We live in an era of anxiety and this pernicious ‘ailment of the century’ disturbs our sensory responses to the outside world. Otherwise peaceful places are seen as becoming somehow twisted, with anxious minds interpreting them as being surprisingly hostile. Thus, the diffuse and unstable character of anxiety has inspired Claustrophobia of Open Spaces at CIRCA, presented as two environments – the aquatic and the deserted – that translate the troubled effects of this disorder.
Nelly-Ève Rajotte, known for her outdoor video projections, uses images to transform architecture and urban spaces into open-air cinema. Images of anonymous landscapes and other enigmatic non-places merge with eclectic soundscapes that the artist creates so as to dramatize our assessment of the environments presenting the videos.
Rajotte uses her characteristic videographic devices but locates the reception of her work in the centre of the white cube gallery. Her video projections elsewhere sublimate architectural and urban spaces; here in the restrained context at CIRCA, they generate an immersive work, a media gesamkunstwerk1 that is anxiously mesmerizing. These video projection strategies transform the enclosed area and open up emotional landscapes. Experiencing them is promoted as the very purpose of the activity.
Claustrophobia of Open Spaces is staged to present a contemplative space where the experience is all-consuming. This tension is heightened by the discreet, low-frequency rumbling sound that David Kristian has created to stimulate anxiety: a subtle tool producing an obscure feeling that never fully assert its existence.
The sound does not exist ‘objectively’ but makes its presence felt. Thus it anchors the work in a spatial-temporal reality parallel to that of representation. The sound fades at the same time as it resonates, feeding into the viewer’s experience as a presence that is always incomplete. In this way, the sound circumscribes a space that is outside of the projection. Claustrophobia of Open Spaces dilutes the natural within the technological just as the use of sound breaks open the structure of representation into actual experience. Sound remains a non-traditional material and establishes a deconstructed relationship with representation, redirecting it away from its material support. In other words, sensory perception here is as full and whole as the sound medium is fragmentary. The sound crosses the boundaries of the installation, but without its own identity it remains elusive. The sound adds a new fracture to the array of dualisms – nature/culture, life/death, presence/ absence – that are inherent in representation, a divide between the singular receptivity of the viewer and a disintegration of the components of representation. In this way, sound incarnates the specific splintering effects of anxiety and of mediated tools that are often marginalized in visual arts.
Sound shapes the interpretation of pictorial and physical environments; it absorbs various contexts and imposes its increasingly intense tone. This approach to representation shifts the focus of contemplation to the experience itself as a mobile and active sculptural model. The experience animates the space of representation. Thus, Claustrophobia of Open Spaces never promotes neutral representation, but always troubles it.
In both spaces at CIRCA, Claustrophobia of Open Spaces presents natural universes in which the recording shows human intervention or presence. The spaces share the same soundtrack as well as a certain formal complementarity so as to mark a strictly conceptual boundary between their emotional receptions. Thus they manifest the raw purity of nature as well as its dissolution in the mechanical world, amplified by the speed of the frame rate.
Minimal and ghostly representations of elements merge into organic movement and electronic images. Non-naturalistic effects of editing interpret a kind of disappearance or the slow death of the original in the theatrical setting. The work’s temporality is aligned with the movement, relegating nature then to a disturbing décor. Claustrophobia of Open Spaces showcases the complexity of the effects inherent in the experience of a place. The media installations produce environments in which the sensorial range oscillates between intoxication and suffocation. This experience is coupled with a sense of distance and remoteness that compels the viewer to adopt a meditative position, an awareness of the self, observing.
The structure of the exhibition does not let one take in the entire projection in one glance. The images and the gaze therefore move to autonomous rhythms and crystallize their irregular ballets around the body of the viewer. As the insistent sound reminds us, the environment is not limited to the projected surface of the videos, but includes the physical experience of the place. The weaving of sound, images and space positions the viewer at the heart of the representation. The exhibition’s immersive quality breaks with the customs and codes of classical representation: here individual experience and the senses replace the exercise of narrative interpretation, a closed, scholarly and specific process.
Claustrophobia of Open Spaces invades space to create confusion between the work and the experience of the work. The work overflows its reception and stimulates the viewer’s senses. This dislocation of the work and its experience provokes anxious feelings, finally leaving the viewers alone with their affects.
Claustrophobia of Open Spaces dislodges artistic discourse in order to stimulate its sensory reception. Rajotte’s formalist system so effectively enhances the viewer’s activity that through the insidious construction of an anxious response, one becomes aware of the play of interpretations and methods that are specific to art. In contrast to the ideal of a closed and defined artwork, Claustrophobia of Open Spaces emphasizes individual experience. The hybridity of the installation challenges the standardization of exhibitions and their reception. Receptivity then can be thought of in terms of perception and hearing so that the monumental presence of the work is negotiated specifically through the viewer’s sensory responses.
1An aesthetic concept from German philosophy that translates as a total work of art, a work that combines a diversity of mediums and art disciplines.
After completing a degree in art history, Nelly-Ève Rajotte began a second degree at the School of Visual and Media Arts (UQAM), and earned a Master’s degree in 2006. Since then she has explored the integration of video into architecture and has developed a parallel practice in audio-visual performance. Along with numerous exhibitions in Québec – at the SAT, the Darling Foundry, Parisian Laundry, Occurrence, CLARK, L’Œil de Poisson and Optica – her works have been presented at various festivals in Canada and abroad, such as MUTEK, International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal, International Short Film Festival Berlin, Official Selection Transmediale (Berlin), Moscow International Film Festival and the Finnish Contemporary Art Fair.
Dominique Sirois-Rouleau is an independent curator and critic. Her research is focused on the ontology of contemporary work and the notion of the object in current artistic practices. She has participated in numerous international conferences such as CIHA, the UAAC-UAAC and Acfas. Sirois-Rouleau’s comments on emerging arts discourse have been published in Art et politique (PUQ, 2011), Les plaisirs et les jours (PUQ, 2013), as well as in various catalogues and magazines such as RACAR, esse art + opinions, Espace art actuel and etc média. She holds a doctorate in art history and theory, and teaches at various universities in Quebec.