Installations – Some Definitions

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 6

Claire Bishop : Installation art: a critical history

Bishop in her introductory chapter (pp 6-13) set out to define the differences between the installation of art and installation art.  The notes that there is a fine, ambiguous line between the two meanings.  Both have a desire to ‘heighten the viewer’s awareness’ and our bodily response.  But installation art is distinguished by the ‘space and the ensemble of elements within it are regarded in their entirety as a singular entity’.  It is about a ‘singular totality’.  The viewer is addressed as a literal presence in the ‘space’ and that is seen as the key attribute of installation art.

The word experience is in current parlance as a counterpoint to materialism as if it is a defined and packaged thing, yet, in my view it is a continuous stream of conscious activity that feeds desires, fears and the ordinariness of the familiar and unfamiliar. Bishop notes that experience in art is again a contested term.  As a ‘viewer’ one is expected to be emerged to a greater or lesser degree into the installation art.  She thus chooses to define four categories of experience and these are addressed in her subsequent four chapters, which are psychoanalytical, phenomenological, withdrawal/disintegration and the political. 

Bishop notes that artists tend to turn to installation art as a ‘more vivid alternative’ to the two dimensional art installation.  She also expresses the point that installation art is more difvciuly to capture and record into a document, such as her book, precisely because it is about the spatial experience rather than a two dimensional image.

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 10.14.04

figure 1

The viewers’ state is defined into two categories, the activating and the decentring.  Activating is centred on ‘sensory immediacy, on physical participation and on a heightened awareness of other visitors who become part of the piece’.   Decentring is contextualised by reference to the placing of a viewer of work into a place of orientation, such as Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s Architectural View c.1490-1500 fig 1 and the deliberate foils to that state by a steam of twentieth century artists who created simultaneous views, for example the Cubist movement.  Bishop cites poststructuralist theory in that we are  all ‘intrinsically dislocated and divided, at odds with himself or herself’. Thus we see and experience in the state of turmoil, happiness, delusion and hence there is no idealised place to view and survey an installation. I read this to mean, in practice, that an artist can offer an opportunity to see, feel and absorb a piece and place that into the context of their mental state.  Thus they see through an activation an experience that may be deliberately or otherwise offering a decentring moment.

A Personal and Practice Response

I am increasingly considering a multi-media expression of my work in progress (or in a more fulsome way as my final project) and this tends to lean towards a spatial gathering of the constituent parts into a coherently designed space.  The location will assist in defining if it becomes an art installation or installation art.  The latter would depend, in part, on the opportunity to occupy a space which is related to my practice.  That search still goes on.  However the Bishop text has helped my understanding and appreciation of the distinctions that can and should be drawn as thinking evolves.


Bishop C. Installation art: a critical history. Tate. London 2005 (Review of Introductory Chapter)

Figure 1 accessed 3 July 2017


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s