Installation Art

An enveloping experience

The term Installation art describes an artistic genre that involves a transformation of a space. Generally, the term is applied to interior spaces, whereas outdoor interventions are often called Land art, but the boundaries between these terms overlap.

Installation art can be either temporary or permanent. Many installations are site-specific in that they are designed to exist only in the space for which they were created.

Installation/environmental art takes into account a broader sensory experience, rather than focusing on a single object like a painting on a wall or a sculpture on a pedestal.

A brief history

Installation art came to prominence in the 1970s but its roots can be found in earlier artists such as Marcel Duchamp and his use of the readymade and Kurt Schwitters' Merz art objects, rather than more traditional craft based sculpture. The "intention" of the artist is key in much later installation art whose roots lie in the conceptual art of the 1960s. This again is a departure from traditional sculpture which places its focus on form.

Places, Materials, Ideas

An installation can begin with a place/space

Ask the students to create a work for a specific space within the school, an overlooked space, like the hallway, or the cloakroom.

An installation can be born from materials

Begin with a pile of materials, cardboard boxes for example, or string. Ask students to create an installation piece using these materials as a starting point.

An installation can emerge from an idea

This is more useful when students are already working with a thematic focus, probably in year 2. Then the idea of creating an installation piece can fit into their greater research and developing body of work. Otherwise you can provide the idea as a starting point.

Student Installation Art Project


Introduce installation work into the students vocabulary and portfolio, I suggest you begin by assigning research on an installation artist. The student is thus able to see how an artist can work with a whole space and experience rather than a discreet object. You can give your students a list of artists to chose from. Some recommendations;

Louise Borgeoise

Cildo Mereiles

Gabriel Orozco

Felix Gonzalez Torres

Rebecca Horn

Emily Jacir

Olafur Eliasson

Doris Salcedo

Rachel Whiteread

Song Dong

Annette Messager

Ann Hamilton

Of course there are many the edges are so blurred between many artists practices that "installation' has become a bit of a catch phrase, overused, often misunderstood.

Guiding Questions

Once you’ve chosen your artist, here are some guiding questions to help you write about the work.

  • What is the relationship of the work to the space it is shown in?
  • What kind of materials are used and how do they play a role in the outcome?
  • Is this work permanent, temporary, ephemeral? Does time play a role?
  • How does the viewer interact with the work in general? Is it participative?
  • What do you think is the artist’s intention in making this work?
  • How do you relate to this work? What appeals to you about it or not?

Studio work

Now its time to think about your own installation. You don’t need to do something on such a grand scale. These artists have enormous budgets and unlimited resources, assistants, materials. Look at Song Dong's  Waste Not Want Not a massive installation made with the contents of his mothers house, the sheer amount of objects is staggering! You can do something with very simple inexpensive materials, or found objects.

Your piece may be simply a corner of a room, on a shelf, in a tree, in a public area like the cafeteria, along a pathway. In the picture above, some artist left her mark in a humble but distinct manner by knitting warm woolen covers for these poles, enlivening an otherwise unremarkable corner of a Berlin sidewalk.

If you have a thematic focus already in your work then this will provide a starting point for thinking about an installation piece. If you don’t have a clue then begin with choosing where you want to make your installation, and let the concept be led by the place. (This is site specific installation)

Make notes, sketches, plan your work. Watch how ideas develop and change as you begin to encounter the physical reality of making the work. You may end up with something completely different from the idea you started with, and that's absolutely fine.

Tip: Document your work thoroughly with photos and video; the installation may be temporary but the documentation is the testimony that remains. And you will need a good record it if you decide to include this work in your final assessment.

Installation 'briefs"

create a barrier or a wall within a space or outdoors ( see Beyond the Studio )

using cast off and found objects, create and furnish a "room" or on a smaller scale, a shelf or miniature room in a box.

Make an alteration to a space that creates subtle visual confusion (i.e. turn pictures on wall upside down)

Move something out of its context and environment ( i.e a boat on a rooftop)

Make a tree "the stage" for an installation

Create a documentary, family narrative; this is elaborated in Waste Not Want Not

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.