2009 Essay 2
Text as presented during the symposium Space at the New Museum in New York, USA, 3 April 2009
(Published in: Peter Lodermeyer, Karlyn De Jongh & Sarah Gold, PERSONAL STRUCTURES: TIME SPACE EXISTENCE, DuMont Verlag, Cologne, Germany, 2009)
The Emotional Perception of Art and Space
This article does not cover the physics of the space/time continuum. Other people have discussed that scientifically very well and honestly, it is not easy to comprehend. I would like to focus more on the subjective human relationship with self-experienced art and space, our surrounding environment, while being aware that space and time are not to be separated.
Perception with our senses and other influences
Art creates “meaning” and is an essentially human endeavor. As such, questions about art and its evaluation are linked to processes of how we humans perceive and create thoughts and emotions. Perception is not just a passive processing of sensory information. Perception is the active selection and processing of all information that reaches our brain, mostly from outside of our own body in combination with knowledge we have gained beforehand.
It is commonly said that we have five senses, although some even claim a sixth sense or more. Our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste each provide a different perspective to the space around us. By combining the input from our senses, we like to believe that we have an objective understanding of the world around us. In reality our personal understanding from the space surrounding us is a complex whole created by the input from our senses as well as our memory, knowledge, intellect and sexual perception and our personal constitution at that moment. All these factors are unstable. They influence and interact with each other constantly. What we see influences our emotions and these emotions influence again what we see. Most of the time we lack consciousness concerning these factors. We are simply not aware of them, though the total of all our perceptions in combination with all other factors is the foundation of our emotional status.
Part of our lack of awareness of emotional perception is due to our lack of attention as well as our lack of education and vocabulary. We can educate our emotional center in our brain with art. Giving art the chance to have an impact on your own emotional state means, not only perceiving art with your senses, but also creating a consciousness about the intellectual “meaning” of the art work. We normally do not think of our intellectual abilities as important for perception, but intellect and knowledge have indeed a great influence on the way we emotionally perceive our surrounding. We should not only “feel” art, we should also “think” art.
Perception of space
The visual and/or tactile perception of the space that surrounds us makes us aware of the relative position of our own body as opposed to the objects around us. It provides us with dimensional coordinates such as height, depth and distance. This perception of space provides us with information concerning the spatial forms in which we manifest ourselves and that is essential for our movement and orientation within our surrounding environment.
It is not clear how long humans have been capable of being aware of themselves and the space surrounding them. What is clear is that our understanding of space has changed a number of times. Greek mathematicians, British physicists and German philosophers, many people have had a great influence on how humans developed their thoughts about space. Especially in the last century, the latest scientific theories concerning the structures of atoms and the research on the universe have expanded our boundaries and the way we have to see and understand Space. And although we have attained a greater, more accurate awareness about the space, we can and cannot actually see or touch, still many questions remain open.
What we know is that awareness creates emotions, so even the space that we do not actually experience can have an emotional impact on us. But in general, humans and some of the other animals react emotionally towards the space they are directly surrounded by. These emotions can vary enormously from person to person. Experiencing the same space can produce different emotions in different humans. Some people feel safe and comfortable in a very small room with the door closed, others just want to get out.
I cannot present here an explicitly articulated understanding of what emotions are, but emotions are mainly a reaction of our brain to what we perceive through our senses, and rarely the result of a spontaneous release of hormones. In order to create a larger awareness and better understanding about our emotional reactions in general and to space specifically, we will have to find the origin of these emotions.
The consciousness we perceive about the space which surrounds us is the result of the interplay between many factors, such as for example: our biological constitution, experiences we had in the past, our cultural background and our personal experiences from seeing, touching, smelling, hearing or even tasting the space. I remember very well walking around my studio in Saitama, Japan, in 1998. Tasting the pollution in the air made me aware that I should not live there for too long.
In order to create awareness, humans needed to develop a language, a set of words for being able to define and communicate the subject matter. A communication not only with others, but especially with oneself. Philosophers like Heidegger with his existential analysis of “Dasein” as “being-in-the-world” present a suggestion of how it is possible for us humans, as temporal, spatial, beings with language, to be consciously emotional. “Being-in-the-world” as an emotional human is also shaped by the articulation of “meaning” through language. Our developed language, with its set of words concerning emotion, gives “meaning” to the emotional experience of living in the space surrounding us.
Works of art
For approximately the past 100 years, art has no longer mainly focused on being a representational reproduction of people and scenes, influenced by the emotions of the artist. Art has now often become an intellectual construction. By becoming more aware of the emotional impact of our perceptions and the intellectual intentions embodied in the art works, we can perceive more refined impressions from the art we encounter. Humans are capable of reaching consciousness about increasingly refined emotional impressions, and it is only through the conscious recognition of the totality of all influential factors, that we can begin to exercise our full potential of human perceptivity.
There are a lot of objects created these days by many different people who call themselves artists. It is not easy to distinguish what is art and what is not. We need to have a really close look at the sensible present of the objects as well as gain knowledge of the thoughts and ideas leading to the creation of the purported art work. Also we have to question the integrity of the creator in order to label an object as art or not. Whether this is an important issue or not is another matter that should be answered by each person by and for him or herself. But for me it is important to question this, since I do not just trust my senses while observing a work that is supposed to be art. In forming our opinion if an object is art or not, we really must be conscious of the input we receive from our senses, as well as the influences that our memory, knowledge, intellect, hormones and also our personal constitution have on us at the moment we form our opinion.
In my opinion most of the objects created by people called artists, regardless if they became famous or not, are for various reasons not to be considered art. But, although I, to my way of thinking, have good arguments for my points of view, at the end my personal subjective opinion is nothing more or less than just my opinion.
Each of the art works I make stands on its own, but every work of art is always perceived within its environment, within the space it itself exists. The way we perceive a work of art therefore always stands in close relationship with the way we perceive the surrounding space.
Many architecturally “beautiful” spaces have been devaluated by placing horrible objects in them but the reverse also applies, often fantastic works of art have been totally misplaced in space. A museum usually has its own exhibition design department. Wall colors, lighting and interior design elements, everything is selected with the goal of creating the, in the creators’ view, best possible environment that complements an exhibition or individual work of art. And as usual, each person claims he or she knows it best, reasons best and feels best emotionally, where the artwork should be placed.
When an art work is placed in a space, the art work and the space interact with each other. Any artist aware of this fact should always try to create the best possible environment in which, in his opinion, it seems best to view the art work and the space as a whole. If possible the artist should try to influence all aspects stimulating the senses of the viewers. The viewers will still create their own unique art encounter experience, simply because each of them is a different individual, with unique ways of perceiving their surroundings.
I am an artist, not an architect. I cannot create the buildings in which my art works will be placed, but my installations take into account the environment in which the work of art is placed. When my installations are installed closely following my personal instructions regarding the space in combination with my art works, I do have a strong influence on the surrounding space itself. I basically create a new, a different space and I will have great influence on the viewers’ emotional perception of that space as a whole.
Perception of art
Each person is an individual, a configuration of unique manifestations, a complexity of habits, temperament, language, beliefs and with powers such as abilities and the capability to consciously want something. Therefore, each person will approach new forms of art differently and create its own personal opinion, awareness and emotions from the perceived impressions. Experiencing one hour of sitting in the Mark Rothko room at the Tate in London or in the James Turrell Skyspace near Vejer de la Frontera in Spain is something different for each person for many reasons.
The problem with attaining an accurate perception of new forms of art stems from the fact that humans always take into account their previous knowledge while perceiving something new. The extent of our knowledge creates our reality. The human mind can only contemplate what it has been exposed to. When works of art are perceived without understanding, our brain will try to find something that it recognizes in order to process what it is perceiving. These processes of perception can change what humans actually perceive.
The previously acquired knowledge about art works we have experienced before and that most closely relate to the unknown works of art we will see in the future, will influence what we see when we look at works of art that we still do not comprehend at that point in time. Therefore, communication concerning human progress in knowledge and the intellectual and emotional achievements from other humans is very important.
My works of Art, I call them Boxes, are three dimensional objects themselves and as all matter, they occupy space. The materials I use, the colors, size, shape, texture and composition do have an immediate impact on the senses of the viewer, but my works contain more than just the sum of these formal means. There is the intellectual aspect of my works, the ideas, the thoughts that formed the foundation of the creation itself. With our intellectual ability we perceive ideas and thoughts. Ideas are real things, just as people and the art works themselves are real, but we can not automatically perceive the ideas and thoughts of somebody else without learning how to do so. As with other human functions, we have to train our intellectual and emotional abilities in order to be able to perceive clearly.
The emotional center in our brain can perceive “meaning”. It does not perceive this “meaning” directly, but creates “meaning” through language as it is represented in our surroundings and the objects, things, we observe. These things may be physically present objects such as stones or works of Art, or they may be less concrete, such as ideas. To create consciousness about our emotions and “meaning” we need to be able to define our surroundings with words, language. If the words chosen to describe the encountered art turn out to be “unknown object”, we should always try to find out more about it.
The way to develop our intellectual perception is the same as it is with the development of the perception of our senses, through paying attention and developing the abilities our body, our brain, has. It is a long and complex process, earliest illustrated by Plato, as he writes about Socrates’ search for truth. Observing art, experiencing art and letting art have a conscious influence on your emotional perception of the space surrounding you, is a learning process, which calls for education.
Verbal as well as non-verbal expressions of thoughts play an important role in the communications between humans. With my art and the texts written about my works and thoughts, I try to educate the viewer concerning the emotional and intellectual content of my work. I try to heighten the consciousness of the viewer as to his own observations. Through my work, I communicate with the viewer in order to have influence, I try to instill in each of you a greater awareness about your own emotional perception of art and space. Knowing that, although we can experience the exact same “art and space”, our conscious perception, emotions and understanding will always be very personal.