The quotient of time – past that could never revert, present built on the outcomes of the past, and a combination of past and present with the potential to the change the course of the future – has been an uncontested favourite theme among the creative minds. The architect and designer Emmanuelle Moureaux entwines the same theme with the notions of space with the installationSlices of Time at NOW Gallery, London. This installation forms a section of Moureaux’s larger installation series 100 colours.
This is the first time that the Tokyo -based French architect and artist Emmanuelle Moureaux is showcasing her work in London, which was selected by NOW Gallery, as part of its on-going Design Commission project. The title of the installation Slices of Time is inspired from the vicinity in which the gallery is situated i.e. Greenwich Meridian. The concept of time is represented through 120 slices of time with 1,68,000 small numbers carved in the round shape. The slices are suspended in the space that indicates the movement of the earth in a circular motion. Composed of 100 layers of numbers in 100 shades and 20 layers of numbers in white, the installation is a visual manifestation of the next 100 years to come (2020 to 2119) and the past 20 years (2000 to 2019) represented in white.
Moureaux, in an exclusive interview with STIR, explains what led her to shift from France to Tokyo, the transition that has come to define her artistic practice. “When I saw the cityscape of Tokyo for the first time when I was a student, I was so impressed by the colours in the city, thousands of colours seem floating in the cityscape, like layers, as three-dimensional elements. It was as if the first time I saw colours. I was so overwhelmed that I decided to move to Tokyo,” she says.
Her installation is made on the Japanese concept of ‘shikiri’, which gives the audience an opportune moment to partake the pleasure of aesthetically constructed piece. Moureaux elaborates on traditional screens and use of colours with her installation, “The colours and layers in Tokyo were the inspiration to my concept of ‘shikiri’, which means dividing (creating) space with colours (shikiri is a made-up word that literally means ‘to divide space using colours’). I use colours as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, not as a finishing touch applied to surfaces. The concept, inspired by the Japanese traditional screens, started from surface ‘shikiri’ elements (The Sugamo Shinkin Bank), then developed into thinner colours – line ‘shikiri’ elements (sticks, shibafu table, toge), now is developed in particular elements like numbers (Forest of Numbers) or letters (Universe of Words). I want people to breathe and immerse in colours, to see colours, touch colours, and feel colours with all their senses. For me, it is a medium to create space and emotion. With colours, I try to give emotions to people, they can make people smile, give energy, joy, and most importantly, they make people happy.”
Japanese concept of shikiri, the colourful palette and the subject of time are raison d'être for Moureaux’s installation. When three-pronged approach is deployed for ideation and execution process to the art piece, before its final form is presented to the audience, Moureaux gives an insight into her art practice when she says, “I am always on a journey between different scales, from a small art piece to architecture, trying to give emotions to people with colours. There are no specific boundaries between each work and my work process is the same. All my installations require a lot of time, approximately one year or more, from concept development to production. When I start a project, I first decide the number of colours I will use (depending on the function, site and my inspiration). At the same time, I study the concept by writing and sketching for several months. When the concept is decided, we create in my studio a lot of real scales models to study the best size of one module, the best distance between each module, to feel the design with all senses. Then we make drawings for production. Everything is made by hand and is prepared prior to the setup. It means a lot of time and the participation of a lot of people.”
When the digital technology is by default a regular presence in the works of the contemporary artists, Moureaux’s art of selecting the colour reassures the supremacy of touch and taste when she says, “I trust only my eyes and feeling. I always work on the same white table near the windows to work with the same natural lighting environment. I put on the table a lot of small colour samples (several hundred or thousands depending on projects) preselected by inspiration and then study the selection of colours, the combination of colours, the position of each colour in the space”.
The immersive installation by Moureaux is an extension of the traditional concept of ‘shikiri’ to approach the issue of time with a novel eye that never falls short to aesthetically please or offer food for thought to her audience.
Slices of Time was scheduled to be on view until April 19, 2020 at NOW Gallery, London. However, the gallery has been shut due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the visitors can take a virtual tour of the exhibition here.
Bhullar is a writer-researcher based in New Delhi. She has been co-editor of the books Third Eye: Photography and Ways of Seeing and Voices and Images. Her essays on visual sociology and identity politics are frequently published in leading books, journals and magazines. She is the associate editor of a theme-based journal dedicated to visual arts, published by India Habitat Centre.