Imagination and the Suspension of Reality

In early 2014, I went with my father to the David Zwirner Gallery and waited in the cold February winds to see Doug Wheeler’s installation. Within the Gallery, Wheeler had created what one might call an infinity space, but what the artist dubbed a “rotational horizon work.” The visitor entered a room to find a white space which Wheeler had carefully sculpted and lighted to create the illusion that the space extended indefinitely. Even standing directly in front of the wall it appeared as if I could run forward for miles. The experience was surreal and unlike anything I have ever encountered before or after that moment. It was if I had awoken from a deep sleep to find that the world had gone blank. Wheeler created a physical space with plaster and lights capable of deceiving the human eye, a space that computer scientists could only do with virtual reality glasses. Although, Wheeler is associated with the Light and Space movement, his work may also be classified as a synthetic environment. The “rotational horizon work” shares an important commonality with Rirkrit Tiravanija’s 2004’s retrospective at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Despite vastly different construction, both works are fictional environments which rely heavily on the visitor’s imagination and the suspension of reality.

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(Doug Wheeler, Rotational Horizontal Work, 2014, https://www.davidzwirner.com)

As described in 2004 article, “No Ghosts in the Wall,” Tiravanija’s retrospective did not in fact exhibit any of his previous works of art. Rather, Tiravanija, acting as a docent rather than himself, walked a group of visitors through the exhibition while reciting a planned tour, describing each work of art that was not present. At the close of the tour, Tiravanija would state: “Tiravanija and the curators believed that this is one of the possible ways this body of work could be represented. There is no object, no picture, no moment no space and even perhaps no time, but in this void of representation we hope you have imagined a picture of your own, a memory of your own, and that in the end it was an experience of its own making” (Tiravanija, 153). Each visitor in the group heard the same scripted remarks, but in the absence of any grounding visual clues, each visitor’s imagination would naturally create a unique version of the retrospective within each of their minds. As the Tiravanija details, this is brought about by the “void,” a suspension of all grounding elements. In this manner, viewer enters their imagination, a wonderfully malleable space that is not always easily accessible to all.

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(Rirkrit Tiravanija, Rirkrit Tiravanija: A Retrospective, 2004, http://nevolution.typepad.com)

The “void” which Tiravanija leverages to enact his retrospective may very well resemble the space which Doug Wheeler created physically. As a completely empty, white expansive space, the “rotational horizon work” recalls the colloquial phrase: “my mind is blank.” While this phrase often carries negative connotations, suggesting an impossibility to recall information, Wheeler’s space and Tiravanija’s retrospective push the viewer to recognize that a blank mind is a bank canvas. Stimulation is a deceiving concept. Through the exploration of the void in both of their works, Wheeler and Tiravanija demonstrate that the elimination visual stimulation in fact pushes humans to reconnect and spark their imaginations.

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