Project 2: Deﬁning Installation arose as a collaborative endeavor between Zephyr Gallery and the Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville. It is the result of a series of serendipitous events, but most central were Zephyr’s recent rebirth as a platform for experimental art and curatorial projects coinciding with the advanced art history seminar on installation art that I was scheduled to teach this spring. The idea of generating an exhibition out of the conduct of the seminar was the brainchild of Chris Radtke, Zephyr’s Director, and Suzanne Weaver, Independent Curator, whose enthusiasm persuaded me to undertake the project. Ying Kit Chan, the Chair of the Department of Fine Arts, generously agreed to provide ﬁnancial support. As a collective and thoroughly collaborative undertaking, it is our hope that Deﬁning Installation might become a model of engagement between the institutions of the academy and the community; between students and professionals; and between the so-called art world and its public audience. Thus began Project 2. Two student and two professional artists were selected after review by a jury comprising students in the seminar, Chris, Suzanne, and myself. All four of the artists were asked to create an original work of installation that focused on one or more of the conventional aspects of the medium, whether that be creating an Environment or investigating the speciﬁcs of site; focusing on our experiential encounter with the artwork in a deﬁned situation; emphasizing the perspectival shift from viewing an autonomous object to entering into and becoming part of the artwork; or critiquing the institutionalized conditions of viewing in the “white cube” of the gallery space. This charge was designed to bridge the exhibition theme with the concerns of the seminar, which explored the history, theory, and praxis of installation art over the last forty-plus years. Jenna Richards’ installation entitled Clothing, Stripped occupies the rear exterior and side courtyard of Zephyr Gallery. Her ceramic objects were “cast” on site, using pieces of clothing that Richards found around town on the street – gloves, bathing suits, a bicycle seat cover, an XXXXXXL t-shirt – that were then dipped in liquid clay slip and allowed to dry in place. Once dry, the slip-dipped items were kiln-ﬁred, a process which simultaneously creates the ceramic material and destroys the cloth ﬁber. The resulting pristine and fragile ceramic objects, re-placed to their locations around Zephyr, mimetically replicate the original pieces of clothing and physically index the contours of the site. In her efforts toward Deﬁning Installation, Rosalie Rosenthal has created a multimedia Environment entitled Fulﬁllment. As an Environment, Fulﬁllment transforms the ﬁrst ﬂoor of Zephyr Gallery into a discrete space into which we enter, move around, hear sounds, and engage with materials redolent of packing, shipping, and consumerism. Consistent with the criteria laid out by Allan Kaprow, the inventor of Environments, Rosenthal’s installation utilizes only “non-art” materials and attempts to blur the boundaries between art and life by drawing closer together the related acts of consuming goods and consuming art.
Shohei Katayama’s installation, Axiom, extends his study of the interplay between light, optics, and consciousness. Katayama has integrated precisely placed mirrors into the second-ﬂoor gallery space and, harnessing geometric principles of reﬂection and refraction, affected a more “axiomatic” or truthful experience of self-perception. Axiom is noteworthy as an installation not only for the way in which our participation is integral to the function of the artwork but, more emphatically, in its shift of focus – a literal reﬂection – from the artwork as privileged object to our own revelation as subjects. The foundation of Michael Ratterman’s artistic training is in classical materials and methods of sculpture. His recent work, however, has moved toward an exploration of ephemerality and organic processes such as salt crystallization. Many of his artworks take inspiration from his professional practice as a funeral director, and his artistic materials are often directly sourced from his experience of preparing bodies for funerals. Ratterman’s installation for Project 2 incorporates medical grade cotton and waxed linen twine – substances used for stufﬁng and sewing corpses. Though Ratterman has created sculptural salt forms before, Absorption is the ﬁrst time that the artist has worked on this large a scale. And scale is instrumental to Absorption as an example of installation art: the human dimensions of the salt forms and their arrangement in the upstairs gallery draw subtle attention to the space surrounding them and the vigilance required to navigate between them. The students in the seminar have made their own contribution to the exhibition by installing a study space on the ﬁrst ﬂoor of the gallery, complete with a specially selected library of texts. They have also produced an exhibition catalog. In keeping with the exhibition’s theme, the catalog collects the students’ individual deﬁnitions of installation art, along with their recommendations for a favorite reading on installation art. The catalog also contains four longer essays, each written by a graduate student in the seminar, on the four artworks in the exhibition. I encourage visitors who wish to learn more about installation art to take advantage of the study space by browsing the library and reading the catalog. I must say one ﬁnal thing about the students. I could not have asked for a better group to work with. They rose to the challenge of curating an exhibition from scratch under severe time constraints, met every demand, and exceeded my expectations. Any success of Deﬁning Installation will be largely due to their investment in the project and their concerted efforts to produce a tangible demonstration of their knowledge while taking critical (and critically engaged) positions on the topic of installation art. I want to recognize them all here by name: Luis Borroto, Jake Ford, Kelsey Frady, Eric Francke, Megan Bogard Gettelﬁnger, Molly Passaﬁume, Mario Picciuto, Stacey Reason, Elizabeth Smith, and Lindsey Wilburn. Thank you, students. Susan Jarosi Associate Professor and Art History Program Director University of Louisville