Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia, US
This essay compares the installation works of two contemporary artists, Tobias Rehberger (German, b. 1966) and Olafur Eliasson (Danish-Icelandic, b. 1967), to draw out the ways in which installation art interacts with the viewer. Rehberger’s 81 Years (2002) is a digital film installation with a run time of eighty-one years. This work provides a more modernist viewing in that is maintains an autonomous presentness from the viewer. Eliasson’s Your Colour Memory (2004) is an architectural installation of curved walls filled with colored light that fades into the next at thirty second intervals. The color fading intervals produce an optical phenomenon known as the after-image. Eliasson’s installation has the goal of social interaction and integration into the work itself; it requires the viewer’s presence in order to be complete. Your Colour Memory as well as another piece by Eliasson, The Weather Project (2003) feed into Guy Debord’s theory of the spectacle by creating environments that are thrilling sensations but little else. The directed experience of Your Colour Memory has precedence in Bruce Nauman’s Floating Room: Lit from Inside (1972) that also requires the participation of the viewer in an installation space that creates a specific, directed experience.
Ultimately the difference between the two installations lies in the treatment of the viewer. Whereas Eliasson creates a spectacle for the viewer as subject, Rehberger maintains the equality of viewer and artwork and thus maintains the freedom of the viewer toaccept or reject the work.