You Are Here! The Viewer as Inconstant Media

You Are Here! The Viewer as Inconstant Medium, installation view Images courtesy of Elizabeth Woodward Photography
You Are Here! The Viewer as Inconstant Medium is up through June 23, 2012 at 17 Cox, and features site-specific installations by Doug Bell, Benjamin Benson Evans and [Space]. By creating human scale installations built out of everyday objects, the artists in this exhibition reveal that meaning and function are not fixed inside an object, but rather they are created by an exchange with the viewer.

In You Are Here!, meaning flows not only from art into viewer but also from the viewer into art.  Consider the colloquial phrase “that means a lot to me” - does the operative preposition “to” imply that meaning is something that happens “to” us?  Conversely, the phrase, “that’s not what I mean” implies that we can create our own meanings for objects and experiences.  Regardless of semantics, I believe the work in this exhibition utilizes both of these methods for developing meaning.

This exchange between object and viewer is nothing recent, or even remotely limited to art, it was brought into heavier play in assemblage, tableaux and installation art, as well as the move towards performance art, in the mid to late 20th century, calling attention to the viewer’s presence, size and interactions in relation to the constructed environments they found themselves in. Concerned with viewers not just as an audience but as necessary ingredients for their work to complete themselves, the unpredictable nature of the viewer was designed into such structures by the artists.

In this mode of design, the audience creates as much function for the work as the media that constructs the work (read: wood, ceramic, paint, et al).  However, viewers are not fixed media, they are inconstant and so the work changes meaning and function depending on who is looking at it or who is standing in it (or who is looking at you stand in it).

It is my hope that the viewer in this exhibition becomes increasingly aware of their own ability to transform the meanings of these works; based on their preconceived notions of what each object means; or the connotations they have about different lifestyles; or even how they feel about art personally.  While the work that is here remains absolutely the same for each viewer, it will look and feel (and therefore function) differently when the next person walks through the door.

Doug Bell, Stack 17 Fort Cox, 2012 
Benjamin Benson Evans, TV Dinner, 2012

At first glance the two works in the main gallery have much in common: their scale and shape (roughly 8 foot cubes) are similar, both Bell and Benson Evans accumulate and build with real objects or construction material (note: non-traditional art materials).  Both structures give the illusion of solidity; Bell’s is actually hollow yet feels as though it is a solid cube of matter and Benson Evans’ gives the illusion that it is a complete building within the space but it has no roof, leaving the viewer feeling less enclosed than they thought they would be, but more exposed from above.

While Bell builds his walls out of loaded objects into a room, Benson Evans constructs his walls with actual construction materials and then subsequently fills that room with loaded objects.  The result is a charged exhibition space, each work is like an x-ray of the other, displaying the structure of the other on its skin.
(visual approximation), Jesse ThompsonDwelling, 2005, found board and objects
Another example of this inside-out display is the final piece in the exhibition, a shack-like sculpture to be built out of found materials on the 17 Cox property by the collaborative artist team [Space].  The shack references a PDQ shelter I discovered behind the 17 Cox building last fall, a discarded piece of foam sheeting providing shelter for someone who needed a dry overnight stay.  I’ve found many items around the property that suggest we have overnight guests and we hope the work raises awareness for this need in the community and garners support for Riverhouse,  North Shore Veteran’s Counseling Services and other services that address this need in Beverly.  The sculpture is a testimony that much can be accomplished with materials and space that were heretofore unneeded.

A special thanks to Cece Pettigrew, Joel Qualich, Elizabeth Woodward, Will Kerr, Ashley Lameroux and others who helped with this challenging installation.