Discuss the role of spatiality in the work of two contemporary artists
A natural thought is that the aesthetic difference between sculpture and 2-D arts, like painting, originates from the senses they engage. Sculpture, being 3-D art, demands to be touched as well as looked at in three-dimensional space, while painting can only be appreciated visually. The supporters of this view think of the space around a sculpture as an essential part of the perceptible structure of that sculpture, in which the viewer interacts with the artwork. However, there are those who deny vigorously any such distinctiveness of sculpture, arguing that sculpture is a visual and not a tactile art.
I base my argument on the first view and argue that sculpture is distinctively related to the space in which it lies, which interacts with the viewer. On this level, the sculpture has much to do with the fourth dimension, which can be termed as ‘space aesthetic’. In this way, my argument is closely linked to the aesthetics of space and sculpture. That is, analyses what aesthetic experience sculptures and space around them have to offer to the viewer and how the viewer interacts with them and relates to them. My motive is look for distinctive aesthetic interest of the space around the artwork.
Using Anthony Gormley’s The Angel of the North and Marc Quinn’s Planet for my analysis, I argue that these sculptures create a special form of physical and virtual space with a sense of possible movement and action. This means that human experience of sculptures should be considered as having different meanings. These meanings are distinctive in presenting the viewer with a separate space in a particular way. What is that way? The answer will be given in two parts. First, it will be argued that the viewer experiences the space around the sculpture as organized around the viewer’s perception of three-dimensional space. Second, it will be argued that the viewer is able to see the space around a sculpture as organized around its imagined motion and action possibilities. I will also evaluate the evidence for and against my arguments.
The distinguishing feature between sculpture and painting or photograph is more than the difference between real and imitated volume. The real volume of the sculpture produces an object which is part of our world of forms capable of being touched or felt immediately. At the same time, like books, sculptures take us out of ourselves, lead people into an imaginative, enigmatic world. The sculpture approaches the viewer, puts its imagined world in the viewer’s hands. Importantly, the viewer and sculpture share the same space. This fact alone is sufficient to establish between sculpture and the viewer a physical relationship which, of course, results is emotional influences.
To make progress, I will distinguish two senses in which spaces may interact with the viewer. The first is more physical. Antony Gormley’s The Angel of the North commands the viewer’s attention by the mere force of its huge presence. Furthermore, what is present before the viewer is not only the material of which the Angel of the North is made, but also the object which it portrays. An angel is not merely a reference to the idea of angel. Even though the sculpture refers the viewer’s imagination to a live angel, or to the imagined place which is associated with the angel, it is above all a real steel angel occupying its space. In this way, by its form, volume, material, and surroundings as organized around it, the sculpture exists as a real space occupied by the viewer.
The viewer can see how the Angel of the North remains essentially connected with its surroundings. The sculpture is connected with specific external surroundings and its spatial form and its locality, standing on a hill quite independently of the wider environment. Space, thus, becomes full of vivacity and spirit, marked by sculpture’s position and terrain. The space around the Angel of the North, a part of its material body, is a fundamental part of the perceptible structure of this artwork. And, simultaneously, the perceptual forces in that surrounding space impact on the viewer’s body straightforwardly. These perceptual forces also give to that space a translucency, a layered thickness, which is principally missing from the space in front of 2-D artworks. With a sculpture the space between the viewer and the sculpture is, really, a perceived bridge to the work, for the most part unambiguously entering into the viewer’s awareness of the sculpture.
These perceptual forces in the surrounding space are certainly something, which is present in Marc Quinn’s Planet. Sculpture too interacts with its space and the viewer: it also matters, in appreciating Quinn’s Planet, what sort of surroundings it is in. Standing before the gigantic baby sculpture, which is covered in white paint, the viewer experiences the drama of the setting as it is interacting with the surroundings of the gardens of Derbyshire stately home. The viewer interacts with the gigantic baby in a way somewhat akin to the interaction with other people and objects. Representation involves action and exists in the space in which the viewer perceives it. Thus, this sculpture represents the gardens of Derbyshire stately home space itself, and this is the sense in which the space of the gigantic baby sculpture resides. There can be some difficulties in explaining the meaning of this claim. It seems a 2-D artwork also can represent space, as well as a photograph of a concert hall, which hangs in the hall itself. However, such a 2-D work is not related to its surroundings in any similar way in which sculpture is.
Just as the viewer sees the steel or wood which makes up a sculpture as created in a particular way, created with the idea of whatever is represented; so the viewer perceives the space actually surrounding a sculpture as created in a particular way, created by the viewer’s own sense of the potential for movement and action of that depicted object. So, what is special about Quinn’s Planet and Gormley’s Angel is that the experiences both sculptures support include experiences of the nature space as organized in a distinctive way.
This sense of the viewer’s interaction with space is clearly physical. The idea of physical space allows one to examine the sculptures’ relations to sight and touch. Looking at the sculptures, the viewer sees a visual space, created in a way quite similar to that of painting. However, although the sculpture creates an equally visual space, it is not a space of direct vision, as the viewer experiences in painting. In sculpture, the viewer experiences the volume, which is really given originally to touch.
The phenomenon I make central is indeed at least partly relating to the tactile sense, since the organizing principle in the viewer’s perception of the space around Quinn’s Planet and Gormley’s Angel is potential for movement and action towards the sculpted objects, and this does in essence involve tactile sense and unlimited contact between the viewer’s body and the sculpture. Sculptures can definitely evoke an environment as organized kinetically. In Quinn’s Planet and Gormley’s Angel the environment is seen by the viewer as surrounding the works. In this way, the sculpture becomes the centre around which all is organized. At the same time, the scene is not depicted from this visual centre, as it is seen in the painting. In sculpture, compared with 2-D artwork, the viewer does not see space as organized around the sculpted object by imagining himself or herself in that represented object’s shoes. The viewer’s own actual point of vision becomes the only relevant one. Choosing his or her own point of vision, the viewer experiences the space around the sculptures as shaped by the sculpted objects’ potential to move and act in various ways.
However, this tactile sense of the sculpture does have one consequence for the proper mode of appreciating Quinn’s Planet and Gormley’s Angel. For touching these huge sculptures themselves will hinder the viewer from perceiving these sculptures and surroundings as appropriately organized in space. In other words, touching the sculpture, no matter what it gives the viewer, is always a mere interlude in the viewer’s perception of the sculpture’s form and its relation to space. The viewer has to step back, and see it not disturbing the vision by the hands. This, in turn, will help the viewer to enter the sphere of the sculpture’s spatial influence.
It is easy to examine reasons why the viewer should observe these sculptures at some distance. On the one hand, to touch Quinn’s Planet and Gormley’s Angel is to be extremely near to the centre of the space around these sculptures to experience that space as appropriately organized by the sculptors. The viewer’s experience of space organization and the sculptural sign is essentially visual, depending on distance. On the other hand, to explore these sculptures by touch is to intensify the viewer’s sense of his or her own actual motion possibilities, and this may, as a matter of psychology if not of philosophy, and as a natural consequence, reduce one’s ability to see the space as constructed with another artistic object at its centre.
This physical approach to space leaves some important questions unanswered. Most clearly, it would be good to make more in-depth analysis about the experience which is central to the viewer. We need to know more about the thoughts that permeate the viewer, about how those thoughts relate to space. Now, setting aside the physical issue, I want to consider other sense of the viewer’s interaction with space, which is more metaphysical. My suggestion is that the spatial experience the viewer has is in a fundamental way an imaginative one. When interacting with the sculptures, the viewer’s experience is based on imagining certain things of the sculpted object.
One framework to which I might appeal in making such an argument is that proposed and explained by Kendall Walton in his work Mimesis as Make-Believe (1990). The author suggests that a good deal of the viewer’s engagement with visual representations, of any form, is a matter of his or her imagining certain things. The real properties of the representation establish that it is to be imagined that there is a particular object or state of affairs; and, at least sometimes, the viewer’s actual spatial relations to the visual representation establish that many images and relations are to be imagined about the viewer’s relation to the represented object or state of affairs. Really, one can with ease use this scheme in analysing spatial experience of the viewer.
The fundamental premise of Kendall Walton’s theory can be applied to the present analysis. According to it, the fantasy of the motion and action of Quinn’s Planet and Gormley’s Angel is not elicited by the sculptures alone, no matter how lively gigantic baby appears before the viewer, how subtly Quinn imitated child’s gesture, motion, gaze, and continuing similarly. The viewer’s imagination is not a projection of perfected resembling illusion. Sooner, it is produced and developed by the real or imaginary placement of a living viewer standing before the sculpture. Belonging essentially to neither, the idea of motion and action creates the imagined life that originates in the space between the viewer and the sculpture.
The imagination responds to the way the viewer moves around or glances at Quinn’s Planet. The way the viewer regards Quinn’s Planet influences simultaneously the movements of the viewer’s body. The viewer’s imagination reflects the way he or she models, attacks, or touches Quinn’s Planet, experiences and interprets its silence, or explains absence of something required or desired in the sculpture. Further, imagination is shaped by the manner in which Planet plays against the viewer’s perception or memory of other sculptures, not to mention other real situations and events.
Whether the viewer before the sculpture is the artist, the critic, the fan, the model, the admiring citizen, the pair of lovers, or even president, the imagination begins to play while observing of the silent sculptured baby. The viewer can feel tenderness, love, or even indifference. Then, the viewer can imagine the things which cannot happen in real space: for example, Gormley’s Angel moves, flies, or even speaks; in imagined space, The Angel even can open its eyes, express emotions by nodding, or can tell a sad story. In physical space, both sculptures are almost by definition things which stand as motionless giants. Yet these things happen; the viewers imagine them happening in ‘virtual space’.
Actually, human language and history require that the viewer’s fantasies appear. The fantasy of a sculpture which comes to life is a wide-spread story as people have. The idea of motion or speech in a lifeless sculpture is an inevitable possibility. Easily one can find books in which the statue that stands motionless and silent in temple or garden leaves its pedestal and moves towards the viewer, or suddenly begins to speak. Such fantasies are merely part of what people know about sculptures, and what sculptures can represent to people. These tales became part of the way that people experience virtual world around the real sculpture.
It certainly is plausible to suggest that seeing the sculpture space as imagining the sculpture’s movements well explains the viewer’s spatial experience. As Gaut and Lopes suggest, this virtual space helps the viewer grasp sculpture’s content. Actually, the imagined movements are not actual movements or actions, but merely the potential for it in space.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of my view? First, my point of virtual space is well placed to explain the subject matter of considered sculptures in this essay. Human body forms almost the basic subject matter of the greater part of what has been referred to as “sculpture”. Even the last century, with its radical modern reorganisation and modification of sculptural art, has many artists presenting arguments that the human body is sculpture’s proper subject matter. For Anthony Gormley and Marc Quinn, this should be perfectly understandable. Their sculptures represent the objects of human motion and volume in sensory space. The artists concentrated their work on representing the beings which are largest creatures dominating human experience of actual movement and action.
However, it may appear that to this strength there is a weakness. Will this analysis of space be proper to accommodate certain sculptural works, which are more abstract ones? For, to explain this point in short, if nothing is represented in the sculpture, or nothing definite sufficient to have motion and action potentialities, like in the works of Gormley and Quinn, how can the relations between sculpture, space, and the viewer be described in the proposed way?
Partly to solve this problem, I can suggest that every sculpture, no matter how abstract it is, supports some features of “living” form. There is actually always something organic in every work of sculpture. If abstract sculptures exhibit living form, I can suppose that they represent motion, as their abstractness just offers a different account of spatial experience. In this case, sculpture’s abstractness amounts to the fact that what is represented is comparatively imprecise: not a baby or an angel with a certain specifiable form of human body , but only something shaped in sophisticated loosely specifiable ways, perhaps with potential broad capacities for movement and actions, and similar things. In addition, if space around sculpture with human form is experienced by the viewer as organized around the motion potential of the sculpted object, I can argue that space around abstract sculpture is experienced by the viewer as organized around the potential of the sculpture itself.
I have told you that sculptures create physical and virtual spaces, in which the viewer has a sense of his own and the sculpture’s motion potential. Physical relationship is established between sculpture and viewer. In addition, the experience the viewer has is one of imagining the represented sculpture to perform certain actions and motions, or possibly to have a certain potential for action and motion. This imagination is made capable of existing by properties of the sculpture itself and of the space in which it is placed. Thus, the viewer’s experience is based not merely on the sculpture, but on the relationships it produces between surrounding space and the viewer. Space must be seen as organized and living around the sculpted object.
Causey, A. (1998) Sculpture since 1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Gaut B. and Lopes D. M. (2000) The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Routledge, London.
Hegel, G. W. F. (1998) Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Vol.2. Clarendon Press, Oxford, England.
Walton, K. (1990) Mimesis as Make-Believe, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
 Walton, K. (1990), Mimesis as Make-Believe, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, p. 88.
 Gaut B. and Lopes D. M. (2000), The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Routledge, London, p. 293.
 Hegel, G. W. F. (1998), Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Vol.2. Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, p. 702.
 Causey, A. (1998), Sculpture since 1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 109.