Measuring the Universe
(Slovak, born 1966)
Without people’s active participation, Roman Ondák’s Measuring the Universe would not exist. A cross between a site-specific installation and an event open to everyone, the work begins as an empty white gallery. As visitors enter the room, they are invited to stand against the wall and have someone mark off their height and label it with their first name and the date of their visit. As the artist describes it: “Every visitor [who] enters my room is welcome to be measured. And participation of people is very spontaneous.”1
Measuring the Universe took place over the course of nearly three months at MoMA, and the accumulation of thousands of measurements formed a thick, ragged black band that encircled the gallery walls. Ondák himself was the first to be measured. Some measurements fell significantly above or below the band’s borders, highlighting the presence of taller and shorter participants.
Like much of Ondák’s work, Measuring the Universe stems from his interest in blurring the boundaries between art and everyday life. “The idea is taken from a habit of parents to measure children,” he explains, which he does in his own home with his two sons. “I was thinking about this very peripheral and marginal moment of everyday life to be expanded and…transformed to the context of the exhibition.”2 He was also thinking about how these marks of growth indicate time’s passage, and how as we age, our experience and understanding of time, and of the world itself, changes. As the title Measuring the Universe suggests, it is through our own scale that we measure the world.
The ability to alter a material’s shape under compressive stress, such as hammering or rolling.
Describes a work of art designed for a particular location.
The ratio between the size of an object and its model or representation, as in the scale of a map to the actual geography it represents.
A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.
The shape or structure of an object.
On Being a Part of the Art
Ondák suggests that the participatory nature of Measuring the Universe fosters people’s connection with the work: “For them this might…represent the simple fact that with the most archaic means you can create a complex image, which can compete with the most contemporary high-tech media. And they are part of it.”3
Same Work, Different Forms
A key part of Ondák’s work is its reproducibility. He conceives of his installations and participatory projects as malleable and open to the interpretations of others—both those involved in staging them and the audiences who engage with them. Ondák embraces the fact that no piece will ever be the same twice: “I’m trying to use forms which don’t have such a stable position….So this is a type of work which can have a certain fluidity in terms of appearance.”4
VIDEO: See the measurements add up and hear Roman Ondák discuss Measuring the Universe