Materiality and Dematerialisation / Richard Long

Lecture notes from 30th October 2017

Dematerialisation describes how in contemporary art the object is losing significance as the concept itself becomes the artwork.

Richard Long describes himself as a sculptor despite his work being largely non-physical. For example “a line made by walking” now exists only as a photograph, losing the materiality of ‘traditional sculpture’. It can also be argued that the act of walking backwards and forwards to create the line is the art (the sculpture?) and the title of the piece reflects this. If the image was taken away leaving just the title, would the effect be the same?

Richard Long “A Line Made by Walking” – 1967

A similar idea is explored in the piece “Untitled”, more commonly known as “Ben Nevis Hitch-Hike”. The ‘sculpture’ here was the journey itself, although the only documentation of this artwork is photos of the sky and and the ground taken at each stop. This raises interesting questions about the documentation of non-material work. For many, the photos would be the ‘artwork’, so does this change the intention/idea of the piece? However, if there was no documentation at all would the artwork even be artwork? Is there any point in doing this invisible work if there is no proof that it has been done? And should art be about ‘proving yourself’ to an audience?

Richard Long “Untitles” or “Ben Nevis Hitch-Hike” – 1967

This clearly relates to my London tube map journey. Is the act of travelling and collecting the key part?

Francis Alys also explored this idea of journey as artwork in his 1997 piece “The Loop”, in which he spent the commission money from “Insite” on travelling from Tijuana, Mexico to the exhibition in San Diego without crossing the Mexico-US border. He travelled to Australia, then travelled up the Pacific Rim then through Alaska and Canada before reaching the United States. In teh exhibition this journey was presented in the form of a postcard, although the true “artwork” was the journey itself which highlighted the difficulty of Mexican citizens trying to enter the United States.

"In order to go from Tijuana to San Diego without crossing the Mexico/United States border, I followed a perpendicular route away from the fence and circumnavigated the globe, heading 67 degrees South East, North East and South East again until I reached my departure point. The project remained free and clear of all critical implications beyond the physical displacement of the artists."
Francis Alys “The Loop” – 1997

“The project remained free and clear of all critical implications beyond the physical displacement of the artist”

Other works by Alys, such as “The Modern Procession” focused not on the acts themselves (in this case a parade of over 100 people carrying reproductions of ‘masterpieces’) but on the rumours/stories that these acts created. What people said about the artworks are more important than the artworks themselves, therefore making these words the artworks. This raises difficulties as the artist completely loses control. Although he has full control over the things that create the buzz, the buzz itself is impossible to track so the artist can never know to what extent he was successful. The only way is via publications which don’t necessarily provide an accurate/full picture. This kind of relates back to Richard Long’s journey’s; if they aren’t recorded in some way, what is the point? Here, however, there is very little way to record. But does this matter? I don’t know!!!!!

Francis Alys “The Modern Procession” – 2002



Brad Downey also works with urban interventions. However, his work differs from Harmen de Hoop’s in that it looks more like “art” and the commentary is often more explicit. While de Hoop avoids the traditional “white cube” of gallery spaces, reasoning that street art/intervention should be based on genuine public interaction, Downey plays with these exhibition spaces. The work is initially public – either bringing something unexpected into the urban environment, or using something from this space to create work. It is then taken back into a traditional “art space” (sometimes in the form of photography) and Downey retains ownership of the work.

Both from “Hotel L’Era De Can Burges” – 2014.

In “Hotel L’Era De Can Burges” furniture was taken from inside a huge hotel and neatly arranged in a conflicting space. Tension between where it should be and where it is. So large scale that a passer-by would have to actively move around it. Physically changes the space.

“Parasite space” – 2015
“Fence Hack” – 2015

“Parasite space” and “fence hack” are almost the opposite of “Hotel L’Era Du Can Burges” in that instead of bringing something into the space, pre-existing objects from the space are utilised to create the work. Interestingly, in the description for “Fence Hack” on the artist’s website, the materials are listed as “wood, mounting hardware, digitally printed photography mounted on woodboard”. This highlights the relationship between gallery and public space. Perhaps for Downey, the image/presentation of the work is the important part, rather than how it interacts with the space/viewer. This makes me question Downey’s relevance to intervention art/street installation. Although I do find his work interesting in terms of content, this idea of doing it to create visual ‘artworks’ isn’t so interesting conceptually.

Harmen de Hoop

Harmen de Hoop makes anonymous and illegal interventions in public spaces. The anonymity in his work is very important; he does not advertise his interventions as art or sign them in anyway. If he did so, the piece would become recognisable as an “artwork” which stops the passerby questioning in the same way.

De Hoop’s interventions re-contextualise existing signs/utilities etc within public spaces, but do so using common tools and imagery which don’t immediately draw the viewers attention due to their familiarity. They are “puzzling because of their pointlessness, but not unfamiliar either”. There is something surrealist in this notion; casual additions to public ‘furniture’ that raise question but don’t shake the ordinary.

“Basketball Court #6” – Amsterdam. Small part of a basketball court painted as if it’s a real court. Some time later the local council added the hoop (in the wrong place), before realising the court was nothing to do with them and scrubbing out the lines, but keeping the hoop.
“Fire Extinguisher #1” – Amsterdam. At first appears to be a genuine fire extinguisher until you realise it can’t be used without a saw.
“For Free!” – Rotterdam
“Ladies and Gents #1” – Berlin
“Cloakrooms” – Amsterdam/ Col du Corbier
“Mineral Water” – Landsmeer

Would people follow the instructions/ use the things before realising they don’t really make sense? Noone is forced to acknowledge the works, but they are somehow just absurd enough to pique the interest of a passerby.

I am interested in playing with this idea of faux-public utility. It would be interesting to incorporate a more human element into my work, rather than just creating systems using objects that go ignored. How does it change public response to something if it is presented as an actual thing vs an artwork? For example if a name plaque was put up next to De Hoops “Mineral Water” there is no chance anyone would take it, but if not they might.

Once these works are created, de Hoop loses control over them. They might stay there for years, but alternatively may be removed, vandalised or taken. This is reflective of the fact that they are designed to blend into the environment. What happens to them once out of the hands of the artist is a key part of the work.




Street Installation / Interventionism

I am interested in how artists can affect the city as well as how the city affects artists. I was stopped from doing what I wanted with my posters because of systems in place within the city (e.g laws). I am interested in artists who play with these systems to manipulate spaces/objects and how this often takes forms unrecognisable to the viewer as “artworks”.

“Street installation” is, like traditional street art (e.g graffiti), often done illegally and anonymously under a pseudonym. These artists sometimes have political or social agendas – commenting on the use of ‘public’ spaces and the control over them as well as playing with social interaction within these spaces. Urban interventionists see “urban space as a medium, bringing art into peoples’ daily lives”; my particular interest however is in how art can be brought into “daily lives” without the viewer being explicitly aware of it, for example unlike artists such as Banksy.

Note for self: artists to research further

  • Adam Chodzko – newspaper ad, creating networks/connections
  • Tino Segal – human connections, blur between real/concept
  • Sophie Calle – peoples belongings
  • Andrea (Butler? Buther? Butner?)
  • “Museum of everything”
  • “Museum of the unwanted” Clare Goodwin
  • Mark Jenkins
  • Mark Dion – collections
  • Edward Ruscha – books

Superflex: “One, Two, Three, Swing”

A brightly coloured carpet draws you into the turbine hall of the Tate Modern where superflex’s installation “One, Two, Three, Swing” is set up. The carpet and bright orange three-man swings create a feeling of pure fun; this is only exaggerated by the hoards of kids running, rolling down the hill and playing on the swings.

Sitting on the slope watching all types of people swinging or lying on the ground hypnotised by the huge slowly swinging pendulum, it was my understanding that superflex had set out to challenge our perception of a traditional gallery space and create a kind of breather from the exhausting task of walking round the Tate passively staring at works. The swings provided a release in the form of play while the pendulum allowed you to clear your mind and relax.

Another key feature of the installation was how it brought people together. All ages were intermingled on both the slope and the swings so strangers were forced to interact in a way that is rare in a public space. Avoid flying legs, race people to get on the swing first and perhaps even share a swing with someone you barely know or have never met. The three-person swings required teamwork and a reliance on each other to stop and start. The big scaffolding system joins each and every swing, connecting you to every person taking part.


After reading the statement about the piece as well as looking into reviews/press I was very disappointed to find out that the piece is based on the “swings of the economy” and the carpet supposedly represents the colours of banknotes. This explanation seems completely superficial and doesn’t really fit at all. It has led me to question the importance of artist intent vs viewer reaction. Once a piece has been ‘released’ into the public, does the artists intention have any significance at all?

It also made me think about the turbine hall as a space. If this installation had been in any other space within the Tate (it would of course have to be downsized), would the reaction to it be the same? In the turbine hall, people jump on the swings without any thought/consideration; if it were somewhere else would we be more reluctant to take part? Would we start to see the piece more as art, meaning we look at it and think about it but don’t touch it? and would this result in us thinking about it’s socio-economic implications?



Haroon Mirza at the Zabludowicz Collection

This exhibition featured 4 large scale installations which question the viewers understanding of the “relationship between matter and consciousness, truth and belief”*. For me, the most significant piece was “9/11 – 11/9 Fear of the Unknown” which consisted of a circle of speakers and screens surrounding a circular rug which invited the viewer to sit and become completely immersed in the sounds and imagery. Along one wall coloured lights flashed next to a potted plant.






The best way I can describe this installation is as a ‘sensory smash’. The sounds and images at fist seem completely disconnected, however, the longer you are immersed in the piece the stronger the feeling that there is some kind of link between everything that is being thrown at you. There is a sense almost of subliminal messaging; a kind of hypnosis whereby something ungraspable is being fed into your mind. At some points the noise verges on musical and the related clips become a kind of choreography. However, I find it intriguing that each viewer would pick up on different elements – perhaps I only felt as if I was being fed a message because I assumed that there must be some kind of link between what I was seeing/hearing. You could just as easily view it as a collection of isolated stimuli.

The recurring political / scientific references; the viewer-encompassing  layout; the name of the piece; and small elements that link every component (e.g wires, timing etc) do make me think that Mirza’s intent was to raise questions about particular topics/issues and that it isn’t simply a ‘random’ selection.

This prompted me to think further about the influence of the artist. To what extent can they manipulate the viewers thoughts: creating work with no meaning that encourages viewer to create meaning? Planting specific thoughts whilst allowing the viewer to feel as if they have come up with something?