25 May 2016
Walking into Andrea Božić and Julia Willms’ installation The Cube, before I’d even taken in its visual material, I was aware of being immersed in its loud, (but not painfully so) natural, atmospheric sound design. Then I focused on the projection on the end wall. This showed a semblance of a white cube-like space that extended or mirrored the walls and ceiling of the room in which I and my fellow spectators were sitting.
This part of the Stadsschouwburg has two mid-twentieth century modern chandeliers and two more virtual ones were hanging in line with them from the ceiling of the virtual cube. In the latter was a landscape which, after a few minutes, slowly merged into another one.
Many of the landscapes were Alpine. But there were also storms, a tornado, the Northern Lights, a shoal of little fishes swarming out of the way of predatory sharks, and a jellyfish that looked curiously as if it might be a distant relative of the Stadsschouwburg’s chandeliers. All these places and events always remained part of the white cube-like space, sometimes filling it, at other times contained in a box or as a low platform on the floor. Always at least some of the wall, or floor, or ceiling of the virtual extension of the room remained visible.
semblance and affordance
To a certain extent, The Cube was a semblance of a stage, and the projections were scenography, (Peter Pabst created some wonderful landscape-based sets with rocks and water for later Pina Bausch productions.) But, as I will discuss shortly, part of what is fascinating about The Cube is that you can’t really categorise it. What it does is afford its beholder an immersive experience.
The floor of the room in the Stadsschouwburg had large black tiles and their grid continued in the virtual space. The perspective wasn’t quite right from where I was sitting. It tipped up slightly like a raked stage. Very quickly I found that I’d forgotten this and was totally immersed in the projected landscapes.
J.J. Gibson worked, in the 1940s, for the US Air Force researching whether flight simulators were any use for the training of pilots. His conclusion was that the virtual spaces that they simulated were useful because they afforded trainee pilots opportunities for learning techniques that they could transfer to real situations. The Cube affords its beholders opportunities for imagination.
on top of the world
There are no real mountains in England, and nothing like the Alps in either Scotland or Wales. I love the Alps. I love the views you get from summits and high ridges; the little high valleys (Alpages) with wild flowers that don’t grow lower down; the little, very blue lakes nestling just below a summit or a high pass; the little pockets of rather grey snow one passes on high sheltered slopes still not melted in July; the high moonscapes of gravel where, if you look closely, you can find tiny little Alpine flowers like edelweiss, or the snail whose giant image slowly slides over gravel in one moment in The Cube.
It all sounds very romantic, like the sheer, sublime mountain scenes that artists like Turner and Caspar David Friedrich painted at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In these, the over-powering forces of nature made humans seem tiny and ineffectual. This is part of the cultural baggage that Božić and Willms are dealing with in The Cube.
It is obvious from what I’ve just written that I have an affective response to the imagery in The Cube. The particular landscapes they show – and not all of them are Alpine – avoid the sentimental clichés of the tourist brochure or the grandiose conventions of much C19th romantic landscape painting. The way we affect and are affected by the environment is as important now as it was in Turner’s day, perhaps even more important. There is a need for new ways of looking and thinking about human and non-human relations that are relevant to contemporary values and concerns.
Published on 25.05.2016