Erkki Soininen

Aesthetic Interests and Aesthetic Qualities

The term ”installation” has established itself firmly as a part of the vocabulary of the visual arts. Many artists and critics have referred so the activity as an expression of the concept of Gesammtkunstwerk, a total work of art, as it appears in borrow from the vast spectrum of disciplines. Its history, while often ill-defined, grows out of the individual narratives presented by architecture, painting, sculpture, theatre and performance. It comes as no surprise that in its contemporary manifestation, installation continues to express its former allegiances. The practice is therefore defined by its ”hybrid” quality, concentrating diverse, even contradictory notions within its influence.

--- Nicola de Oliveira, Nicholas Oxley and Michael Petry, 1993.

The problem with with which we must begin is not ”What is Installation Art?” but ”What sort of concept is Installation Art?” Indeed, the root of art history /criticism is to explain the relation between the employment of certain kinds of concepts and the conditions under which they can be correctly applied. In contrasting installation art and the aesthetic objects one must be aware of the manner in which installation art exists, whether as a real object or in some other form.

One may posit the question: Is Installation Art a physical object having specific form or is it rather something which is constructed on the basis of a physical object as an entirely new creation brought into being by the creative activity the artist? The essence of this activity, as pointed out by the Finnish media/installation artist, Erkki Soininen, concists of specific acts of consiciousness in the artist, but these invariably manifest themselves in certain physical operations directed by the artist´s creative will which bring into being or transform a certain physical object ---the material--- bestowing upon it that form whereby it becomes the existential substrate of the work of art itself, for example a work of literature or music, a picture or photograph, a piece of design or architecture, etc., and at the same time assuring to it relative durability and accessibility to a multiplicity of observers.


Nevertheless in its structure and properties installation art always extends beyond its material substrate, the real ”thing” which ontologically supports it, although the properies of the substrate are not irrelevant to the porperties of the work of art which depends upon it.

Installation Art of whatever kind has the distinguishing feature that it is not the sort of thing which is completely deter- mind in every respect by the primary level variables of its qualities; in other words, it contains within itself character- istic lacunae in definition, areas of indeterminateness: it is, as Soininen´s works demostrate --- for example, Domestic Objects, Bunratty Folk Park, Ireland, 1996 --- a schematic creation. Furthermore, not all its determinants, components, or qualities are in a state of actuality, but some them are potencial only. In view of this installation art requires an agent existing outside itself, that is an observer, in order --- as I express it --- to render it concrete. Through his co-cre- ative activity in apprectiation the observer sets himself as is commonly said to ”interpret” the work or, as I prefer to say, to reconstruct it in its effective characteristics, and in doing this as it were under the influence of suggestions coming from the work itself he fills out its schematic structure, plenishing at least in part the areas of interminacy and actu- alising various elements which are as yet only in a state of potentiality.

In this way there comes about what I have called a ”concretion” of the work of art. Installation Art then, is the product of the intentional activities of the artist; the concretion of the work is not only the reconstrucion thanks to the activi- ty of the observer of what is effectively inherent in the work, but also completion of the work and the actualisation of the moments of potentiality. It is this in a way the common product of artist and observer. In its nature Soininen´s con- cretion goes beyond the schematic structure of the traditional notion of the work of art, but at the same time it is, or at any rate it can be, that which achieves a full and complete image --- or at any rate a more complete image than in any likeness which is at variance with the work itself. Empirically, the artist`s work is always manifested to the observer in some concretion; litterature, plumbing, buildings, maps, etc. But this does not prevent the observer/interpreter trying to appherend the work in its pure schematic structure together with its characteristic potentialities. But this mode of experiencing Insallation Art demands a specific attitude and exertions in the observer if he is to withhold himsel from all arbittary completion of qualitative indeterminacies while at the same time taking full account of the special charac- ter of its every monment of potentiality


There are thus two possible ways in which Soininen´s Intsallation Art can be perceived. The act of perception may occur in the aesthetic experience of the object, the installation itself, or --- as frequentely happens in the reading of literature --- with the objects of informing oneself about the vicissitudes of the characters depicted in the work or some other matter of extra-literary fact about which a reader can obtain information on the basis of the work of art.

By reading James Joyce`s Ulysses, for example, scholars can familiarise themselves with the striking psychological realism of the narrative, the fictitious personages and use of ”silent monologue.” For Soininen , Joyce´s Ulysses is not only an inspirational construct but also provides a source and context for his installation art. The artist´s approach --- abstract an metaphorical --- is based on sites, landmarks and isntitutions to be found in Ulysses, ” My plan, he says, is to select a site, landmark or institution and activation it conceptually through object or material connected to the work of the writer.” However, Soininen`s Installation Art is not constant or permanent of Joycean sense. Nor does he intend it to be. The parts do not follow each other in logical sequence. His transcriptions may thus be interpreted as single inci- dents at a particular moment in time. On the other hand, unlike a literary work, Soininen`s transcriptions are charac- terised by two or three-dimensional objects suspended in visual space. A literary work first and foremost a linguistic sound-phenomena; on the other hand the remaining ot the words and sentences, in virtue of which the higher-level units of meaning emerge and from them the representional content of the work an the aspects in which the subject matter is presented.

Although Soininen´s transcriptions lack a dual stratifiction of language, they have, nonetheless, a means of presenting and defining objects as installation art. Though a multiplicity of objects – old shoes, socks, window frames, wooden barrels, water containers, etc. --- he addresses issues related to artistic value and aesthetic value. Artistic value, if we are to acknowledge its existens, is something that arises in the work of art itself and has its existential ground in that. Aesthetic value is something which manifests itself only in the aesthetic object and as a particular moment which de- termines the character of the whole. The ground of aesthetic value consists of certain aggregation of aesthetically valuable qualities, and they in turn rest upon the basis of a certain a aggregate of properties which render possible their emergence in an object. Both the one and the other kind of value assumes the existence of a complete work of art (or installation object). It is not important here how the constitution of both types of object have been arrived at. What is indubitable is the fact that for the constitution of an aesthetic object the co-creative activity of an observer is necessary and therefore several aesthetic objects may emerge on the basis of one and the same work of art and that these may differ among themselves in their aesthetic value.


A very great variety of aesthetically valuable qualities are exhibited in Soininen´s ”ready-made” objects. All of them are characterised by being something given directly to perception, or if one prefers the expression they are directly presented phenomena not something indirectly deducible from other data or something whose existence can only be inferred on the basis of an apprehension of the whole work. They are concretely present to experience. In order that aesthetically valuable may be constituded an aesthetic experience must be achieved since it is only in this kind of experience that these qualities come to realisation.

There first come to mind various emotional qualities such as those suggested by the expression `sublime,` `festive,` `serene;` `threatening,` `pathetic,` `dramtic,` ´tragic´etc. But there also, such qualities as in contrast which the foregoing, one might call intellectual, as for example `trite,` `dull,´ `boring,` `profound,´ ´interesting,´ ´acute,´ ´clever,´ ´witty, ´ ´pedestrian´and so on. There are also aspects of a formal character, such as uniformity and variety, harmony, and disharmony, awkwardness, coherence, expressiveness, dynamism and so on. Another class are ´artificial,´ ´affected,´ ´natural,´ ´simple,´ ´unaffected,´´exaggerated,´´genuine,´ ´false,´ ´insincere,´ ´lacking in integrity,´ and so on. In Soi- ninen´s Installation Art these qualities acquire an aesthetic value only when they are exhibited in an abstract/ experimental context. Every truly creative artist, poet, painter, musician, etc. , in creating works carries out certain experiments in the field. In composing his work the artist as it were sees ahead by creative intuition in the possible complexes of aesthetically valuable qualities and how they will conduce to the emergies of an overall aesthetic value in the work as a whole.

As the same time, Soininen tries to find the technical means to realise a particular complex by his choice to those es-thetically aesthetically neutral qualities (colours, forms, shapes, sounds, etc.) which by forming the skeleton of the work create objective conditions (i.e. Those on the side of the work of art) necessary for the realisation of the subjective conditions: that is, the existence of a suitable observer an the achievement o an aesthetic experience in space. If much of current installation practice appears to inhabit specific, physical space, it does so often inbounded by the arhitectural container. The work may essentially exist within the given space, yet this has not precluded artists, including Soininen, from transporting their audiences out of the surroundings into imagined places.


The aesthetic theory of Installation Art has, for Soininen, given rise to an analogy which seems to be gaining acceprance: a work of art is like a person. The dependence of aesthetic on nonaesthetic ones is similar to the dependence of character traits on the bodily disposition of persons.

As Soininen puts it: ”Occasionally my works are embodied in a physical object or physical event (per-or-nance) in which the some way a person is embodied in a human body. Such an approach... a collage of ideas, medias and events... depends on establishing a correspondence between the patterns of sound/music and the patterns of body/ movements in dance. ” The emergent entities are aesthetic qualities which are accesible only through direct and indirect experience. The process is one of serendipity. Again, there is no strange or architectural container. The aesthetic and physical properties of the artwork fuse into a person-like whole, the former constituting the ”mind,” the latter the ”body”--- likewise, when we want to locate an artwork we look for its ”body,” namely the physical material in which it is embodied, as delimited by the conventions of media. It has often been observed the flow of sound, music and dance, for example, hears striting resemblances to the flow of meaningful human discourse.

If we set aside physical objects as such and consider physical events --- the things that objects do, or that happen to them --- the imitative power of sound, music and dance becomes considerably more noteble. Sound is at least a process, and certain things can be saind of all processes, including physival changes, whether locomotion (changes position) or qualititive change. All processes have such kinetic qualities as ´pace,´´tension,´´momentum, ´´climax, ´crescendo,´´fading away.´ And one process, say a dance one, can be similar to another in its kinetic pattern. Thus the dance can undoubtedly imitate to some extent the kinetic aspects of musical sound: ´rushing,´ ´staggering,´ ´creeping,` `rush ´wavering,´ ´romping,´ ´driving, ` ´soaring,´ ´flying,´´falling,´etc. For Soininen sound , music and dance highlight: the schematic natureof his installations, are analogues perhaps to the ” repsentational ” dimensions of his objects.


Moreover, this brings us back to the basic question: ”What sort of concept is Installation Art?” Installation Art essentially relies on a multiplicity of forms and attitudes leading to projects which positively make use of process to reaffirm an problematise their open-endedness manifest in complex comtextuality an shifting temporality. Installation Art is its parts in relation to each other but is experienced as a whole. Installation Art is greater than the sum of its parts. Insallation Art is based in the aesthetic experience that in the end cannot be fully described, depicted, recorded or explained. The observer/interpreter, who in the act of experiencing the work, acts as catalyst and receptor.

Installation Art, as perceived by Soininen, teaches us that artifacts can guide and ahape our vision of the world that are referred to by the repsentations we make, where the act fo reference is itself a creative act and nor merely a matching of pregiven similarities or identifies. One might say, then, that Installation Art is the result of a conceptual assimilatio of heuristic and didactive artifacts. They teach us to see: thet guide our visions in such a way taht the seen world becames.

--- Michael Casey