Limits to Movement Through space

24/11/2020
Delineated space

As we physically move through space, we realign ourselves to the objects around us. We use information from our senses to tell us how far those objects are from us, their weight, consistency, texture, what they indexically and symbolically represent, and crucially, how to navigate around them.

In the human-made environment of towns, cities, etc., we traverse areas which have been manipulated in order to modify our movement and behaviour in a particular way. This can act as a guide, such as the lines on a road which indicate the safest place to drive, or they can physically or psychologically inhibit said movement, such as a metal barrier or a sign warning of a dog on the premises.

These visual and audio-aural clues or signs have become 'natural' to us - we have grown inured to their strangeness and external authority, and accept them as part of our surroundings. We are expected to observe them as a matter of course. Concepts like 'property', 'national borders' and 'personal space' reinforce the unconscious acceptance of the tyranny of these signs. They exist, they are created by people, yet they often mimic forms and colours from nature, as if to reinforce the message of an instinctive adherence to the rules. Here I could use the example of the barrier which uses black and yellow stripes, mimicking the warning colouration of bees, wasps and hornets, or the spiky danger of barbed wire, which looks so much like the prickly needles of a hedgehog or porcupine.

A further layer of inhibition of movement is the self-imposed one of culture. Most of us never consider moving into certain spaces because to do so would breach deep-seated norms of behaviour, which society has deemed criminal or transgressive in some way. Our sense of societal decorum, to take a humdrum example, inhibits us from taking a shortcut home through a neighbour's garden - unless we know them and so have permission for this behaviour.

So, we alter our movements, both consciously and unconsciously, according to the colours, shapes and forms we see in reality, which are often unconscious symbols which refer back, however abstractedly, to real signs from nature.

From recipient to participant

How then to use this notion of manipulated movement in an artwork? I have touched on this before in Hazard Parallax, where the design of the installation suggested a push-pull movement on the part of the active viewer. Just as a painter can suggest or persuade a viewer to look at certain parts of the surface of the canvas before others, or more than others, so too can an artist persuade the participant in an installation to move through it in a certain way, and in so doing guiding their reactions and the way the work reveals itself. All artwork has these twin qualities of temporal and spatial dimensions. The artwork needs time to be absorbed, and space to exist. The installation, being bigger and requiring the movement of the entire viewer-participant, not just their eyes or a few steps in a given direction, obviously needs more time to be taken in, for its effects to work.

Terminology here becomes a problem. Manipulation can seem too harsh a word. 'Nudging' can feel too insidious, suggesting the directed puppeteering of government policy. Furthermore, when one recognises one is being manipulated, one is apt to rebel. The manipulation or encouragement cannot seem to overt or obvious - indeed, it should appear natural or logical within the given environment. Yes this manipulation, or shaping is essentially the point of the work, and so should have an element of self-reflexivity to it, allowing the work to comment on its own facture.
These, then are the problems to be solved:
  • To find a suitable language for this form of artistic shaping of a person's movement and feelings
  • To develop a way to shape this movement that feels neither forced or obvious on the one hand, nor cruel and manipulative on the other
  • To build into the work an understanding of its own nature, to give it a sense of self-identification

I envisage this work to be a form of shaped or manipulated space that takes the viewer, who is also a participant of this installation, on a journey of awareness, keeping them on the edge of desire to continue the journey and self-questioning that desire.