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Playing with space

DAVID HARDEN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Visiting artist and Media Arts 305 instructor Daniel Peltz shows the type of projector used in his students' "installation art."
By Lindsay Utz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday November 12, 2002

Exhibition in the night: Media arts students showcase their film installation art pieces

There are mad film students on the loose, running around campus at night, projecting weird images in strange corners and crevices. Installation art is coming soon to a floor, bench or tree near you.

For weeks, the students have been shooting their films, investigating sights, taking measurements and performing test screenings for what promises to be an interesting two evenings of live site-specific film installation exhibition, open to the public on Nov. 18 and Nov. 20. Installation art involves the artist coming into a space and installing the elements that make up the piece. In the case of Media Arts 305, beginning film, the student filmmakers will be installing, or positioning, their 16-millimeter film projectors in specific spaces around campus.

In contrast to the common theater-going experience, the film is not the prime source of engagement in installation art. Instead, space, interaction and context are of ultimate importance. The idea is that the site of the exhibition becomes an integral and essential part of the viewing experience.

"The artist goes in and in some way occupies or inhabits the space, and the piece is then left there for people to interact with," said Daniel Peltz, a visiting artist who teaches Media Arts 305 and is behind all this installation madness.

One group's piece involves projecting images onto a canopy of leaves. Instead of the traditional set-up where the screen stays still and the image moves, in this project the images will stay relatively still while the screen, the canopy of leaves, will be moved by the wind.

Another group's project will be dealing with the theme of captivity. The audience will be asked to look over a railing down into a lower area where the images of captivity will be projected. Here, the filmmaker is creating a cage-like space that lends itself to the understanding of the piece's message.

Peltz, who came to Tucson this year to work in the media arts department, has a background in video and film installation. Coming to this new city and new campus, he was affected by all the new spaces around him.

"I was feeling very responsive to the surfaces around me, and all the surfaces were new all the walls and the buildings and their relationship to each other and the sounds that were made in the spaces between the buildings," Peltz said. "I felt very sensitized to those and I really wanted to explore that with the students as well."

If You Go

· Tours are on Monday, Nov. 18, and Wednesday, Nov. 20. Meet at 7 p.m. on the lower level courtyard of the Harvill building for a map.

· The films will run continuously from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Artists will be on hand to talk about their pieces and answer questions.

Thinking about space in this way is something you may not be accustomed to doing in your everyday life. Moving through the same underpass each day or through the same doorway, you move up the same stairs, around the same corner, atop the same concrete each day of your routine lives. Most often, you never think about the textures of those surfaces or even the social meaning of the structures that surround you. Site-specific installation art offers a way to reflect on your surroundings.

"Installation art is interesting because it's transforming the surroundings you find yourself in everyday into a work of art that you're immersed in," said Clayton Boen, student filmmaker and participant in the Media Arts 305 experiment.

"It opens your eyes and makes you think critically about your surroundings," he said.

Vikki Dempsey, video artist and UA alumnus, agrees that viewers will be forced to re-think their daily environments.

"If they're a regular visitor to the space, they may think of the space in a different way."

In fact, the viewer of installation piece plays a vital role in the experience.

"The piece doesn't exist without them there. It's not that the piece is there and then they can come in and see it or not. The meaning of it is contained in their moving through it," Peltz said.

Art has always been about some communication between the viewer and the work. The unique goal of installation art differs in that it aims to create some sort of live interactive experience. Instead of a traditional painting or a sculpture that has a concrete physical existence, installation exists only in a particular space, under fixed circumstances. Installation, therefore, is a finite experience. For example, even if an artist installs a piece for an extended period of time it's impossible to reproduce the experience of the original installation, once the installation has been taken down.

"The issue about the body is also really important, particularly in what it opens up because you can not only control where you're showing the work, but how people see it and how people move through it," Peltz said.

People who come to see the installation pieces around campus will see that audience interaction is central to many of the students' projects.

"So, whereas in a theater they go and they sit down they know where their plush seats are, they know where their cup holders are now, they may have to stick their head inside something to see the piece or they may have to lie down on the floor and look up in order to see the piece," Peltz said.

Context is something that Peltz wants his students to think about as well.

"Just by taking whatever films we are making and showing them in another context, it would have a different meaning. Context is critical and installation really offers students the opportunity to think about how does the context of their film change its meaning."

Installation art has been done before in the arts department, but never in the media arts department. Peltz thinks that introducing it to the media arts curriculum is a sophisticated way of getting students to think about the formal elements of the medium of film. And the students are just as thrilled about it.

"This is the first time that the 16-millimeter production class has attempted to create installation art and it's exciting that we're the first class to do it," Boen said.

Dempsey, who earned her MFA from the arts department, feels it's important to introduce installation to the media arts program.

"For a large part, the students in the media arts department are really into Hollywood and getting a job in the industry, which is fine, but it's not for everybody," Dempsey said.

"And it's very hard to get into the industry and so any kind of alternative that you have is great. It provides a different way of thinking about things. I'm glad that they're having that exposure."

The experience has been far from easy for all those involved with this experiment. More than likely, that was the instructor's intention.

"It's a very physical learning process. The physical constraints in the space become something that you have to engage with in order to get your piece to work." Peltz said. "There's something about life to learn from having to deal with the constraints of your space."


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