Exploring the idea that the surreal installation movement has changed art

During this essay I will be exploring the origins of installation art and how it impacts the way we view art and how as a culture we demonstrate a greed for sensory overload, wanting every sense to be filled. Does installation art fulfil this need or merely introduce us to the possibility of it whilst providing us the tools to investigate it ourselves? By researching the pioneers of installation art such as Marcel Duchamp and The Gutai group, and also looking at present day artists such as William Kentridge and Toby Dye, I aim to have a wider understanding of the genre itself. I will investigate how surreal films within the installation genre have strongly impacted television and the film industry, and how it’s art has become a part of everyday life.

The definition of installation art on the Tate website is “large-scale, mixed-media constructions, often designed for a specific place or for a temporary period of time.” Different from land art and intervention art, which tends to be in exterior environments, installation art creates a self contained isolated environment that has a specific entrance and exit. It can be permanent or temporary, it can incorporate all Medias, video, sound, performance, the internet, and immersive virtual reality. The pieces can be transitional to different locations, or they can be created purely for that location.

Marcel Duchamp was highly influential and had an immense impact on twentieth-century and twenty first-century art.[3] He had a seminal influence on the development of conceptual art. By World War I, he had rejected the work of many of his fellow artists (like Henri Matisse) as “retinal” art, intended only to please the eye. Instead, Duchamp wanted to use art to serve the ­mind. Duchamp’s Readymades are a good example of this, they were collected to question the notion of Art.he said “I was interested in ideas—not merely in visual products.”, which is why he moved away from paintings and became more interested in a form of sculpture.

Duchamp claimed to have chosen everyday objects “based on a reaction of visual indifference, with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste….” opposed to a purely “retinal” art, intended only to please the eye. This instantly would make you think different when viewing Duchampes work because as soon as you view his piece you are looking beyond the visual outcome. Studies found that we as humans make judgement in a 1/10 of a second, [8]meaning already we have judged ‘The Fountain’ for its exterior and dismissed it, leaving us to look beyond its visual, making it a surreal experience rather than observing a real object. Duchampe appropriated the term from what it originally was, “ready-made” being “manufactured items from those that were handmade”. This in itself is a movement, as he developed a word into a larger and more complex meaning. Although this didn’t come by his pure talent, his Porcelain urinal inscribed “R. Mutt 1917.” Cause controversy at The board of the 1917 the Society of Independent Artists exhibit, of which Duchamp was a director, after much debate about whether Fountain was or was not art, he hid the piece from view during the show.

The Gutai group were the first radical post-war artistic group in japan, it was founded in 1954 and was a response to the reactionary artistic context of the time. “This influential group was involved in large-scale multimedia environments, performances, and theatrical events and emphasizes the relationship between body and matter in pursuit of originality. The movement rejected traditional art styles in favour of performative immediacy.”

Yoshihara was a Japanese painter. In 1954, along with Shōzō Shimamoto, he co-founded the avant-garde Gutai group in Osaka. He worked within the Western painting style before becoming Gutai’s leader, Yoshihara wrote the “Gutai Manifesto” in 1956, the Gutai group were considered the representatives of Japan’s post-war world.[1] Yoshihara worked in surrealist and abstract expressionist painting styles and then later on in his life focused on the repetition and depiction of circles. He was the leader of the Gutai Group until his death in 1972.

The kanji used to write ‘gu’ meaning tool, measures, or a way of doing something, while ‘tai’ means body. Yoshihara considers it to mean “embodiment” and “concreteness”. The group was officially known as Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Art Association of Gutai). They challenged the imagination to invent new notions of what art is with attention to the relationships between body, matter, time, and space.

The Gutai group did not get recognition for their work until around 2012 when the Guggenheim museum held an exhibition titled Gutai: Splendid Playground, a retrospective of the Gutai Art Association. They have been compared to Abstract Expressionism and Dadaism, but now they stand alone as an individual movement.[2] The Gutai group are highly ­significant within the movement of installation art, what I like about them is that their works were transitional and not site specific, so they could take their art to different locations, reaching a wider audience.

Modern artists such as William Kentridge and Toby Dye have brought Installation art into our galleries and this has changed how we as viewers anticipate a gallery experience. William Kentridge’s exhibition “Thick Time” was inspiring to my own work, each room reacted to the other in a coherent and balancing way, working either backwards or forwards in time. “The Refusal of Time” was truly captivating, a piece that I personally revisited multiple times because of its brilliance. The exhibition was held at Whitechapel gallery, the space bonded well with Kentridge’s work as it seemed that the room was taller than wider. The exhibition space had a limited amount of light, leaving space for his installation pieces to thrive from the absence of it. The piece had a wooden machine in the centre of the room replicating the movement of an elephant walking, which I only discovered was the case after seeing the exhibition , this was interesting because at the time I mentioned how the centre piece reminded me of an elephant, proving the brilliance that is William Kentridge.

In August’16 I visited Day Dreaming with Stanley Kubrick, I went on the last weekend it was on view to the public, I regret this as I would have preferred to go multiple times. It was a truly awe-inspiring visit. “The Corridor” by Toby Dye was a monumental and unforgettable experience, the room was small, the walls were short in height, I felt like I was a part of something very intimate yet inclusive. On the four walls, four videos were playing, they were all filmed in the same corridor but played different scenes which all linked and intertwined together. The music was created by UNKLE, it added a whole new depth to the piece which I think if it wasn’t present, the video installation wouldn’t have been as complete.  I’ve found that installation pieces are unescapable, unlike traditional practises such as painting you are anticipating something more within an installation space, such as a movement, a change in light, or in sound, turning around, choosing not to listen or closing your eyes does not switch of the work, it only serves to highlight the other elements of it.

After investigating UNKLE’s work I visited their exhibition “THE ROAD:SOHO”, after being hugely inspired by their contribution at ‘Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick’, I expected a similar ambience when entering their gallery space. It seemed to be more fan-orientated, and gallery specific, their merchandise spread out across shelves as if they were not for sale and therefore made bland through the feeling of detachment. They had a 4D simulator which was inspired by a piece at ‘Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick’, it was played through interactive goggles with a gallery assistant standing close and watchful in an, again, detached “employed” way. It was badly done, seemed rushed and lacked a development of the original video. Although saying that, the 4d element did feel very dream-like, as if I was in a never-ending tunnel that was ever changing pattern, but not direction, maybe that’s what would’ve filled the lack of development. I felt that this was more as a result of the technology rather than the content. This exhibition most definitely didn’t taint my positive opinion of Toby Dye’s ‘The Corridor’. UNKLE’s music truly transformed the environment, something installation spaces should aspire to. To fill every human sense, the sound, or even absence of playing a substantial part in the outcome. As sometimes this cavernous lack of sound becomes the sound.

“The Beatles of comedy, Monty python”[4] Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which first aired on the BBC in 1969, has been referred to as “not only one of the more enduring icons of 1970s British popular culture, but also an important moment in the evolution of television comedy.”

The surreal skits they created with their entire own imagination influenced our world so much so that much like Duchamp, they appropriated words, and added new ones to our dictionary, which demonstrated their wide spread field of  influence. “Pythonesque” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, “after the style of or resembling the absurdist or surrealist humor of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Matt Groening, creator and co-developer of the “The Simpsons,” cites Monty Python as an influence. As do those involved in the creation and production of “South Park,” “Saturday Night Live,” “The Kids in the Hall” and even television programs as disparate as “The Daily Show” and “Alton Brown’s Good Eats” give a hat tip to the Pythons.[5]


Surreal cinema has massively influenced the installation movement, from David Lynch’s dark approach in film, to Dr.Seuss and Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt’s The Might Boosh, they have all as a body of force, normalising surreal art into our everyday culture. Surreal films began as a dark humour, but as it has been brought into view as something appreciated and relatable rather than something to shy away from.


Noel Fielding is probably the most recent artist in the television industry to successfully explore and dive within the world of surrealism. Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy: Tales from Painted Hawaii is described as “a psychedelic character based comedy show half filmed and half animated”. The series format has switched from sketch show to sitcom, showing Noel’s fresh and ever-changing way of creating works, set mainly in a Hawaiian coffee shop. Artists which work within the surreal realm tend to live and breathe their work . Noel Fielding’s twitter page is a perfect example of this, writing about things only he would understand, short pieces of writing that resemble poems,  his clothing style represents his performance and art.


Kraftwerk are even more so a part of their work, it has been reported that they record in their studio while wearing their futuristic morph-suit style outfits, I think this makes their music and performances more intimate as even at the root of their creation they are the embodiment of their music, totally involved and committed. Their performance at the royal albert hall was utterly mesmerizing, I was on the edge of me seat the entire time, I never relaxed into the environment at which I was a part of his amazing experience. They captured how surreal installation can take over 5,000 people’s bodies and minds.  A true glimpse of the future of the art world made all the more surreal as it is so embedded in the past.


Surreal installation art is most definitely a part of our lives every day, we see it on television adverts, TV shows, films, books. What’s magical about it is that the ideas are reachable, they are not as complex as reason and science, which creates space for the unknown to be wondered. We, our lives and choices, fuel the world of surrealist and installation art and in essence become the work of art.



  1. Tiampo, Ming. Gutai and Informel Post-war art in Japan and France, 1945—1965.
  1. “A Visual Essay on Gutai”. 45 (287). Flash Art International. 2012
  2. Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) at Metropolitan Museum of Art
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/01/the-beatles-of-comedy/309185/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Python
  5. https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/6-ways-monty-python-changed-the-world
  6. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/noel-fieldings-luxury-comedy
  7. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/how-many-seconds-to-a-first-impression#.WWN8mOsrKUk