James Tapscott’s immersive art is about the presence of omnipresent natural elements

Australia-based contemporary land artist James Tapscott creates site-specific and site-determined immersive works to strike a chord of nature’s harmony with the viewers.

by Dilpreet Bhullar Published on : Sep 29, 2020

Imagine walking into a garden, along with the fresh droplets of mist on the greens, and the ring of mist in the form of an installation encircles you. The visual perception of the mist and immersive experience around it would sensitise and accentuate the beauty of our natural world. Capturing the same essence are the works of Australia-based contemporary land artist James Tapscott. The elements of water, air and land define the art practice of the artist who creates works that are not just site-specific but also site-determined to reinforce the interdependency between the installations and omnipresent nature.

02 mins watch Arc Zero Nimbus | James Tapscott| STIRworld
Arc Zero Nimbus Video: James Tapscott

The mist of the Arc Zero Nimbus, installed for the Japan Alps Art Festival, at the bridge that leads to an entrance of Buddhist temple Hotokizaki Kanon-Ji highlights the organic harmony between the natural beauty of mist and its creative presentation. The circle represents the recurring movement from the source of the river in the mountains to the mid-way journey through different regions to its final turn as the mist. In an interview with STIR, Tapscott talks about his fascination with water and how the natural elements have their advantages: “Water has been my muse for many years now and I feel like I am just getting started with it. One of the great advantages in these super-soft materials is their reactivity to the site, and also to the viewer; it allows an endless ballpark of possibilities to occur. I have had many challenges working with water (especially combined with electricity). Many indoor spaces just aren’t equipped to deal with water and it really limits my ability to work with a lot of galleries. In outdoor spaces there are safety concerns about wet floors, even in areas which get rain every day it presents issues, but there’s always a way to work around these problems if everyone is willing to commit to a solution”.

Transference Field by James Tapscott| STIRworld
Transference Field Image: James Tapscott

Working on the concept of water and light is Tapscott’s another work Arc of Eclipse that recreates the natural phenomenon of an eclipse. The water reflection around the arc forms the rings of light and the immersive nature of the installation allows the viewers to alter this play of light and shadow, even if it is of a minor extent. Although Tapscott frequently uses elements that could be mistaken as having an ephemeral quality, he delves deeper into his choice of using water in the form of a mist, “The mist activates all the senses, even before the work is seen. The air feels different and smells different, even at a distance from the artwork’s form. The viewer is already experiencing the work before they see it. The temperature is different, they feel the work on their skin, the sounds of the mist is like white noise as it leaves the nozzles, and then in the “off” cycle, the ambient natural noise is suddenly so clear. The air even tastes different. It’s really a total sensory experience”.    

01 min watch Arc of Eclipse by James Tapscott| STIRworld
Arc of Eclipse Video: Courtesy of James Tapscott

By using the element of lights, Tapscott invites the audience to visually experience the movement of wind and water with the works The Transference Field – Lake Tyrell andThe Flow Project – Ocean Grove respectively. The Transference Field – Lake Tyrell highlights the shift in the movement of light along with the flow of land breeze in an empty space that let the viewers see how the two elements are in-sync. Similarly, the long-exposure photography work, The Flow Project – Ocean Grove captures the flow of the water as the floating lights travel in harmony with the current of the water system in which they are kept. Tapscott talks about his selection of the material for a variety of installations, “It really depends on what I am trying to achieve as an experience for the viewer – and this is often determined by identifying the site’s prevailing, or most interesting phenomena. If the wind movement is particularly interesting I would try to create a work which plays with that, or if the flow of water in a section of the river is quite unique then the work would be designed to highlight that and give the viewer an experience, which brings it to their attention. Most of the time it all comes back to light. The natural elements like water and wind are often employed as vehicles for light to interact with, highlighting the natural phenomena, which is often hidden from view and then allows the viewer to experience it. When it all works perfectly it feels like magic”.  

The Flow Project by James Tapscott| STIRworld
The Flow Project Image: James Tapscott

Since the on-site installations involve close interaction with the environment and natural elements have a strong presence in the works, the immersive experience for the artist is as important as the material of the work. Tapscott elaborates further, “For me, immersive art is more than just something you can enter - it’s a full sensory experience. The way one experiences everything is dependent on their unique point of view and so I try to create works that are reactive to their presence, even if it’s almost imperceptibly so and make the viewer an integral part of the work. To me, this is immersion – a breaking down of the barrier between viewer and work. It’s ‘interactive’ in this sense too and in a much more real and organic way than what digital technology can offer. Most technology is only capable of presenting an interface, whereas the materials I work with allow complete assimilation with the work”.

Tapscott ensures that his works prompt his viewers, “To be aware of the beauty and natural phenomena around us, even though we can’t always see it.” It would be of interest to see how with the minimalist use of technology, Tapscott could successfully sensitise his viewers to the fact that beauty of nature lies in the details. 

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