Passive or active installations?

During this research project I will collaborate with the architect and creative practitioner Huw Meredydd Owen. Huw's work and interests are relevant to the project because of his interested in the significance of 'place', and his intention to invite the observer to experience the story behind the place.


Huw considers how the community can interpret and design specific 'places'. This has led him to work outside the narrower confines of conventional architectural approaches, reducing the focus on the constructed, and exploring the value of the subjective and the experiential.


As an architect Huw specialises in shaping spaces for the benefit of the public and in putting the needs of the users first. As an artist I explore my own personal experiences to analyse the causes and to try and offer positive experiences for other people. By combining our two areas of expertise, we hope to design places that are personal, accessible and beautiful.


During our first meeting for Prosiect Pryder, we discussed the nature of our collaboration and what our responsibilities would be. Since the grant has been awarded to me to conduct a research and development project as a creative professional, we agreed that Huw’s role would be as a mentor and a critical friend. I am also keen to benefit from Huw’s design expertise because I’ve had difficulties with creating larger scale installations. Our conversations often turn philosophical and Huw is great at questioning what is the best way to create an experience for the audience. One of the questions that arose from our first Prosiect Pryder discussion was the difference between a production that is passive and a production that is active. Huw suggested that a passive experience is offered when the designer creates an installation where the audience is a viewers rather than a participant. An active experience is more immersive as it directly engages with the audience. When considering the two methods and their application for spaces that alleviate anxiety, I can see positive and negative elements to both.


I believe that this depends on the type of anxiety that the individual has. If a person feels manipulated when asked to engage with an activity, a passive installation might be better for them. On the other hand a passive piece of work might overwhelm the individual if they feel powerless without the opportunity to respond or alter it.


An active installation asks the audience to share something of themselves to get the most out of the experience, this could cause the individual to transcend their anxiety as they focus on an inspiring external action. But what is inspiring varies from person to person and the interactive element must be thoroughly thought out to be accessible to all. Another aspect we discussed is how an art installation can offer a feeling that is similar to being in nature. Spending time in nature reduces my anxiety levels and over the last few years I’ve created models and installations that experiment with creating a feeling of the limitless edges of the natural world.


String curve draft 1 - Lea, 2019

I’ve used string, light and paper to develop these qualities. One of the designs I’ve created for Prosiect Pryder is for a large-scale piece of work using string. Huw suggested that there was something unknown about our experience of nature and that using overlapping and moving strands could be a way of symbolising this magic and mystery. By trialing the density, structure and materials of the work within small scale and digital models, I can develop a practical way of conveying a sublime experience.