by Josianne Facchetti

How It Is ñ an installation by Miroslaw Balka at Tate Modern ñ is a journey into the darkness and the void as viewers confront the unknown. As they walk through the container, which Balka calls a sculpture, they touch the darkness and feel the soft furry sides of the sculpture. They create their unique journey and experience as they become part of the art for that specific moment.
Installations are a genre of contemporary art. This art form has opposing reactions from the public: some detest it, saying it is not art, while others love it. This type of art is at times grossly misunderstood and at times admired for being daring and different.
The majority of us think of art in terms of painting, poetry, sculpture, film and so on. However, installation art does not conform to these established parameters and goes beyond the accepted boundaries of what most people consider to be art.
The beauty and horror of installation art is that it defies the rules,leaving the artist with ample space to experiment. It is when these boundaries are stretched or broken by the artist that some find it hard to accept the new form as art.
The term ëinstallationí did not come into modern use until the 1970s, although this form of art started in the 1960s or earlier. Installation art was often composed of temporary creations as part of a movement to undermine the idea of art as collectable objects.
In Malta, installations were introduced in the 1960s when Gabriel Caruana, inspired by the Biennale of Venice, created a form of installation at the entrance of the Museum of Fine Arts, now the Archaeological Museum.
It consisted of large inflated bus tyres stacked loosely on top of each other, and enlarged bus tickets stuck to some of the tyres. Caruana says his intention was to recycle ordinary everyday objects into art.
This first form of installation was treated with indifference by the public, caused a stir among museum officials and was praised by the media. Caruana does not think art should be just to please the viewer but it should come from deep within and be expressed by using different media.
His installation left an impact and influenced future artists ñ namely Patrick Fenech and Pierre Portelli ñ who later created installation art themselves.

Installations can incorporate several media ñ videos, digital technology, paintings, light, sound, projected imagery and organic material and appeal to all the sensory organs. Vince Briffa uses multimedia in works such as Alternative Journeys where he incorporates dual video projection, sound, mirror and text.

Installations are site-specific. According to Portelli, the space and art have to be one and they have to be synchronised. If not, the work is not really an installation. An example among many is Raphael Vellaís
The Politics of Library Furniture, where the room is part of the art.

Installation art is not viewed in the normal way a sculpture or a painting is, but the viewer can take an active part in it ñ to walk through the art, to smell it, to be surrounded by it and to feel what is intended by the artist. This in turn creates an intense experience for the viewer.

Thus, the gap between the viewer and the artist is bridged or removed as viewers are given the chance to get involved.

Jason Lu says he wants to engage the viewer on a deeper psychological and spiritual level. One of Luís installations ñ The Awakening ñ consists of 666 plaster of Paris 6cm cubes with an eye sculpted into each side.

These cubes were placed on the sand and in the sea at Ghajn Tuffieha bay for an afternoon. It took Lu an average of 16 hours of work per day for three weeks to sculpt and dye all the blocks and to turn the picture in his head into reality. Lu says The Awakening is about the evolution of creatures from the sea to the land and the awakening of the six chakras, rep- resented by six colours.

Portelli used the space at St James Cavalier to totally transform the area by placing an eight-metre container of black water with little paper ships floating in it. The enormity of the pool took people by surprise. Viewers were encouraged to write something on the ships and place them in the pool. The artist remembers picking up and opening one of these paper ships to find a message from a San Andrea school girl. He met and communicated with this little girl through the installation art and bridged the gap between him and the young viewer.

Installation art has no formula. Portelli says using a set formula that works is not really art, and unless the artist experiments with different media, there will be stag-nation in his or her art.

Finding a formula that works for the public and churning out much of the same is not being sincere as an artist because art is about expressing and inspiring.

Installations prove art is alive because this form of art is continuously changing in shape, concept and medium. It does not matter if it pleases or not, what matters is that it comes from deep within the artist.

Vella says: ìSometimes, artists deal with difficult or divisive issues that many just do not want to come to terms with, and this makes their work ëcontroversialí or ëdifficultí. Perhaps we should accept the idea that one of the major roles of art during the last 100 years has been of pushing the boundaries of ëgood tasteí.î

There comes a point when we have to let go of any preconceived ideas of what we think art is and be open to the installation art that is presented to us. Only then can we truly experience, feel the sensation and even enjoy the art by actually participating.