Project: Towards an Appreciation
of Ian de Gruchys Work.
Like, a shadow, this text is produced as I pause in the middle of Ian de Gruchy's work. The words and ideas extended here are not produced from a critical distance, making evaluations of the work in relation to certain contexts, rather they are located in the middle. As though passing a projector in a de Gruchy installation, one is always located in the middle between light and surface. Any engagement with the work creates shadows which extend and stretch and' become part of the installation. It is in such a position that this text is written, attempting to arrest certain thoughts that glimmer in the shadows which have been produced in conjunction with the work. Thoughts concerning light, movement, continuous form, extension and composition emerge and -question existing notions of space and architecture based on the Cartesian grid and the dichotomy of subject and- object. Caught. in the middle, other ways of proceeding and thinking in relation to space' and architecture surface.
There are architects and designers who are working in this space' of mediation. Peter Eisenman is one example. He writes:
In all design arts we are experiencing
a paradigm shift, from the mechanical to the
de Gruchy's work offers an opportunity to think through ideas to do with space and the relation between object and subject, figure and, ground. This article focuses on these ideas and de Gruchy's work. The impetus behind these thoughts was a walk around the Exhibition Building late one night. The exterior surfaces of the building were illuminated, at different, times, with nineteenth century botanical illustrations, perspectival grids, encyclopaedic tool collections, figures-of-eight, and cracks. The projections, by de Gruchy, were part of the 1996 Australian Contemporary Art Fair. (ACAF). Traversing in front of a projector, the viewer/ passerby's shadow was thrown onto ground and then onto the building. The Exhibition Buildings read neither as architectural object nor as work of art but as part of a spatial composition in which form became continuous. Rather than separate, isolated, autonomous entities, fight and shadow extended and stretched onto various surfaces of subject and object, of figure and ground.
This shift spreads like an opening wing and suggests different ways of thinking about being in space and time. The Cartesian view of the world which locates subject and object, figure and ground at the basis of knowledge, and has dominated modem Western thought, becomes untenable as form becomes continuous. The dichotomy becomes so rigid that it becomes brittle. A third condition like a shadow, spreads between subject and object. Extending along planes from figure to ground to figure, it is possible to apprehend new ways of thinking about space and architecture. Meaning becomes mobile rather than fixed. In many ways, the term 'project' is very suggestive of this third condition. Sharing the same conjunctive `-ject' as subject and object, project is the space of mediation and also the medium of de Gruchy's art.
de Gruchy has been working with projection since 1980 and has produced installations as part of his art practice, audio-visual presentations and other commercial work, collaborated in theatre performances, constructed ambient environments with projection, and also taught projection to architecture and interior design students. There are works which are located in exterior spaces of the city and in interior spaces of galleries, theatres and spaces of galleries, theatres and nightclubs.
This last space captures the poetic aspect of his work as well as affording an understanding of mediated space as a space of light and dark, of chiaroscuro, and how this links to a different type of knowledge than that of the Cartesian natural light of reason. In a nightclub, the shadows and dark are spaces of intensity and projections of desire. In these clubs of the night, de Gruchy's projections evoke psychological projections, illuminating momentary juxtapositions and colluding with mental states. The projections in the Limelight Night Club in New York and Chicago took place between 1985-1987. De Gruchy distorted the structure of the interior by projecting and extending' architectural features. Rational structure became stretched, losing its frames of reference, rectilinear became oblique, and in the disorientation, the possibility of the unexpected, freedom and pleasure circulated.
de Gruchy continues to work in nightclubs. In current projects, bodies in these spaces are incorporated in the projection'. Body becomes wall, wall becomes flesh, both become colour and luminous, the perception of autonomous bodies is obscured as light and colour extend over surfaces to produce spaces for- projected desire.
The dark is also the space of performance. The performance No hope, no reason was not equivalent to that of a conventional theatrical performance based on the premise of representation where a space located somewhere else is presented to the audience, the actors act and the stage is viewed as a window. In No hope, no reason a dream-like space suspended frames of reference. de Gruchy's projection mediated the performance and performers. At times it bathed the entire stage and the performers, casting their shadows onto the ground, elongating them along the wall, rendering their bodies red or raining. There was a doubling effect as shadows were projected by bodies and form became continuous; performer, ground and wall. An image of a boat projected onto a mirror lying on the floor was reflected onto an adjacent wall. Participating in the choreography, the image would ripple when the water on the mirror's surface was disturbed. Rather than representing an object or becoming a window onto another space, the image of the boat became a composition of light and movement, composing and recomposing according to different forces.
'Post-object art-is a term used to define directions art was taking in the 1970s. de Gruchy was one of the founding members of the Experimental Art Foundation (EAF), in Adelaide in 1974. The EAF was described as 'a forum for post object and conceptual art.2 A genealogy of post-object art can be traced from the 1970s through practices such as Fluxus, Minimalism and the Situationnists in the 1950s and 1960s; to Surrealism and Dada; to the late nineteenth century and Baudelair's flaneur. The Situationnists are important predecessors; their concepts of the derive´ and psycho-geography required the artist to move through urban space according to psychological impulses and forces.
This is a different positioning to that of an art object located within a 'white cube*, a supposedly neutral space, and encountered by a viewer who gazes at each work individually and separately. The object and hence relations of dichotomy and subject/ object positions, were questioned, critiqued and challenged by artists. The art object as an autonomous entity, a pictorial space, and the viewer are both displaced by space, urban space, and its participants. Space and the idea of mediation become critical in the production of art and its, experience. The term 1project' fits neatly in between object and subject and projection engages with the idea of mediation both as a psychological dimension. and a physical projection. The work takes place in space and is produced by space rather than being about space. This is a shift from representation to a mode of presentation in which 'the art object becomes the city itself.3
The difference between representation and presentation is a critical one in the apprehension of continuous form or extension. This difference is perhaps evident in a discussion of the projection work of Krzysztof Wodiczko. A discussion of Wodiczko is also relevant to de Gruchy's work as the two worked together in the early 1980s. Wodiczko perceives architecture as 'already projecting an image', and his work unmasks 'its existing rhetoric .4 Working mainly with monuments and memorials he seeks to reveal the unconscious of the building, its body, the. "medium" of power.5 While Wodiczko is a critic of the object and what it represents, he maintains the 'idea of architecture as object, as a self contained entity, and does not critique the act of representation. He is concerned with objects and subjects. The architectural object speaks and becomes a subject rather than suggesting something in between. de Gruchy's project Palais Lights is a project similar in concept to Wodiczko's work. The back of the Palais, a theatre located next to a fun park, becomes the site for a face. The Luna Park face with its gaping mouth and teeth is extended here to the back of the Palais. In this essay, however, I am interested in the middle space, neither object nor subject but where form extends, matter spills, where it extends, stretches and folds, where the notion of the object [is] no longer defined b y an essential form, [but is] rather, movement in extension, matter overflowing its boundaries'.6
de Gruchy's projections are not so much concerned with 'an essential form' and revealing or representing architecture as object, rather he adds to and extends the surfaces of architecture. In his projections onto exterior surfaces of city buildings: a wall becomes luminous with a stack of newspapers in which headlines of the day from the preceding year can be read; an exterior wall of the State Library dissolves under a light which casts an image of its interior.
The relationship of light and space to projection, in particular interior and exterior space, is exemplified in the camera obscura. An image of the exterior is transferred to the interior via a pinhole located in a wall. The image produced is inverted and can be corrected' with the use of a lens. The projection of an image from exterior to a dark interior was for Descartes, the philosopher whose theories gave name and form to Cartesian perspectivalism, a demonstration of how an observer can know the world uniquely by perception of the ' mind'.7 The notions of autonomous subject and object underpin this theory which renders the space between the fixed dichotomy void.
de Gruchy's installation Camera directly referenced the camera obscura and its method of 'delimiting and defining the relation between the. observer and the world'.8 The installation of Camera, which was located in a darkened gallery space and worked all four walls of the room, reiterated the Cartesian view of the world: 'The secure positioning of the self * with this empty interior space was a precondition for knowing the outer world".9 On the four walls of the gallery, images of different exterior spaces were projected and accompanied by a sound track. The projections, both visual and audible, were representations of exteriors. While interior and exterior boundaries were collapsed visually, the space of representation remained intact. Unlike an actual camera obscura which has an uncanny quality in its direct transposition of exterior to interior where the temporal continues to exist, these images were not extensions that seeped or stretched. Pictorial space dominated and the integrity of the wall as a space of art remained intact. The sound track reinforced the gallery space as one of representation, of the presentation of something which is absent, rather than an actual space in which knowledge is mediated. The Cartesian view of the world remained unchallenged.
project Dazzle of Shadow (1993,director: Peter King) on the other
hand was an extraordinary performance of projection, psychological and
physical - exploding and collapsing interior and exterior states, rational
and irrational knowledge, subject and object. Supposedly dichotomous states
bled into each other producing atmospheres of haze and reduced visibility.
These ideas were extended in the project Projecting Space which, like Camera, was an installation within the space of a gallery. Rather than the figure - and - ground reiteration of Camera, this projection spilled across all vertical and horizontal surfaces, disorientating the viewer, projecting their shadow, capturing them within beams of light and colour. Every movement, of the projector and the viewer, produced a different spatial composition. Unconfined matter spilled and extended with no vanishing point on which to focus to effect a point of distance. The viewer located within the projection, became part of the field of vision. One became acutely aware of being both observer and observed; of vision as 'a conflictual field in which the looker is always a body to be observed.12
Knowledge as something produced/composed within spatial and temporal conditions is implicit. Movement of bodies, of image, of projectors in different conditions produces what can be seen and said. Light-projected organic forms and geometry blurring points of reference and disorienting the viewer The duration of the projection, the sound of the projectors changing images, and the time-lapse between slide changes stretched the structure of the space.
Architecture and light has a genealogy which includes examples such as the Eiffel Tower and the Crystal Palace. In relation to fight, the Eiffel Tower was conceived as a 'structure like an electric beacon, which would be visible for many kilometers. As such, it is an object which illuminates from its stationary position. The relation, to projection is also evident, the tower itself a type of projector. The Crystal Palace on the other hand is a different example of light and architecture. Built from iron and glass, it shimmered in the light and at times became almost imperceptible. It was the subject of many Impressionist paintings in attempts to, find another way of proceeding other than the space of perspective, of figure-and-ground representation. As Martin Jay says, it was "a source of the Impressionists., challenge to Cartesian perspectivalism'.13 Light blurred boundaries between the object and its structure; light and colour rather than structure and form; essential form becomes continuous form as, matter extends beyond the frame.
The Crystal Palace is an appropriate reference for de Gruchy's projections in many ways - in particular the Exhibition Buildings and gardens project as part of the 1996 A.C.A.F fair. Different slides were projected at different times on the exterior surfaces of the building. Nineteenth-century botanical illustrations spread across the architectural details of apertures and cornices, evaporating into dark space at the edges, spilling on to the grass, shrubs and asphalt surrounding the building. ~ The projections of waratahs and other Plants enfolded, wrapped and unfolded the building. Garden and building became continuous - historically, socially and, psychologically. As one moved around the building, anamorphic shadows of moving bodies projected and stretched. The slide would then change and a Cartesian perspectival grid spread its lines across elevations receding into the architectural elevation and spilling forward towards the bodies of stationary viewers. One's body- became architectural as form was no longer determined by contour and edge but became continuous. Space could no longer be identified by objects or figure-ground relations but was mediated by light. Surfaces spread; historical, Cartesian and political, surfaces spread. The Exhibition building was transformed and eventalized.
The word 'eventalize' is used by the philosopher, John Rajchman in his discussion of architecture. He writes:
[..A]n architecture of the event would be an architecture of this other relation to history: it would 'eventalize' or open up, what in our history, or our tradition presents itself as as what is assumed to be essential and unchangeable or incapable of a 'rewriting' as what is 'fixed in concrete'.14
de Gruchy's projections onto architectural surfaces are not defined by what is fixed in concrete. They add to, and bathe architecture, flowing across edges. Looking at the Exhibition Building projection, one no longer perceived an object but apprehended the surfaces that composed the space. Essential form became continuous form. Rather than being premised on the notion of representation, the event is located in the present, and the spatial and temporal composition taking place.
The projection of the I Cartesian grid onto the elevation of the Exhibition Building presented an opportunity to apprehend other ways of thinking about architecture and space; the grid lines did not recede into a space of representation, but spilled forward in a Baroque manner consuming and wrapping all in their path.
2. Ian de Gruchy, Projection: A Method of Mediating Space, unpublished 'draft of Masters document, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. No page numbers.
3. C. Hollevoet, K. Jones and T. Nye, The Power of the City. The City of Power (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992), p45.
4. Krzysztof Wodiczko. Public Address given at the Walker Art Center, (Minneapohs:-Walker Art Center,1992), p.16.
5.Ibid., p. 84
7. Descartes cited in J. Crary Modernising Vision', in H. Foster ed.,
Vision and Visuality (Seattle: Dia Art Foundation, Ba Press, 1988), p.32.
8. De Gruchy, Projection.
9. Crary, "Modernizing Vision, p.32.
11. Peter King, director, Dazzle of Shadow, Melbourne, (program notes: 1993).
12. Jay, Downcast Eyes, p.368.
13. Ibid., p.124.
14. J. Rajchman, Philosophical Events. Essays of the '80s (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 157.