Modes of Exhibition as Mediated Space: Projection Installation as Spectatorial Frame
I. Introduction: Inner and/as Outer Space Through the Frame of Projection Installation
This project seeks to illuminate alternative modes of exhibiting culture. With the understanding of culture in the plural in the sense that Michel de Certeau evokes, installation itself is composed of and envelops multiple elements and media within its frame. Each component has undergone a considerable history of development, many forms of which operated outside the traditional and conventional sites for exhibition. In the following case study that I probe, I situate the practice of the moving image as central to recent forms of installation. I examine how installation, by utilizing various forms of moving images as an alternative form of cinema, changes spatial and temporal relations, and ultimately produces an intricate form of spectatorship. The existence of film has redefined the subject—object relations in the art viewing experience. More than fifty years after Walter Benjamin’s death and a century after the birth of cinema, moving images continue to reside, such as in the company of other sensorial mechanism in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s outdoor multi-screen installation work titled Community Cinema for a Quiet Intersection (1999). By tracing its origins to the panorama, phantasmagoria, and Expanded Cinema, I will position installation that employs the projected image in a new context, in relation to issues of site, temporality, and historicity across works.
First of all, I assert that the frame serves as a central anchoring factor of installation. In Cinema I: The Movement-Image, Gilles Deleuze remarks that the “frame is inseparable from rigid geometric distinctions.” Installation art, beginning from Environment art, is marked by its three dimensionality, conceived in a room-sized space. Installation art is framed physically within an architectural matrix, and shaped conceptually by the site and the context. While the component of three-dimensionality remains, the terminology of “installation” reveals an inward movement and thus an effort to bring the subject inside. The change from environment, which denotes everything, to installation, a contained space, thus implies a re-assertion of the frame. Gilles Deleuze’s remark on the frame, originally conceived in cinematic context, nonetheless crystallizes the function of the frame in installation art: “[…] framing is limitation. But, depending on the concept itself, the limits can be conceived in two ways, mathematically or dynamically: either as preliminary to the existence of the bodies whose essence they fix, or going as far as the power of existing bodies goes.” The latter conception of the dynamic frontiers of the frame informs the operation of framing in installation art. Deleuze affirms: “the frame is conceived as a dynamic construction in act [en acte], which is closely linked to the scene, the image, the characters, and the objects which fill it.” The dynamism and “the power” that “the existing bodies” exert within installation relate to etymologies of the term “to install.”
While I situate the frame as a defining mechanism of installation, the concrete frontier that is implied between the interior and exterior space is simultaneously a myth. As Merleau-Ponty notes, “inside and outside are inseparable.” The interwoven entities of the inner and outer space constitute a work of installation. I argue that the logic of inversion organizes the site of heterogeneity that is installation. In Installation art or installation of arts, disparate media in their alternative and innovative forms confront and converge with one another. The inside becomes and functions as the outside, and vice-versa. The contents project outward the characteristics that oppose their own. Deleuze notes that all framing determines an out-of-field:
“When a set is framed, therefore seen, there is always a larger set, or another set with which the first forms a larger one, and which can in turn be seen, on condition that it gives rise to a new out-of-field, etc. The set of all these sets forms a homogeneous continuity, a universe or a plane [plan] of genuinely unlimited content. The set is certainly not a ‘whole’[…]. Whole is that which prevents each set from closing in on itself, however big it is, and forces it to extend itself into a larger set. The whole is therefore like a thread that traverses sets and gives each one the possibility, which is necessarily realized, of communicating with another, to infinity. Thus the whole is the Open […].”
The frame of an installation is not content to neutralize the environment, but pushes the closed system as far as possible. The frame of an installation encloses the maximum number of components in the field. At the same time, the frame creates an image that “opens onto a play of relations which are purely thought and which weave a whole. Therefore, there is always out-of-field, even in the most closed image.”
Installation is always contained within a frame, whether it be a site, spatial location, or cultural context. However, like Alberti’s window, installation lets the spectator see through the frame. Leon Battista Alberti advocated considering the frame of the painting as an open window, such as in De Pictura (1435). What is seen through this virtual window is the out-of-field that is attached to what is inside the frame. Alberti’s window served as a metaphor predominantly for the frame, “a rectangle for seeing through.” The three dimensional installation departs from a two- dimensional rectangle. The installation, as a window, has a “virtual transparency” and not an actual “window on the world.”
In this way, installation is a form that suggests its opposite, while at the same time containing the fissures. For example, a four-channel film projection in an unbounded outdoor space can inversely invoke an enclosed theatre experience, such as in Tiravanija’s Community Cinema installation work as studied in this paper. Light in this outdoor installation is simultaneously materialized as a tactile experience and “eliminate all that we could call an object situated as distinct from ourselves.” Installation then serves as a malleable form of exhibition. Although delineated by frame, installation is an (im)material and evanescent sculpture, whose shape, as Merleau-Ponty notes, is “nothing but a sum of limited views, and the consciousness of a shape is a collective entity.”
Since the pre-modern period, a range of modes of exhibition attempted to control the chaos and rationalize a society. However, in today’s landscape of art and technology, the very media that tried to control became part of the chaos themselves in the “intermedia network.” This phenomenon is visible in the proliferating forms of screens – of cinema, television, street advertisements, computer, and mobile devices – that surround, and are simultaneously activated by, contemporary subjects. Thus, the contemporary subjects are becoming less and less connected to each other in local communities and are, instead, increasingly involved in virtual communities, through media and technologies. Today’s “commercialized public space,” as pointed out by Conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, lacks social exchange; the exterior “social” spaces are evacuated of activities and discourses, failing to house Jürgen Habermas’ utopian notion of the culture-debating public. Rather, by engaging in the mediated space globally, the subject stretches the intimacy of personal communications over longer and ever-more complex pathways; the contemporary subject has become increasingly vulnerable, fragmented, and disconnected.
These isolated individuals are then encouraged to escape to institutionalized interiors, such as museums, that provide spaces in which to activate meaning-full social exchange and induce specific readings of that exchange. According to Rosalyn Deutsche, “museums provide actual spaces and cerebral fodder for exploring art, personal values, social issues, and civic responsibilities.” Museums, or institutionally commissioned projects such as Community Cinema, thus posit a shelter, or more precisely, a frame to contain chaos and fragmented individuals. By impelling relational activities, the mediated interior of exhibitions is a reminder of the dissolving social spaces of the exterior world. These new practices allow social exchanges to happen. The legibility within the mediated space of installation is a displacement of what the individual is lacking in the social world outside.
However, the objective of exhibition should not simply be to allow social exchange to happen by assuming universal, transcendental subjects, but rather to recognize different social practices and relations. According to Seyla Benhabib, democratization in contemporary societies can be viewed as “an increase and growth of autonomous public spheres among participants.” Installation, as an alternative mode of exhibition, gestures most strongly at notions of democracy when it provokes uncertainty about the realm of identity. Its democratic values can be evaluated based on what questions it makes possible. Through the device of framing, while appearing objective, installation selects the specific points of view offered, their relations, and the design of the method of navigation. Exhibition space is mediated and staged to emphasize the particularity instead of the universality of subjects, a technique that promotes a specific embodied exchange, instead of idealizing meaningless social discourse. Exhibition becomes most fully public when it “prompts the viewer to examine his aesthetic tastes, cultural beliefs, and social practices.” By provoking these questions, an exhibition attempts to dismantle the signifying structure of the spectator. Precisely by becoming detached from the signified of his identity, or the trans-historical, universal, centered being, the viewer takes on multiple social perspectives. Installation instantiates perceptual shifts and invokes an alternative mode of social engagement of the self with the other, and even with the others within the self. Installation embodies a “sensorium of possible selves.”
The theatrical and symbolic experiment of installation, as witnessed in the performative aspect of the spectator experience, breaks the barrier between actors and a “public.” The viewer’s participation in such interrogations involves a kind of partial displacement from himself and from the exhibition site. This displacement has the capability of making the subject realize the fractured nature of his subjectivity. Furthermore, this newer form of exhibition displaces the hierarchical coordination of subject-object relations that preceded it. Installation shifts consumers of culture from being spectators to being actors. The rigid structure and identity of cultural production are, in turn, fractured by the participation of members of the public as actors in a common symbolic action. The machinery of installation becomes an extension of the spectator, externally defined. By fracturing individuals, installation gives an occasion for subjects to interact both with the multiple identities within themselves and with the other participants.
Installation captures “the field of multiform battle between the forces of the soft and the hard” of the culture, as de Certeau remarks. These opposing powers evolve around the fluctuating center of legitimacy and materiality. The evolution of modes of exhibition encounters resistances of different kinds, such as institutional walls and the global art market. Even an “intervention” is already configured by culture by emerging from the shadows of societal conventions and practices. It produces effects of social representation and “transforms” according to cultural norms. Nonetheless, “an action is able to bring forth what had been hidden in the opacity of social life.” The qualitative parameters of temporal duration and spatial extension in cultural production and reception are revealed through various display strategies. Through the articulation of different social and cognitive places, operative rules of the game can be determined, such as the logic of inversion of installation as delineated in this paper.
If the panorama allowed for traveling with the eye, installation enables traveling with all the senses, not only to faraway places and times, but to the out-of-field. What the logic of inversion reveals is the fluid movement across the frontier between the interior and the exterior. In installation that employs moving images, the projected image and the transposition of the real transport the audience to an elsewhere beyond the architectural framework. In “Intermedia Network” in Expanded Cinema, Youngblood notes that “the cinema isn’t just something inside the environment; the interlaced network of cinema, television, radio, magazines, books, and newspapers is our environment, a service environment that carries the messages of the social organism.” The mediated world establishes meaning in life by creating mediating channels between man and man, man and society. Therefore, the surge of installation practices today marks a different regime of treating chaos that persists: one that contains and embraces it within its frame, while allowing actions to happen through process.
II. Changes in Modes of Exhibition and Spectatorship: Private Exterior; Public Interior
“The biggest crowd-pleaser on the night, the Jungle Book. The crowd, a wonderful mix of Glasgow’s hippest artists and locals up for a big night out, enjoyed an all-too-rare atmosphere of friendliness on the Saturday night city streets. This was a hugely enjoyable celebration of old-fashioned things like community and shared public space. Free and easy, utopian and open to all- if only more contemporary art could feel like this.”
The Modern Institute of Glasgow, Review
Tiravanija’s earlier work in Glasgow titled Community Cinema for a Quiet Intersection (1999) produces heterogeneous subjects and at the same time re-interpreting the “social” in terms of publics. Commissioned by the Modern Institute of Glasgow, Tiravanija envisions an outdoor cinema that blocks an intersection. He installs four temporary projection screens at the cross-section of two quiet residential streets to form a square. The junction of these private paths is transformed into a heterogeneous zone, a site of encounter and transition. Through the simultaneous projection, the viewing experience in Community Cinema differs from the habitual cinematic spectatorship. This panorama of moving images, or outdoor Cinerama, reorganizes the media-scape of audio-visuality. Situated within a residential area, the wide-screen spectacles contest television’s promise of real-time virtual voyaging through a small frame by offering an overwhelming experience of a wraparound image and sound environment. The film screening for the local community of Glasgow is further accompanied by the artist’s make-shift Thai cuisine café. The project is part of the City of Architecture festival. In my discussion of democratic practice in Community Cinema, Jürgen Habermas’ idea of the public sphere, as originally elaborated in his 1962 book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, is indispensable. Community Cinema serves as a multilayered intersection between the international art circuit, global mass culture, and the specificity of the local.
i. Viewing Positions
In an interview, the production manager describes the community’s experience of Tiravanija’s installation as characterized by “disbelief at what was going to happen,” and after the deconstruction of the ephemeral set, “[disbelief] that it had ever occurred.” The installation stages an illusion for the community residents; they witness moving images unravel on the temporary make-shift facades of the city. Apart from the projection screens, the installation architecture is an invisible one, ephemeral walls elevated to intervene in the ordinary progression of life. Within the barricade of the community, the residents experience what the prisoners watched in the Platonic cave. The intersection is transformed temporarily into an outdoor movie theater, a cave of light and shadow that exhibits itself outward.
Through its location and mode of projection and reception, Community Cinema situates itself at the intersection of the private and the public. The project materializes Habermas’ concept of the dissolution of the private sphere through its installation of four-channel screens in the middle of the community road. The installation is placed in a residential neighborhood; the intersection serves as a private area for the community residents. Habermas remarks that “the loss of the private sphere and of ensured access to the public sphere” characterizes today’s urban mode of dwelling and living. By situating the installation in the middle of an urban setting, the artist attempts to insert the filmic dialogues amidst a cacophony of “competing visual stimuli.” “Technological and economic developments have quietly adapted the old forms of urban dwelling to new functions.” Apparatuses such as screens that disrupt private space play an important role in defining installation as a machine for the realignment of urban topography. This installation expands from its purely architectural framework to become social architecture, a visual infrastructure of the community.
Community Cinema exudes nostalgia for the compulsive temporality of public projection. The four-screened films are a set of Hollywood films, deriving from the collective survey: A Bug’s Life, Casablanca, The Jungle Book, and It’s a Wonderful Life. These selected films represent the community; more specifically, the survey functions as part of cultural display. Both It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Casablanca (1942) were produced in the 1940s, examples of American romantic drama film. The Jungle Book, an animated film produced by Walt Disney, was produced in 1967. A Bug’s Life (1998), a CGI animated film by Pixar, was released only a year before the installation in 1999. As usual, Tiravanija employs films less as an experimental strategy than as an apparatus of mass-entertainment that reveals both social and cultural meanings.
On the one hand, the project’s intervention conforms to the physical constraints of the location. The installation’s formal outcome is determined by an actual physical place, the Glasgow intersection. Nancy Fraser remarks that “public spheres themselves are not spaces of zero-degree culture.” They are not equally hospitable to any possible form of cultural expression. Rather, public spheres exist in culturally specific institutions, for example, various social geographies of urban space. In Community Cinema, the Glasgow intersection serves as “culturally specific rhetorical lenses that filter and alter the utterances they frame.” This social membrane accommodates some expressive modes, while excluding others. Tiravanija’s work imbues the premise of site specificity with the monumentality of the cinema screen once found in theatres. During the event, the films are likely to have a wide range of meanings depending on the neighborhood and spatial conditions of the theatre. They are viewed and interpreted differently, based on the ethnic and racial background of the audience, on the mixture of gender and generation, and on the ambition and skills of the exhibitor and the performing personnel.
On the other hand, the definition of “Community” as used in the title extends beyond geographical proximity to include the shared values, traditions, and history that bind individuals into collective entities. Furthermore, through the viewing experience of films, Community Cinema is emancipated from its regional boundary. The complex display technique of these motion pictures within the projection installation situation represents the shift in the mode of reception in a contemporary society. Classical cinema, an integral product and commodity of global culture, controls the mode of reception. According to Miriam Hansen, this form of spectatorship became obsolete, as technological and economic developments have dislodged the cinema theatre as the only and primary site of film consumption. The venues for film viewing have shifted to domestic space and the terms on which viewers can interact with films have changed, exemplified by the ubiquity of televisions. The social proliferation of film consumption in institutionally less regulated viewing situations, from homes to outdoor public areas, weakens the hegemonic practice of filmic reception. As in the domestic setting, the spatio-perceptual configuration of screens set within the residential area allows for more self-regulated yet privatized, distracted, and fragmented acts of consumption.
Moreover, because these are the “favorite films” of the community, the residents share pre-knowledge of the films’ audio and visual components. During the viewing experience, able to recognize a familiar piece of music within the soundtrack, though not discerning the dialogue, the listener allows his auditory attention to stray from the temporal thread to explore spatially. Overall, the mélange of sounds only allows for partial reading of both the audio and the films. This illegibility of sound subtracts the absorptive factor of entertainment from the films. The installation expels cinema from the world of entertainment, giving cinema new functions and new space. The ensemble of abstracted images thus represents a gesture to diminish the hegemony of the globalized culture of consumption. Tiravanija’s manufactured “quiet intersection” minimizes the traffic of globalization, symbolized by mainstream media, Hollywood film, and mass transportation. By suppressing the noise of the media-saturated culture, the installation allows for a different type of noise, that of unmediated public discourse. The “quiet intersection” provides an uninterrupted stage on which the public can voice their opinions in a casual, less restrained manner.
The exhibition site includes an infinite number of possible perspectives. At the community intersection that temporarily achieves virtual reality, the overall exhibition space is represented as dependent on the direction of the observer’s view. The simultaneous projection of four films thus induces distraction and an aesthetic of the glance, which was adopted by the home-movie-screening to replace the aesthetics of the gaze. The viewing experience is no longer marked by passivity; the viewpoint is no longer static or dynamically linear as in the film in a singular projection.
ii. Community Intersection as Mediated Stage
The embodied and empowered viewer performs on the mediated stage of the installation. While Community Cinema makes nostalgic returns to classical diegesis, the filmic projection is contextualized in the form of an “art event.” The project spectacularized the cinema viewing experience by inserting large-scale projected images into a three dimensional space within which the viewer could wander at will. In this space of fragmented illusion, the mobile visitor receives an illusionary impression of space by focusing on objects that move toward or away from him. The architectural matrix of the installation differs from a two-dimensional painting in that the depth is recognized through a bodily experience, instead of presumed only in the imagination. Community Cinema thus promotes performance on the part of the urban flâneurs, outdoor cinema, and of the site itself.
Framed as a stage, the constantly alternating environment reflects a social and political critique, on the one hand of the global art market, and on the other, of hegemonic strategies of global culture, as represented by Hollywood films. According to Habermas, the public sphere presupposes this larger accumulation of socio-cultural change. Community Cinema delineates the film as circulated commodity. Habermas remarks that, in the cultural sphere of the mass entertainment industry, the processes of commercialization and rationalization have increasingly targeted the individual consumer. Particularly in the new age of electronic mass media, these processes have eliminated the mediating contexts of collective reception and rational discussion. Thus, what used to form the classic basis of the public sphere – a clear distinction between public good and private interest – is diffused. The same process that converted culture into a commodity establishes the public as inclusive.
Tiravanija’s Community Cinema follows the logic of the theatre and the stage. Nancy Fraser claims that Habermas’ “public sphere” designates “a theatre in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk. It is a site for the production and circulation of discourses. By conceiving of film exhibition as a live performance, the installation creates a margin of improvisation, interpretation, and unpredictability that makes it a public event in the emphatic sense. Furthermore, according to Habermas, the Greek agora serves as a metaphor for democracy. The ancient Greek agora is a public square and marketplace that fostered political conversation and social interactions. The film exhibition marks a collective horizon in which the experiencing subjects on site re-appropriate industrially processed products and experience. In the debate of public issues, the opinions of private individuals are valued highly in determining the outcome.
The installation, as an abstract landscape of media, images, and sound, is marked by “openness,” as detailed by Umberto Eco in The Open Work. The aperture serves as the fundamental possibility of the contemporary artist or consumer. A receptive mode of this installation can function at many different levels of intensity and activities, from media and commodity consumption to the reading of art. The “open” work conjures a much vaster phase in culture. It is not intellectually confined to the formal problems of aesthetics, but extends to the realms of affect and society. The “open” work activates relations between the artist and his audience. Installation is given a different status than the usual artistic product in contemporary society. By organizing new communicative situations, Community Cinema installs a distinctive relationship between “the contemplation and the utilization of a work of art.” Invited to perform in an “open” situation, the community members contribute to molding this “work in movement,” in progress.
While it is staged as performance, by removing the screens from the enclosure of the theatre, the project positions cinema not as a form of replication, but of abstraction. The simultaneous projection of four films renders the moving images abstract; the visual, aural, and narrative abstraction complicates normative cinematic spectatorship. The ensemble of elements is a visualization of complex systems of community and of the global art world; the potential of virtual artworks thus exceeds a purely mimetic view that is achieved through film, one of the components of the installation. The set of four films together present not a single linear narrative, but rather a progression of multiple spatial, temporal, and diegetic sites. The simultaneous projection defines the spectator’s experience by plurality, rather than singularity. The public square becomes a zone of illegibility.
In Community Cinema, the disarray of acoustics displaces normative viewing experience. In the installation, the sound tracks of each film are playing simultaneously on two speakers for each screen. Two kinds of sonic spaces are experienced by the audience. The proximity guarantees the legibility of each soundtrack, while the distance forces the abstraction of all sounds – from chatter to diegetic dialogue and ambient sound tracks. As the sounds overlap, they become indecipherable.
Sound exerts considerable influence on the perception of time in the image. As Michel Chion argues, a given image takes on “consistency and materiality through sound.” He argues that visual and auditory perceptions mutually influence each other through the audiovisual contact; they lend each other their respective properties by contamination and projection. The audible soundtracks animate the image to be “exact, detailed, immediate, concrete,” while the abstract sound makes the moving image “vague, fluctuating, broad.” With Tiravanija’s abstract sound, the project does not present films as a linear narrative form. It reveals what the selection of films represents culturally and socially within the community. In the case of Community Cinema, the interpenetration of different sounds solidifies the particular experience of the installation art as a social occasion, rather than offering an occasion of passive consumption.
Furthermore, the cacophony of noises from the selected films and the crowd represents the multiplicity of exchanges between community members. Community Cinema serves as a point of convergence and exchange to produce a social and political critique. In Habermas’ definition, the public sphere organizes itself as a bearer of public opinion. According to Peter Hohendahl, “the public sphere provides a paradigm for analyzing historical change, while also serving as a normative category for political critique.” The public-sphere argument is clearly crucial to conceptions of democracy.
This viewing experience reinforces the multifaceted quality of the overall project. First, the work as a whole is comprised of numerous activities and heterogeneous participants. Art is developed as a series of public spaces that can be entered. The cinema viewing experience is accompanied by cooking. Grau notes that “the creation of expanded image spaces experienced polysensorily and interactively, which enable process-oriented situations, promote the trend toward performance art.” On the one hand, cinema represents the long and complex tradition of the concept of immersion. Through the strategy of simultaneous projection of not only cinematic narrative forms, but also of other senses and the social occasion, the spectacle as a whole portrays the most recent dynamic changes in spectatorship – brought forth by the new options of exhibition and interaction.
The ensemble of images becomes an affective abstraction. The abstract image created by the panorama of four screens represents what Deleuze calls the affection-image. Departing from Sergei Einstein’s definition that “the affection-image is the close-up, and the close-up is the face […],” Deleuze proposes an affection image that is neither a close up nor a face, but nonetheless gives an affective reading of the film. Such an image is “a reflecting and reflected unity.” It is pulled and defined by two poles in reflecting surface and intensive micro-movements. In the case of an image of a clock in close-up, on the one hand, the image has a face as “receptive immobile surface, receptive plate of inscription, impassive suspense,” thus reflecting movements. On the other hand, the clock has its needle-hands moved by micro-movements. The needle’s motion forms part of an intensive series that marks an ascent towards a critical instant, or what Deleuze adds as “paroxysm,” an outburst of emotion. A series of micro-movements on an immobilized plate of nerve defines the face. The combination of a reflecting, immobile unity and intensive expressive movements constitute the affect.
According to Deleuze’s logic, the abstract spectacle in the community intersection constitutes these two poles: reflecting surface and intensive micro-movements. The choice of the films projected on the four screens together symbolizes a face, both metaphorically and in the Deleuzian sense. The choice of the films represents the cultural and social construction of the community. The physical framework of the temporary theatre, four screens held up on a vertical structure, follows the analogy of the face: “the face is the organ-carrying plate of nerves which has sacrificed most of its global mobility and which gathers or expresses in a free way all kinds of tiny local movements which the rest of the body usually keeps hidden.” The temporary theatre in the installation, a collection of four screens, serves as a face that is fixed in the middle of the urban intersection. An immobile material structure itself, the four screens show four selected films, which represent “tiny local movements,” the cultural tendencies and inclinations of the community, which is not revealed except through an open survey. The outdoor theatre is treated as a face: it has been ‘envisaged’ or rather ‘faceified.’ “Even if it does not resemble a face,” it stares at the community residents, who are then dévisagé, or de-faceified.
Because this occasion provokes questions that concern the basic premises of democracy, the viewer reflects. This process of questioning corresponds to mental reflection, the process by which one recognizes the potential issues at stake. Therefore, the viewing experience is double-sided. Deleuze writes, “we are before a reflexive or reflecting face as long as the features remain grouped under the domination of a thought, which is fixed or terrible, but immutable and without becoming, in a way eternal.” The viewers are situated before this monumental temporary outdoor theatre, made up of multiple senses. The ensemble of components becomes abstract through its multiplicity. The theatre-spectacle as a whole assembles these disparate features in abstraction and fluidity. Abstraction functions as a dominant strategy, without imposing any ‘thought’ that is becoming. The thought of community is conveyed as fixed and immutable, and yet it remains fluid through the abstract form of projection and exhibition. It allows for a passage through which one can traverse like a nomad, moving through the confusion of waves of sounds, images, odors, and chatter, “in a way eternal.”
This “public sphere,” defined by its abstract quality and cacophony of senses, transforms social relations and their condensation into new institutional arrangements. It generates “new social, cultural, and political discourse around this changing environment.” Through the unbounded exchange of senses, bodily movements, and chatter, Tiravanija’s work, as public art, seeks to nurture participatory citizenship and create an unfettered intellectual space for debate and socio-political engagement that is both tied to, but not determined by, a physical place. According to Patricia Phillips, art becomes public “because of the kinds of questions it chooses to ask or address, and not because of its accessibility or volume of viewers.” Art’s public-ness thus rests in the quality and impact of its exchanges with its audiences. Community Cinema is conceived as public not because of its physical location or funding, which would then reduce art experiences to commercial transactions, but because it creates exchanges. The faculty of public-ness begins with reading, thought, and discussion; the ideal of reasonable exchange among equals is the focus of Habermas’ interest. The act of discussion and the process of exchange condition the public sphere. Habermas notes that “the privatized individuals who come together to form a public also reflected critically and in public on what they had read, contributing to the process of enlightenment which they together promoted.” The lingering legacies of Enlightenment thus continue to pave the road for the art-public relationship.
Community Cinema becomes a dysfunctional ensemble of senses, an excessive pool of stimuli–for the body, for eyes, for ears, and for the nose and the mouth. An installation marked by excess, the project resembles what Chion describes as the trans-sensorial or meta-sensorial model. In the installation, no sensory given is demarcated and isolated from the outset. For example, a single sensory channel, such as the sound, can invoke all the other kinetic sensations that are organized by art. In this logic, in a silent cinema, a fluid and frenzied montage of mute images can conjure sounds in the absence of actual and synch sound; concrete music, in its conscious refusal of the visual, projects visions that surpass the aesthetic horizons of all images. In this piece, a surplus of multiple sensations expands trans-sensorial possibilities. The ensemble of images–four projections, the installation as a whole, and the event and the crowd in it as a spectacle–constructs the visual channel.
The abstract sound presents an open signifier, revealing the assemblage of spectacles. Setting an aesthetic machine in motion, the artist brings the audience’s response into play. While directed by the conception of the author, individual reflections and participation provide the necessary condition for the success of the installation as an open signifier in progress. The individual emotions and reactions of the audience articulate the affective connotations of the spectacle. Furthermore, the acoustics invoke a meta-image, or the experience of the image. A meta-image exceeds the ontological horizon of visual images and focuses on the participants’ picture of reality.
By revealing its inner sonic architecture, the installation reorients perspectival solidity of the viewer. According to Chion,
“The space defined by the sound is not the same as that once constructed by the image. It abounds in details; it is polyphonic but vague in its outlines and borders; it is, in other words, acoustic. Sound suppresses the notion of a point of view that can be localized. Where do we hear from? For the ear, the equivalent of a point of view would be a listening point. But if we are dependent on sound alone, without the confirmation of sight, a listening point is very vague. Consider a point source of sound in the middle of a room. A faithful reproduction will not even tell you, with your eyes closed, on which side of the room the microphone was placed. Sound does not indicate the outlines of the object from which it emanates. Nor does sound know Euclidean perspective, however hard we try to make it do so.”
The lack of Euclidean perspective heightens the virtual experience of Community Cinema. This indeterminacy of the spectatorship in installation art then produces a decentered subject, as confusion and instability mark the viewing experience. It is precisely this indefinite and fluid quality that shapes the experience of an artwork that is in and of itself multi-disciplinary and without medium-specificity.
In modern societies, the meaning of participation has been altered. The exclusive focus on political participation in Habermas’ critical theory has shifted toward a more inclusively understood concept of discursive will formation. Participation extends beyond a narrowly defined political realm and positions itself as an activity that can be realized in the social and cultural spheres as well. As suggested by Habermas’ original conception of the public sphere, “public” emphasizes discursive interaction principally unbounded. The open-endedness in turn implies a plurality of perspectives among those who participate within a public. The active engagement allows for internal differences and antagonisms. A site marked by porousness and outer-directness, publics promote intercultural communication. The idea of “a public” thus better accommodates internal differences, antagonisms, and debates – the qualities that are asserted in the discussion of subjectivity by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Following Jacques Lacan, they argue that subjectivity is not self-transparent and rational, but is irremediably decentered and incomplete. Furthermore, Habermas notes that “subjectivity, as the innermost core of the private, was always already oriented to an audience (Publikum).”
Nonetheless, community participation does not automatically produce a public sphere of action. “Community,” like “public,” is in continual flux. In The Public and Its Problems, John Dewey notes that the “public” always changes with time and place, that such a public is “too diffused and scattered and too intricate in composition” to be treated as a holistic entity. Nonetheless, investments of time and effort from both institutions and the visitors can create mutually beneficial bonds, a meaningful link that will likely stimulate more inclusive forums for exchange. Such inclusiveness does not demand consensus in decision-making process or in reactions. Instead, it indicates a broader range of people who are invited to ponder the artwork and produce his or her own output in the form of active critiques.
Driven by the sonic experience, the three types of passersby in the installation and their diverging perspectives are distinguished from one another by their temporalities. Different speeds of cognition determine the reception of these audiovisual texts. A spoken sentence makes the ear work very quickly, while reading with the eyes is notably slower. The eye perceives more slowly, as it simultaneously takes on the functions of exploring in space and following along in time. Moreover, in the first contact with an audiovisual message, the vision is more spatially adept, while the audio more temporally oriented. First of all, local residents live at quotidian pace. On the one hand, the movement of the travelers takes an extended amount of time, the limits of which cannot be foreseen due to the indeterminacies of traffic of an urban setting. Furthermore, the specificity or ambiguity of destination accounts for the indeterminacy of temporality in road traveling. On the other hand, cinematic projections have specific durations. The temporality of projection determines the time for reception. Like the skeletal structure of the screens that encircles the public participants within the square frame, the duration of the film screening saturates all surrounding activities. The activities that complement the cinema – cooking, informal chatter, and recess amidst daily schedules – revolve around the time frame of the film screenings. The time frame of the project includes time needed for the construction of screens and steel barriers. A temporary commission, the installation is constantly under the pressure of being demolished. Its life is defined simultaneously by fleeting excitement and by anxiety and impending destruction. Therefore, the temporality of the project rests in a fixed range, while the urban flux of contingent time continues. Multiple temporal sites encounter in a productive way.
As expressed in the official press release, the objective of Community Cinema is “to create public space” in a street, normally conceived as already public. This suggests that in fact, a city has to be organized in a certain way to be public. “Intersection” signifies a point of convergence for four paths. The sphere of this specific kind of exchange ceases to exist only a block away. Tiravanija’s Community Cinema intersection thus creates a claustrophobic center. This inward movement is embedded in the structure of the four screens that are placed in an intersection, rather than in an open field. In Public Space in a Private Time” (1990), Vito Acconci affirms that “the establishment of certain space in the city as “public” is a reminder, a warning, that the rest of the city isn’t public […].” By “setting up” a public space, the project sets aside a public space. Public space in the middle of the city, as delineated through the installation, is thus isolated from the city. Public space is a place in the middle of the city, but isolated from the city. Public space is “the piazza, a space in the light, an open space separated from the closure of alleys and dead ends […].”
Projection is a central element of Tiravanija’s installation; this coincides with Acconci’s metaphor of the luminous center that is the public space. During the occasion of Community Cinema, the participants in the installation take on the role of envisioning a new form of public. According to Acconci, space is public when “the public” voices its desire that a space be public. These people emerge “in the form of the city.” On the lit stage, the community individuals envision a novel form of “public space.”
In the discussion of “public,” conceptual artist Barbara Kruger poses a question: “what is a public sphere which is an uncommercial public sphere?” In Habermas’ discussion of the liberal bourgeois public sphere, the culture-debating public stands in opposition to the culture-consuming public that is composed of spectators who consume images. However, Kruger argues against the binary opposition between these activities. Kruger’s own work bespeaks the interlocking relationship between art and the commercial public sphere. Her two- and three-dimensional video installations engage with advertising, publicity, and mass media. Her work explicitly addresses and influences a consumer public. Following her logic, Tiravanija’s Community Cinema resembles Kruger’s outdoor installations that are composed of confrontational slogans paired with images. Kruger’s signs surround the urban passers-by, in the same way that Tiravanija’s simultaneous projection of Hollywood films overwhelms and confuses the residents. Both works embody the link between the high and the low, art and street. Through this strategy, both artists pose a critique of the commercialization of the urban-scape.
Kruger’s indoor video installations also project critique in the guise of spectacular images. According to the press release of Kruger’s show The Globe Shrinks (2010) at Mary Boone Gallery, the duet of pictures and words in her installation reveals “the collision of declaration and doubt, the resonance of direct address, and the unspoken in every conversation.”  A 12 minute, 44 second looped video plays on four channels surrounding the room, which at one moment reads, “The globe shrinks for the end.” The projections interact with each other and with the viewer. Scenes of driving, street violence, and an interview with the artist are juxtaposed with a quiet voice that speaks directly in a half-whisper to the audience. This frenzied assemblage of images and sounds taunts the viewer with an impossible intimacy. Simultaneously, it provokes him to perceive the irony in the circulation of power in an urban public space.
The bodies that congregate in Tiravanija’s outdoor theatre are thus “constructed by moments which are formed by the velocity of power and money.” The boundary between what is commercial and what is not is diluted by the very practice of merging a multitude of arts and performative modes: immersed in an environment composed of theatre, moving images, and architectural set, spectators converge through their common action of being “actors” during the screening of their “favorite films.” Different roles of spectator are mediated through the heterogeneous modes of exhibition.
The function of these mediated forms of exhibition is not so much that of creating new worlds that are detached from space, time, and physical locality. Rather, they produce “an unstable, chaotic world of worlds that constantly penetrate one another, merge into one another, dissolve, appear, and disappear without any possibility of orientation.” The heterogeneous installation of media in turn triggers a frenzy in which the subject is no longer certain of his origin or destination in the trajectory of viewing experience. Installation is powered precisely by this suspension of time, space, and actuality.
Therefore, an exhibition’s form is in constant flux or alternation to create specific and changing forms of social exchange. The public, arranged within the frame and reflected in the surrounding installation, thus alternates between different roles or take turns in performing an action. Individuals break the screen and bring the debris outward to construct the site of the “possible,” as suggested by the Deleuzian term “espace quelconque (any-space-whatever).” As an alternative mode of exhibition, installation like Tiravanija’s Community Cinema enables the viewer to inhabit several possible identities and participate in novel forms of social exchange. In installation, “sculptural forms occupy and reconfigure not just the institutional space that is the gallery or museum, but the space of objecthood itself,” the relation between subject and artwork. The interrelationship between content and audience, art and technology, and individuals and global institutions, helps viewers understand art’s public functions in today’s cultural landscape.