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Does Scale Matter?

Let’s talk about scale. One hundred and seventy-five pounds of candy in Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Félix González-Torres. A seventy-five foot long and thirty-five foot high sphinx coated with thirty-five tons of sugar in A Subtlety by Kara Walker, or Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread, a white fabric stretched across a fifty-five thousand-square-foot hall, suspended with ropes, swaying up and down, instigated by the forty-two swings installed across the hall, moving back and forth. It is a common denominator in all these works that amplification in scale intensifies one’s relation to the work and its world of inanimate objects, translating the interpretations and the experience of the work to infinite possibilities. Perhaps there is some queer majestic quality when one walks in the Sistine Chapel, or when one comes face to face to Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois. One greets the work and hears the work greet back. The viewer looks at the work and has an encounter between their ‘self’ and the ‘other’, where the other seems to be in direct contact, affirming its presence.
Grandeur symbolizes a moment of self-actualization. When one registers ‘grandeur’, it is in that moment that one is innately comparing oneself to the other’s presence. “You and I are both present here!” one might exclaim. One incessantly compares body’s size and scale as the sheer magnitude and enormity of the object challenges one placed before the other. The work anthropomorphizes and draws in the viewer’s innate phenomenological instincts.
Grandeur allows one to experience a humble forfeit. It acknowledges into oneself a moment of meditative contemplation. There is a massive amount of stillness and silence in grandeur. Grandeur invokes in one immense curiosity to Sherlock Holmes through the entire experience. What will happen if I go towards the end of the space and what may I discover? How will it feel if I walk around it or behind it? How long will this space allow me to experience it or engulf it?
In these postmodern times we seem to have been trained to be inquisitive. Not only that, we feel entitled to research, to dig deeper, to put forward the naked reality of life, the naked reality of experience. One wants to be confounded, to be mystified, but not to be lied to. It is a time where one demands to be allured but not manipulated, and it is in that moment that one desires to be fully immersed in ‘an experience’. Does art have the quality to envelop the viewer? Can art be tactile? How far can art go in order to blur the lines between reality and illusion? Or, rather, how far can art go to create reality through illusion about reality? Moreover, what are the qualities required to do so? Does scale provide one with the basic infrastructure? When the scale of an artwork is multiplied to larger than life, it provides the artist a framework to incorporate into the work the expanse that time and space stipulates. It provides building blocks to create an experience for the viewer that catalyzes a relation of infinitude possibilities.
Why invigorate space and time? Today’s individual is trans-individual. One aptly looks for how one as an individual relates to the social infrastructure and more so how one can engage within the present social system/s. Today one is constantly aware of one’s context and how an experience transmute one’s life. Art has the potential to open up possibilities, comments and critiques while moving across disciplines; ecologies bring together linking them in one system.
I came across a few questions asked by Nicolas Bourriaud. He states:
“The first question we should ask ourselves when looking at a work of art is: Does it give me a chance to exist in front of it, or, on the contrary does it deny me as a subject, refusing to consider the Other in the structure? Does the space-time factor suggested or described by this work, together with the laws governing it, tally with my aspirations in real life? Does it criticise what is deemed to be criticisable? Could I live in a space-time structure corresponding to this reality?”1
Installation artists aptly experiment with the scale and allow the expanse of the space and time to generate possibilities of experiences, catalyzing the phenomenological sensibilities through their works. Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project installation featured two-hundred monofrequency lights in the 26.7m x 22.3 m x 155.4 m Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. The project intended to imitate the illusion of the sun and to translate the sublimity of nature. Suddenly every inch of Turbine Hall and the indoor space was activated, harnessing the heat, moisture and sauna of the sun. The body stands face to face in front of the virtual sun. One sees the viewers allowing the heat and light of this virtual sun bathe their bodies, as they lie, move or just hang around. The work brings into light not only the formal presence of the sun, but also sheds light over the relationship to weather, time and space.
“The relationship between parts and the whole is reversed. The properties of the parts can be understood only from the dynamics of the whole. In fact, ultimately there are no parts at all. What we call a part is merely a pattern in an inseparable web of relationships.” 2
Amplified scale allows one to draw from just not the object but from the system. It is not to emanate form of the thing rather from how things are done. Variation in scale allows the awakening of all elements or components within time and space and then allowing the artist to carefully knit them together forming a holistic component.
One can persistently fall back to the question of what factors might allow one to lead to such an exploration. It then brings forward the question of numbers: size, amount, quantity, or weight. And furthermore what relationship does that unravel/create for the viewer? How does it allow one to look at life and experience it differently? How anthropomorphic is the experience? How does the artwork stop being just an artwork and physiologically enter into the body? How does art become part of life, or reality rather than just mimicking it?
References:
1. Bourriand, Nicolas, Esthétique relationelle, Les presses du reel, Dijon, 1998; English edition, Relational Aesthetics, 2002.
2. Capra, Fritjof. System Theory and the New Paradigm, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press, 2015.

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