What is an installation?

Installations are works of art that are three-dimensional and space-consuming. Often they are specific to the location where they are exhibited. There are different types however, and you can differentiate between room, light, sound and video installations.

Room installations are semi-permanent, mixed-media constructions which means they consist of different objects and materials. When arranging the individual components, often the space itself is directly involved. Time and the viewer also become part of the work and the different senses are relied on. Not only can you look at the art work but you can also feel, hear or even smell it. By incorporating the viewer and abandoning the notion of displaying a single self-contained object, the installation differs significantly from traditional art forms. Room installations are often of limited duration. They are installed in one place for a certain period of time and then dismantled again—only the documentation remains.

Installations can also reach out to nature. The most obvious art-historical example of this is the Land Art movement that emerged in the 1960s and 70s. Artists such as Robert Smithson, James Turrell and Carl Andre used land as the source of their monumental installation works. Olafur Eliasson has also used nature as a basis for installation, with his display of artificial waterfalls in New York in 2008. Christo is also a prominent user of installation, known for wrapping buildings including the Reichstag, and creating fabric walkways over Lake Iseo in Italy.

The history of installation art can be understood to have begun with Kurt Schwitters’ expansive Merzbau installations in the 1920s though it was Dan Flavin that first coined the term “installation” in 1967 after creating light based art works using fluorescent tubes. He went on to influence an entire generation of contemporary artists with his installation spaces which to this day are flooded by light and freed from spatial boundaries.

Video installations use monitors, projection screens and walls to show moving images. They are popular with a younger generation of artists who seek to combine physical and a virtual spaces.

For further examples of installations see Cerith Wyn Evans’ E=Q=U=A=L=S, 2010, Liam Gillick’s Restructured Diagrammed, 2007, or Olafur Eliasson’s Sunset Door, 2006.

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