A menagerie of color and the enchanted siren call of classical raga greets visitors entering the carouseling silhouettes of Nalini Malani’s Gamepieces (2003/2009). Installed as part of the exhibition Scenes for a New Heritage: Contemporary Art from the Collection, the artwork was first conceived by Malani in 2003 for the 8th Annual Istanbul Biennial. MoMA’s iteration of this installation is on view for the first time since being acquired in 2007 at the recommendation of Barbara London, former Associate Curator of Media and Performance Art. In discussing the results of the re-envisioned installation, Malani commented, “the architecture of a space has a lot to do with the look [of her work],” but added that it is also the way in which the components adapt to the space that contributes to success. Since our exhibition design, curatorial, conservation, art handling, and registrar teams were presented with an installation design never before attempted by the artist and in consideration of her statement, I wondered if a work of installation art is enhanced or destroyed by the environment in which it is placed? How do you document the variable site?
Gamepieces is comprised of six motorized and painted rotating cylinders, four projectors beaming images of blue clouds, animation, found documentary film footage, and sound. In previous iterations presented at Bose Pacia in New York and Media City Seoul in 2004, the cylinders were suspended and placed in a horizontal row. Existing installation documentation established an environment of overlapping projections that crisscross the painted moving surfaces and cast shadow plays in a traditional cinematic gaze. Images of war and violence were concentrated toward the center of the room while the blue skies were pushed to the extremities. However, in the current display, our space allowed for the exploitation of the Museum’s double-height ceiling. As a result, the horizontal experience is replaced with a vertical thrust that splits the imagery into an upper and lower domain—blues skies above, earthly images below. Video projected through two rows of three rotating cylinders produce a grid-like shadow play of eight distinct quadrants. The viewer enters into the space caught in the menacing human struggle of the lower registers while the blue skies hover idealistically above, mimicking our actual relationship to the world.
When we think of the architecture of a space as being a contributor to the outcome of an installation, one might think solely of the physical aspects that distinguish a location. However, Malani’s comment emphasizes contingency. In the hierarchy of components that constitute an artwork, it seems obvious to emphasize the importance of the constant non-varying components. Yet it is the way in which these parts adapt to a new location that are equally important to document. The height of the ceiling allowed for the placement of the motorized cylinders on the ceiling and a white painted beam for a vertical presentation. The artist specified white ceilings and side walls to maximize light reflection and refraction. Four projectors beam images through the cylinders at angles that encourage a multiplicity of effects from casting an inconsistent number of shadows to cylinders, to the flowing red and blue hues of refracted light on the ceiling, floor, and the side walls that are deepened by the crimson paint on the rear wall. To achieve such effects we document projector specifications and the settings used to achieve the beam throws and angles, as well as contrast, color range, and brightness. Locations and heights of the cylinders, projectors, and speakers are documented. Colors of the painted walls, floor appearance, sound levels, and tone documentation all help guide the future installation and preservation of the artwork in the variable site.