Research - The Experiential Turn / by Ally McGinn

This text examines contemporary art with the aim to understand the shift from object to experience. The author discusses the term performative in art, arguing that the term is a complicated one because the act of performance is implicit in the work of art itself. The two cannot be distinguished, and a label of performative on an artwork is often misunderstood.

“There is no performative artwork because there is no nonperformative artwork.” (2014: 1)

The language through which we describe a performative work can become a performance in itself, we only need to think of the pronouncements of marriage as the act of marriage to realise the power words can have.

The author argues that performance is not a medium for artworks but a perspective of artworks. As all artworks have a performative aspect, it is a way to look at all artworks, not only those described as performative. This is an extremely important realisation, for me, that has had a profound impact on the work. It is a realisation that has grown organically in the studio and was then found through this text.

These arguments, and the truths they are based on, show the reasons for the move from art object to art experience. A shifting from representation to actualisation. All artworks form an experience of some kind, they are things that are experienced, the author shows here that from the 1960’s there has been an active shift in the intention of artworks to create experiences.

The author outlines her argument through a historical perspective, linking to minimalism and contemporary artists, and through a brief examination of the modern condition, that this shift in experience is a result, and examination, of “economic and cultural transformations of Western bourgeois-industrial societies in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.” (2014: 2)

Von Hantelmann roots the shift to experience in works like Robert Morris's, who was looking to create 'situations' rather than artworks. (2014: 4) Exploring the horizontality of Carl Andre's firebricks as a conversation about the vertical, monumental, nature of sculpture. (2014: 4) This brings the works into the space of the viewer, and initiates a spatial conversation in the viewers reality. 

She explores this shift as a move from the self-referential objects of art history into a more open communication between viewer, artwork and space. The final message I've taken from this text, which is one I am still working through, is that there are “artworks that produce an experience (which basically any artwork does) and artworks that shape experiences. “ (2014: 14)

James Coleman (1977)  Box.  Projected 16mm black and white film. 

James Coleman (1977) Box. Projected 16mm black and white film. 

The two artworks explored in detail exemplify the experience in form and context. Minimalist artworks with aesthetic experience. James Colemans 'Box' is a representational experience and Tino Sehgal's 'This objective of that object', is a communicative experience. All three are different, and have different aims, but share an underlying focus on experience. A focus that can be linked to changes in the socioeconomic order of the modern world since the industrial revolution. Things are still changing, to assume they aren't is an absolute error.


This text is pertinent to my practice, which has been shifting into experience for the past 12 months. It was suggested by Robert Luzar for a semiar with the MA's. The idea of experience, and presense, is integral to my practice, primarily through the presentation of objects (which is arguably the medium of my practice). 

The shift to an experiential emphasis in artistic practice includes the viewer into the creation of the work, their presense is anonoymous but it exists. The artwork is made with attention to the experience of the anonoymous, potential, viewer.

Interaction with my work is a key element. We don't look at the work from afar, we move ourselves around the space to bring different elements into focus. The same way we experience the world. This interaction, on the part of the viewer, is something I am continuing to explore in the studio, and something I am keen to continue developing. Texts like this one, which covers far more than I have summarised here, progress that development. 

This is a text I plan to return to in the coming months, as my experiences in the studio come more into focus. 


Von Hantelmann, D (2014) ‘The Experiential Turn’. On Performativity [Online] Available from : [Accessed 02.12.17].