Installations: Experiential Playrooms for Adults – Day 100

[Today’s featured artwork for Day 100 of the 365 Days Project is by John Paul Gardner.]

Art installation by John Paul Gardner
“Expanse” by John Paul Gardner. Photo courtesy ©John Paul Gardner.

No “fuzzy ropes” surrounding this artwork, although entanglement could be an issue…

#100 – Art that is “experienced” rather than simply “observed” often requires the courage to drop social conventions and physically embrace our creative side.

Installation art used to make me a bit uneasy back in the days when I still had a foot in the corporate world and my mind was used to navigating its solid, predictable structure. Installations are site-specific three-dimensional works created for the purpose of transforming one’s perception of space, or other perceptions, usually through the viewer’s interaction with the artwork.

It’s the participatory nature of this art form that can sometimes seem intimidating, as we are accustomed to being mere observers in most art-related endeavors as well as conforming to a “Do Not Touch” policy in galleries and museums. Not to mention that no one wants to be seen doing something in public that might be considered even slightly “foolish.” I was never particularly attracted to this type of art until I met a fellow artist with a wild sense of humor and a penchant for artful adventures when we were both living in Montreal. We met every Saturday for a tour of the city’s galleries featuring mostly alternative art forms…..and plenty of installations.

After a few weeks, we began to seek out the installation work. Letting go of rules and expectations, we were able to fully embrace our childlike curiosity and delve into what we considered “adult-sized experiential playrooms”. Some installations made us think, others would simply get us laughing so hard it inspired other visitors to come over and see what the ruckus was all about.

Artist John Paul Gardner loves it when people “play” with his work. “My intention in my installations is for the viewer to explore the work and gently interact with it,” said the artist. “My pieces generally elicit a number of unique responses. I often return throughout an exhibition to observe how people interact with the installations. Being an artist awards me this unique chance for observation in anonymity.”

“For example, at the museum opening of “Expanse” I witnessed a small child break into a run, heading straight for the piece. Thankfully, the parents intercepted the child at the last second before she ran right into it!”

“I was later told by the museum staff that on another occasion, two people attempted to ‘hug’ the piece. I wish I got to see that. The staff found it amusing at first, but afterwards I had to come in to fix the piece because a number of the strings had become tangled…..”

In “Vertex” Gardner transformed the gallery into a “grid” of tightly strung monofilament lines. The spatial fields created by manipulating the lighting appeared to float in space, shifting and realigning as the viewer moved about the periphery of the room.

Art Installation by John Paul Gardner
“Vertex” by John Paul Gardner. Photo courtesy ©John Paul Gardner.

In a similar piece entitled ” Boundary”, here is what Gardner observed: “I walked in to find an entire group of five people laying below the piece and looking up. There was just enough space to slide under the piece and look up. They were also lightly plucking the strands. This was a totally unpredicted interaction and I was delighted to see the spontaneous reaction to it.”

“My goal is to create moments that ask the viewer to question what they are looking at, what they are surrounded by,” said Gardner. And sometimes that takes turning a viewer into a participant.

Which reminds me of a Chinese proverb:

Tell me and I forget.
Show me and I remember.
Involve me and I understand.

Abstract pen & ink by John Paul Gardner
“Emergence” by John Paul Gardner. Photo courtesy ©John Paul Gardner.

John Paul Gardner’s artwork can be viewed at: John Paul Gardner

Descriptions of the images included in this article:
John Paul Gardner, Vermont
Installation with monofilament, string, clay

John Paul Gardner, Vermont
Installation with monofilament and light

John Paul Gardner, Vermont
Pen and ink

The 365 Days Project

In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.

Experience the full evolution of the project! Click below to read the entire collection of articles.

Click to view The 365 Days Project

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