Any work of art, pretty much like theatre, would have no reason to be (and perhaps it wouldn’t even exist) if it wasn’t for its audience, and the emotional connection it stirs within them. Relational aesthetics is the current of contemporary fine art that researches this relationship with the production of sculptures or installations aimed to involve the onlooker in its creation, evolution, completion and sometimes destruction, often making the human component the very focus of the artwork.
Local artist Stephanie Yeo graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours First Class in Fine Arts and was also awarded The Wolverhampton Art Gallery Prize: “Every year, a Degree Show is held at the university where final year students present their end projects in an exhibition. Some art officials are invited to the show to speak to artists and judge the work; I was fortunate enough to win the top prize with my work Perception,” Stephanie says. “I decided to bring it over to Gibraltar, as I was given the opportunity to display it in a joint exhibition at GEMA gallery. It is now on permanent display at the University of Gibraltar.”
People don’t just witness art, but they actually become part of it.
At the moment, the sculpture, with its components huddled together, is located in a bright hall, where its colours dazzle in the glow filtering down the skylight, but the original concept dictated a darkened venue in which the geometric solids were scattered around to allow for comfortable paths for the audience to walk amongst and around them at leisure, torches in hand, in order to cast shadows on the surrounding walls and on the floor.
These ever-moving shadows thus become the centrepiece of the ever-changing artwork, mixing the solid opacity cast by your body, or highlighted parts of it, with the tricks of coloured light shining through the transparent panels. Each member of the audience can interact with the installation, aesthetically pleasing on its own right, but static at the beginning, and the visitor can condition its impact on how art is truly experienced by the individual.
For Stephanie, it is paramount that people don’t just witness art, but they actually become part of it: “You project the shadow, you produce the shadow, and you can control the shadow through the angle and intensity of your torch beam,” she says. “You are actually encouraged to touch my artwork, to see how the light plays its panels’ colours on your skin, for example.”
“I want my art to challenge the idea that only the artist can make art.”
There are artists out there who make the audience build their own sculptures by providing basic shapes in an exhibition room, and inviting its visitors to arrange or pile them in congenial designs, so that with a limited number of basic shapes, the individual imagination can string together a collective exhibition, when every permutation is documented.
Stephanie still needs to elaborate further on this particular aspect, since her pieces are so sizeable and weighty that it isn’t advisable for the audience to lift them, but she is working on her own idea of ‘painting with light’; a form of evanescent portraiture, each existing for only as long as the torch beam is held steadily, and each a single tableau in a gallery.
An experiment of this idea was seen in the piece exhibited at the 46th Gibraltar International Art Competition. Titled Perception II, it consists of a thick frame where several layers of clear acetate sheets are mounted in parallel sequence, each featuring the outline of parts of a woman’s face in different colours.
“I would love to hold an exhibition.”
If you look straight at it, you’ll see the parts come together and her portrait take shape at a slant, eyes, mouth, nose and cheekbones highlighted in bright colours. This is just the prologue of the story though: a sign invites the audience to pick up the torch provided and shine its light through the composition towards the blank screen placed behind it, in order to project the portrait, magnified and manipulated on the wall, and enjoy the change in expression afforded by movement and intensity of light.
Stephanie picked fine arts for her university career because she wanted to become a painter at first, but she was offered a selection of cutting-edge modules in sculpture and photography, so she shifted her interest towards the current research into breaking all barriers between art and audience: “I want to blur the lines, and put focus on involving people in my art. I want my art to be a platform for social interactions, to challenge the idea that only the artist can make art but instead, be a facilitator for the audience to create art their own.”
Stephanie’s art is costly and time-consuming, that’s why her production isn’t too extensive at the moment, besides the fact that it needs room for accommodation: “I usually work on my dad’s balcony, but ideally I’d need a proper covered studio, with no constraints of space and time.”
She works with steel rods and Perspex, a technique she has perfected through trial and error: “Steel rods were readily available to me whilst at university, but one needed some sort of expert supervision when welding it at the school. Once soldered them into the geometric shape, I was faced with the challenge of cutting and attaching Perspex panels to them. I tried piercing them and tying them together with string, but this was too visually distracting, especially in the projected shadows, so I eventually settled for epoxy resin glue and black duct tape to cover any spaces between the Perspex sheets and steel rods. Perspex wasn’t my first choice either, because it can be pricy, I started my experimentation with coloured cellophane. This however, is too flimsy and it sags, cracks, caves easily, so it made my sculpture impractical to transport. Any sort of touch would cause it to break, so this hindered my idea to involve the audience.”
She also worked with wood, an example of this was seen in last year’s Young Art Competition, where she won first prize for her piece Modern Identity, but the overall effect is quite different, and she’d rather go for the steel feel, which adds a touch of contemporary cool.
“I would love to hold an exhibition to show my journey from painting to interactive sculpture, featuring the various stages gone into the final realisation. I usually start with sketches, because I have plenty of ideas, but not all of them are suitable to be moulded into reality, whether because they wouldn’t stand the test of time or wouldn’t be freestanding.”
Once she is satisfied with the feasibility of a project: “I craft paper models, a bit like origami, to see how the different panels and corners would click together and how it would look in real 3D, which cannot be fully appreciated in the blueprint. Eventually, I cut into the Perspex and assemble the parts.”
Before going all the way with Perspex, Stephanie worked with light-filter sheets, generally used in theatres to add mood lighting: she cut rhombuses and other basic geometrical shapes out of different coloured sheets and mounted them into chandelier-like structures that can be hanged or dangled from the ceiling fan or lamp: the artwork is the set of coloured designs projected on the wall, and can be enjoyed like a kaleidoscope, with the added bonus of opaque shadows thrown in the equation when someone walks in the room: here, art can become cross-disciplinary, should someone stage a Chinese shadow-theatre style drama with the room hosting Stephanie’s installations.
Visit Stephanie’s Instagram @stephanie_yeo_art to keep updated on her artistic progress.