them through our cultural collective of stories. Caves are an inherently mysterious space commonly exploited in fiction and a location we can identify from our childhood (if not the caves existing in storybooks, then the cubby-‐ houses we may have made in the family home – a mass of blankets covering chairs and cushions, the thrill of blocking the light out and creating an improvised Otherworld in our lounge rooms). So, although the cave is a real physical space it exists equally as an imaginative space. Lisa Stewart’s installation Caves of Requirements at Linden Gallery explores playfully this relationship between physical structures and their ability to influence our psychological state. On entering the gallery you are met with two distinct structures, one low and curved, the other taller and entered by a set of low steps. To enter the first you are obliged to get down on your knees and crawl through the small opening into this womb-‐like structure. Inside the shape it is warm and the floor is padded and soft. Here we find a piling of smooth, cold rocks and the inside air feels kind of full, firstly with the steady lull of hypnotic oceanic melodies and secondly with the heavy scent of incense. Being inside is like being given a gentle hug, sort of like being in a cave shaped floatation tank. Adding to this effect a water fountain is bubbling away in the background with a slight mist emerging from one dark corner. As the domed ceiling is low you must sit or lie upon the soft floor. I curled up, semi-‐foetal style, rested my cheek on the cool rocks and was easily seduced into a half thinking state by the drift-‐away music and gurgling water sounds. Aptly enough my time here was shared with a trio of children who had come with their parents to the gallery opening and who were suitably absorbed and surprisingly quietened by the space. They sat speaking softly, stroking the 1Michel Foucault a nd J ay Miskowiec, “ Of Other Spaces”, Diacritics Vol.16. N o.1 (Spring
1986), pp.22-‐27, accessed November 4th 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/464648
rocks, one girl claiming she found a diamond in amongst the pile of stones. The manufactured movements of water, sound and space created an easy serenity. An artwork always asks something of its audience, whether it be attention, focus, thought or reaction. Stewarts’ installation is in the form of an invitation. What is being asked of you is to enter the space and enjoy, to be transported and more specifically to unwind. Her artist statement explains: The work explores the private dwellings we create in our backyards, bedrooms, offices and inner psyches to shut out and recharge from the regular confines of reality, time and place2 Lisa’s practice exists within the framework of a conglomeration of young Melbourne artists such as TAPE projects and Rachel Feery amongst many others, who use lo-‐fi materials and the evolving lineage of relational aesthetics to create immersive installations that seek to make the potentially cold white cube of the gallery space accessible and inviting. This comfortising of the gallery brings a refreshing sense of direct enjoyment to the exhibition framework. The work is not an inverted conversation with theory and concept that can only be accessed by the specifically educated; instead it is an invitation to enjoy and experience art to any willing participant. In the second makeshift space of the installation the viewers climb one at a time up several wooden stairs, through a short corridor and enter into a bamboo platform roofed with palm fronds. Here you can recline on a deckchair and control the coloured mood lighting with the use of light switches deftly implanted in a coconut shell. The reclining participant can thus change the colour of the closed in hut from green to red, to warm amber, or ocean blue in order to orchestrate their mood or find the optimum pallete for their relaxation session. A diffused exotic soundtrack plays to complement this scene, and we rest sipping coconut water provided by the artist. Isolated in such a way from the rest of the gallery space, we can thus activate a sense of solitude and seaside holiday whimsy. This second structure explores the getaway phenomenon that exists in our everyday culture of work vs. play, or perhaps work in order to play. In this way Caves of Requirement exists alongside and as a product of popular culture, as John Storey writes, …Popular culture provides ‘escapism that is not escape from or to anywhere, but an escape of our utopian selves’. In this sense, cultural practices such as…the seaside holiday…function in much the same way as dreams: they articulate in a disguised form collective (but suppressed and repressed) wishes and desires.3 This work highlights the architectural structures, which we use to frame and direct these pseudo utopian escape experiences. By using bamboo decking and 2 “Artist Statement”, Lisa Stewart, Accessed N ovember 23, 2011,
http://www.eggsbibliotheque.com/solo-‐projects/2011-‐caves-‐of-‐requirement-‐/ 3 John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture a n Introduction 4th ed. (University of Georgia Press 2006), p.6.
palm fronds and by inventing her own cubbyhouse with the psychedelic womb cave, Lisa both mimics and reinvents an architecture of escape. Childhood can be seen through the rose tinted glasses of adulthood as a utopian location of innocence and pleasure and similarly travel can be longed for as the time when you will finally let your hair down, or, live a little. Times and locations when seen from afar offer most appealingly the hazy hue of idealisation, they are utopias just beyond the reach of touch, as the reality of the experience is inevitably an awkward collection of lived moments and not an idealistic dream space. According to researcher Deb Moore despite the active regulation of children’s play spaces (the industrially designed playground space, complete with rubber matting and padded monkey bars) children contrast this highly directed play by actively creating alternate spaces that they can access individually and secretly. These ‘secret places’ are not spectacular in any obvious sense, for example they could be a shrub, tree or rock that the child has identified as special and theirs and therefore have devoted an imaginative focus. They are generally indistinguishable to the uninitiated eye and it is in these places that the child has unrestricted access to his or her own thoughts. This is an early example of the creation of an exterior space to catalyse interior thoughts, as, Kids don't have a lot of physical control over the way they live or occupy the world but they do have some internal control, they have some control over how they perceive the world and imagine the world4. The creation of these places empowers children by giving them a way to retreat from the imposition of order that the adult world uses to protect and support them. These secret spaces give the child a vital sense of autonomy, a way to be oneself on ones own terms, and the possibility of existing as an abstract, liberated from their everyday identity. As adults we continue to create these sanctuaries and retreats for ourselves; times and spaces that help regulate emotional and psychological waves providing a buffer for the pressures of the outside world (although these adult versions are generally more complicated and expensive). There exists an irony also that as first world inhabitants we live highly materially comfortable lives. Yet despite our physical comforts anxiety and fatigue remain pervasive laments in our society and Lisa’s work speaks to this desire to transcend ones own space in the world, and the longing to retreat from external forces of control. Caves of Requirement provides its audience with a brief holiday by transporting them to a friendly dream-‐space. The work also announces its own theatricality 4“ Nature D eficit Disorder: The Mind in Urban Combat”, ABC Radio N ational, a ccessed
November 24, 2011http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/nature-‐deficit-‐ disorder-‐the-‐mind-‐in-‐urban-‐combat/3040068, ABC Radio National
with an easy sense of humour, like a film set; there is a thin veil between the constructed illusion and the rest of the world. There is a riff here of worlds within worlds. We enter from outside to the gallery space, to the artwork (a controlled creative manipulation) and then as we encounter this installation we are we are pointedly invited into our own internal headspace of the skull (which is also a cave).