Let go of any focus,
Allow the mind to drift,
To go wherever it wants.
Rosie Morris, performance script extract
Space and site are two entities that have been intrinsically bound to one another throughout art history. One cannot exist without the other; they are two entities tied to each other through the process of installation. Yet for Newcastle-based artist Rosie Morris’ current site-specific work, Circles are Slices of Spheres, the term installation art does not seem to do it justice. Instead, Morris’s work can be viewed as experiential art. Art which is located in the spiritual, art which consumes the senses to such an extent that the viewer cannot help but be delightfully absorbed by the serene experience. The work is a site-specific construct designed for the Edwardian architecture and Art Nouveau detailing of The Laing Art Gallery.
Drawing on the building’s history, viewing behaviours, social narratives and relationships, Morris seeks to explore and highlight the notions of interior and exterior space. She investigates the play between the public realm and the more secluded gallery space; how the two co-exist in unison, yet simultaneously remain distinct. Morris is interested in the dissolution of these conventional boundaries and she deconstructs them through spatial navigation. With Circles are Slices of Spheres, the artist’s intent is to guide the viewer not only into an awareness of self, but into an awareness of themselves in relation to the space around them – whether this is in the cool, quiet interior of the gallery space, or the bustling street outside where cars rush past. The carefully selected title, Circles are Slices of Spheres, aims to articulate this notion of the gallery space not as a segregated space, but one part of a greater whole.
Morris creates an organic dialogue between the interior and the exterior worlds through the process of viewing. By directing the viewer’s observations, she forces her audience to question their conventional notions of perception and perhaps look to new ways of understanding space and how it can be used as a medium in itself. Morris’s painterly installation engulfs the gallery walls. Instantly upon entering the space the viewer is transported from the confines of a traditional gallery setting with paintings hung tidily on the wall, to a more surreal and immersive environment. The walls of the gallery space are obscured by tenderly painted MDF boards, which curve downwards to greet the floor. The broad expanses of these sculptural paintings dwarf the viewer and are composed of delicate acrylic layers, a stark contrast to their towering and imposing height. The careful blend of soft pink and blue hues are playful in their illusions, acting as a visual puzzle for the viewer to unravel and dissect.
As well as an undeniably painterly presence, the installation holds allusions to the oriental, as the viewer is asked to remove their shoes if they wish to stand on the wide expanse of cream carpet that occupies the centre of the room. This allows the viewer to further immerse themselves in the space. By removing their shoes they are dissolving the conventional boundaries and behaviours of viewing to instead connect directly with the floor, carpet and subsequently, the artwork as a whole. As a centre point to the grand carpet, an ornate object from The Laing’s collection sits encased in spot-lit glass. The object is beautiful and precious, with depictions referencing the Cosmic, calling into question the relationship between the Gallery space and the external world on a far-wider reaching scale than simply the urban landscape which lies outside. By suggesting the viewer think beyond this space and themselves, Morris creates a transient experience of contemplation and meditation.
The sense of the oriental and the spiritual are emphasized by the sound work that plays throughout the Gallery. The commission was created by sound artist and musician Sam Grant who again, like Morris and her engulfing installation, focuses on the concept of site-specificity. Grant created a sound piece which sought to emphasize the acoustics of the room. The result is a mesmerizing tune of tranquillity; one which floats calmly through the ears and caresses the body, as if the audience is being held and lulled by the warm swarm of an ocean. Idyllic scenes of exotic Indian temples, or yoga studios heavily scented with incense, come to mind as one wanders serenely through the Gallery space.
As well as sensory details, Circles are Slices of Spheres also includes a performative element, the script of which remains in the space and calls into question the process of viewing. In the script, Morris addresses the ‘here-and-now’ of the Gallery space, subtle and playful in her suggestions of spatial relationships and explorations. By drawing out specific behaviours, Morris looks to explore and challenge how an institution can change and evolve through the experience of a contemporary artwork. Through this investigative process, Morris’s installation takes the viewer on a sublime and meditative journey. As the outside world dissolves into a collapsing memory of shopping lists, unanswered emails, doctor’s appointments and everyday errands, the viewer can instead relax, let go, and allow their mind to drift through the spectacle that Morris has created.
Rosie Morris, Circles are Slices of Spheres continues at the Laing Art Gallery until 8 January 2017
Images courtesy the artist.