I now considered options for hanging the paddles and photographs in the booth. I had it in mind to show the paddles as a unit as if they had been lifted straight from the river, and it was important that I showed a coherent piece of connected engineering. A vertical hanging seems most practical to fit the space so I experimented with this below. This vertical arrangement is distinct from how they were stretched horizontally in the river but I think this emphasises that they have been lifted out of that environment into this new space to drip dry. We are witnessing the remnants of the action of the river on the waterwheels, they are distorted slightly, discoloured and show signs of wear. This sneak view of the landscape adds far more than any pristine structure would. This vertical arrangement also mirrors the path of the river shown on the sheets behind.
The method of hanging the photographs was the next consideration. One option was to hang a set of five in symmetry with the waterwheels. This is visually appealing but symmetry is not a natural phenomenon and the installation is now clamouring for breath. The photographs are too dominant and crowd out the real stars of the show – the paddles and the text flowing over the sheets. I also remember my artist research and how the most successful contextual information in the form of photographs was separated from the actual installation. The viewer must be made to glimpse the two sets of information separately and have the light bulb moment of making the connection.
From my artist research, I also learnt how contextual photography for a mixed-media installation can have more impact if it envelopes a space, rather than being part of it. So below I removed the photographs from the central hanging space and I believe this layout is more successful. The asymmetry of the arrangement works well, as does the natural colour contrast of the wood against the material. An added bonus is how the natural lighting falls on the paddles and creates different tones and shadows on the floor and backdrop. There is breathing space around the culmination of my work that is necessary to give it the focus that it deserves.
Below I put in place the backdrop, paddles and photographs together with the printed postcards on a plinth. The separation is more relaxing and less confrontational than having all objects in a single line of sight. It’s interesting that each object now looks more affirmative due to it standing alone. Also, the paddles take centre stage but the side walls also look affirmative and have earned their place as links in the story I’m telling.
I can imagine a viewer stepping into the booth and feeling enclosed in my world and then having to glance to either side to make sense of what they are seeing. I really enjoy how that story is on both sides of them (as well as in front) and it is the gaps in between my creations that must be filled. I return again to the free play concept of Immanuel Kant – that joyous encounter of making sense of seemingly unrelated concepts – as I think the arrangement below has set the stage for such a viewer experience.
The one aspect I’m not happy with is the backdrop to the lower half of the back wall. This is disruptive and spoils the cleanliness of the installation. The view out of the window through the material is superb so I don’t want the lower part of the installation to spoil this. I’ll search for some suitable material to stretch across the back wall to offer a neutral backdrop as I think this will enhance the view and reduce clutter.
Summary & next steps
This evaluation of different presentation ideas has been a useful lesson in the power of empty space. Again and again, throughout my studies I’ve been challenged to take things away to make what remains more meaningful and I think I’ve achieved this here once again. It takes confidence to remove artistic clutter and a delicate balance must be struck between that and taking too much away, but I’m confident that the essence of my river journey is represented here.