Art Installations About Silence and Stillness


The Guggenheim’s latest installation only allows five visitors in at one time. Doug Wheeler’s PSAD Synthetic Desert III will be on view at the museum through August 2. From Co.Design:

When the Guggenheim bought Doug Wheeler’s PSAD Synthetic Desert III as part of a large acquisition of Minimalist and Conceptual art in 1992, the piece had never before been realized. For nearly 50 years, it remained a series of drawings created in the late 1960s—ambitious blueprints that described the famed light and space artist’s first installation that would also incorporate the sense of sound. Now, the immersive installation has finally been brought to life in a physical installation, with the Guggenheim opening PSAD Synthetic Desert III to the public last week.

We look at Wheeler’s work and other artists who use silence or stillness in their installations in our gallery.

Doug Wheeler, PSAD Synthetic Desert III

From the Guggenheim:

For PSAD Synthetic Desert III (1971), Doug Wheeler has altered the structure and configuration of a museum gallery in order to control optical and acoustic experience. He has transformed the room into a hermetic realm, a “semi-anechoic chamber” designed to minimize noise and induce a sensate impression of infinite space. Wheeler likens this sensation of light and sound to the perception of vast space in the deserts of northern Arizona. While Synthetic Desert is deeply grounded in the artist’s experience of the natural world, the work does not describe the landscape. Its form is strictly abstract.

Simon Heijdens, Silent Room

“I thought it would be nice to create a black hole inside that — somewhere where people can go inside, almost like a cold shower of silence.”

Cai Guo-Qiang, Silent Ink

When silence becomes a way to mourn. “Silent Ink represents the negative effects of pollution. This installation includes a shallow and long pool of black ink that sits in the middle of a room where heaps of rocks and wires lay against white walls.”

Photo credit: Ken Kato

Makihara Taisuke

From Tokyo Art Beat:

Makihara’s work is a conscious exploration of sensorial distortion. By reconfiguring the relationships we have to ‘everyday’ objects, in terms of scale and time, the sense of normality underpinning our experience of self is also ripe for scrutiny. In subtle ways, using objects and his own actions, the artist encourages a reconsideration of the spatial and temporal dimensions of our sensorial experience.But Makihara’s oversized forest of percussion, well out of reach, is rendered completely silent by its very size; the gallery is left as quiet as it is full. If one considers what might happen if one were to topple a couple of these towering cymbals, it becomes evident that although silenced, they retain a potent imminence. And yet when remembering the initial view of the cymbals from the balcony, there is an additional irony: from there the cymbals are too low to reach, whereas from here below, they are set too high.

Sounds of Silence (Petra Eichler and Susanne Kessler)

The silence of dreams in Eichler and Kessler’s paper-cut forest.

Chiharu Shiota, In Silence

From Designboom:

Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota presents ‘In Silence’, a site-specific installation for Art Basel 2013 featuring an abandoned piano concert that has been wrapped a thick layer of black thread. The instrument reveals fire markings, having been burned, and sits completely charred in the middle of the space while two rows of empty chairs fan around it. the entire scene is concealed beneath a complex network of interwoven yarn, canvassing every element including the seats and incinerated piano. The wool strands are interconnected and respond to the architecture of the space by clinging to the gallery walls and twisting into the ceiling, translating the entire room into a massive webbed display.

Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present

From the New York Times on Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, which the artist said is “about stillness and about literally doing nothing and being in the present”:

At 5 p.m. Monday one of the longest pieces of performance art on record, and certainly the one with the largest audience, comes to an end. Since her retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art on March 14, the artist Marina Abramovic has been sitting, six days a week, seven hours a day in a plain chair, under bright klieg lights, in MoMA’s towering atrium. When she leaves that chair Monday for the last time, she will have clocked 700 hours of sitting. During that time her routine seldom varied. Every day she took her place just before the museum doors opened and left it after they closed. Her wardrobe was consistent: a sort of concert gown with a long train, in one of three colors (red, blue and white). Always her hair, in a braided plait, was pulled forward over her left shoulder. Always her skin was an odd pasty white, as if the blood had drained away. Her pose rarely changed: her body slightly bent forward, she stared silently and intently straight ahead. There was one variable, a big one: her audience. Visitors to the museum were invited, first come first served, to sit in a chair facing her and silently return her gaze. The chair has rarely, if ever, been empty. Close to 1,400 people have occupied it, some for only a minute or two, a few for an entire day.

Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, Silent Sound

Using silence as a way to communicate without words. From Iain and Jane:

Silent Sound is a potent mix of art, music and psychological experimentation, borrowing techniques from the Victorian séance room and the pseudoscience of subliminal communication. The work taps into the potential of music to to communicate emotively, but in a move to resolve a more resonant and powerful impact, it attempts to employ the audience’s mind, imagination and beliefs as a site for the work. Silent Sound invites audiences to open themselves up to the possibility that the artists might be able to transmit meaning to them without the intermediary of words. Silent Sound was also inspired in part by Victorian entertainers Ira and William Davenport, who were famed for attempting to contact the souls of the dead using their ‘spirit cabinet’. During the live performance of Silent Sound a single phrase was repeated live by the artists from within a soundproof cabinet designed to echo that used by the Davenport brothers, who performed on the same stage in 1865. Their voices were fed into the Silent Sound machine to be embedded silently inside the live music recital.