This past Friday, my wife Nancy and I attended Installation Nation, presented by Indianapolis-based Primary Colours and hosted by the Indianapolis Art Center. This is the fourth installment of the popular outdoor art installation event that in the past has been known for using industrial size shipping containers as makeshift gallery spaces. As a regular on the First Friday Gallery Tour scene, it's great when an opportunity to experience art in an unconventional setting comes along. Installation Nation has been one of the rare local events that provides this opportunity.
For those of you who are not familiar with Primary Colours, it's a volunteer-based nonprofit visual arts organization that is probably best known for the Art vs. Art annual event. This extremely popular, and sometimes controversial, Art meets Game Show extravaganza results in works being purchased or destroyed, depending on either the crowd's aesthetic taste or alcohol consumption. Like Installation Nation, Art vs. Art plays right into Primary Colours mission statement; "to facilitate interaction between the visual arts and the community."
For some background information on installation art in Indy, my earliest encounter with it dates back to Mass Ave in the late 1990s and an event called Installation Fest. Shawn Miller, of then 4 Star Gallery, invited area artists to create temporary outdoor installation works along the avenue. I specifically remember a piece Greg Hull constructed of several hundred hay bales that made quite an impression on me. Shawn continued IF as an annual event for the next four years; it then came to an end. In the Spring of 2000, Primary Colours would dust off the model, and add its own twist of providing shipping containers for artists to use as they wish to present their works.
To gain some perspective on this year's show, I spoke with Jeff Martin, former Primary Colours board member and the driving force behind the first Installation Nation event. (Martin is also a participant in this year's event at the Art Center). I asked Jeff about why this event initially came about and the changes the event has been through - particularly the decision not to use shipping containers this year. "Prior to the first event, the opportunities locally to do installation art pieces were few and far between. Through Primary Colours, I saw an occasion to create an event that would cater to artists that do this type of work, and at the same time, fill a void in the local art scene." Martin added, "With this year's partnership with the Art Center and their facilities, I think the organizers saw a chance to move away from the shipping containers and use the grounds as the backdrop for the work." He continued, "Working outdoors, compared to the interior of a shipping container, is a complete contrast. With the containers, you can control the environment: light, sound, weather and how people move through the space. An outdoor installation is a completely different animal - you have to create a piece with that in mind."
As Nancy and I walked from one installation to the next, the materials and applications were as varied as the concepts behind the work. One piece titled, The Drake Paradox dealt with one's belief in extraterrestrial life. Another titled, Yaw, Pitch and Roll portrayed microscopic parallels between the human body and nature, Jeff Martin's piece, Barreladons, utilized discarded fuel tanks to create a series of Dali-esque spindle-legged striding creatures.
Given Martin's experience as a former gallery owner, I asked him to compare the audience's reaction to the installations with that of a gallery setting. "The installation setting is much less formal, and I think the work is more accessible. For many, art galleries can be intimidating, expectations are different. We had an art crowd, but then we had families and people walking in off the Monon Trail -- I think the diverse crowd helped mix it up."
Nancy and I enjoyed the experience. Overall, we thought the quality and presentation of work was very high, and walking the grounds of the Art Center while looking at art was a great way to spend a Friday evening. Martin mentioned that two of the installations came from out of state, a first for the event. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Primary Colours has in store for next year. With the success of this event and Primary Colours' track record, we're looking forward to it.