Hara is an installation piece by Guillaume Marmin, who collaborated with the composer Frederic Malloreau for the soundtrack. The installation takes place inside a dark enclosed space and uses light, sound and space to create a very immersive experience for the audience. Within the dark room of Hara, light is projected through patterned holes from one of the walls and is being reflected onto the fog filling up the space, materializing the light beams as continuous, colorful strides within the space. The light is mapped onto the complex hole patterns so that the tridimensional light beams create different light patterns within the space as different holes are being projected through. These patterns and light colors change symbiotically with the sound of the installation. As the public enter the Hara room, they are completely stripped from visual points of reference as the room is completely dark and only the light beams can be seen. This, combined with the hypnotic and intense light patterns and loud soundtrack, makes for a complete sensory immersion experience. The users can not see the walls, ceiling, floor nor people around them (unless they cross the light beams) and therefore lose all sense of space and distance. Staying within the space for long enough starts to make you feel like you are floating in a physical void, where nothing exists but these light beams and sounds, yielding to what can easily feel like a drugless psychedelic experience.
The Japanese word “Hara” stands for the core of the human body, the abdomen. But on a more poetic and spiritual side, it also stands for the physical space within the human body where vital energy and emotions originate from. It is where the elixir of life, or the root of spirituality and vitality is created. A balanced Hara is believed to be the foundation of well-balanced (both physically and mentally) people, inner peace and health. For Marmin, the conceptual part of this piece followed the original technical constrains that were given to him when he got commissioned:
“I had been asked to make an installation meant to be shown within a container. I thought that these metallic containers are in a way the womb of the industrial world. They get filled up with commercial goods and shipped around the world. I then came across the Japanese concept of Hara, which designated the abdomen but also the source of vital energy and emotions, unlike in our occidental culture where we picture it happening within the brain. I got inspired by this concept as I tried to make both light and emotions come out within these containers.” (Guillaume Marmin, 2016, Email Interview).
Beyond the technical and sensorial immersive experience of Hara, Marmin then in a sense creates a conceptual juxtaposition between the essence of humanity and its creations, what animates people as sentient and emotional beings and what drives the human-created, industrialized and commercial-oriented systems and institutions that humans created for themselves and now define human culture and societies. By comparing the two realms, Marmin blurs the line between humans and their creations by opening up these questions: do human-created artifacts and systems (represented by containers that stand for our industrialized world) carry a soul of their own as they embody human ideas and shape the human condition, and would these artifacts’ souls be an extension of their creators’, or do human creations in a way develop a soul of their own? As put by the website strp.nl,
“Shipping containers can, in a way, be seen as the belly of our industrial world – and like Jonah searching for a light in the belly of the whale, there may be Hara in these rectangular, metal boxes.” (http://strp.nl/en/program/2015/guillaume-marmin-%26-fr%E9d%E9ric-marolleau-+-hara/)
Guillaume Marmin -Timée
Another piece by Marmin that shares some technical parts as well as a philosophical motivation with Hara is Timée. This project uses a similar technical construction to Hara: a dark room in which light matter is projected through holes in a wall and synchronized with a soundtrack. The philosophical and conceptual inspiration however is different. Marmin explains:
“For about a decade, I have been making installations that are ways to explore the relationships between images, sound and space. As I was discussing these questions with Phillipe Giordiani, a composer with whom I had worked before, the idea came to work on Plato’s Timaeus. The philosopher describes the universe’s organization as a perfect partition in which distances between planets correspond to harmonious intervals. It is a complicated text that mixes science, music and poetry and completely matches our artistic interests. We have also met with astrophysicists to confront the text with the available current knowledge on the topic, and how Plato’s concepts can still be relevant nowadays. This thinking was then used to create the time-based visual and sonic compositions of the piece.” (Guillaume Marmin, 2016, Email interview)
Even though both installations share somewhat similar aesthetic qualities, their subjects differ. As Marmin explains,
“the influences and writing processes of both pieces are very different” (Guillaume Marmin, 2016, Email interview).
One is influenced by Japanese spirituality and opens up a dialogue about the essence of life, as well as humanity and its symbiotic relationship with its creations and culture. On the other hand, Timée was inspired by classical Greek philosophy and deals with poetic speculations about the universe, therefore inviting the audience to reflect on the unknown as well as confronting this eerie contemplation to modern hard science knowledge. However, Marmin wants to keep the experience intuitive for his audience and refuses to be too precise about his subject and conceptual inspirations so that each visitor can first feel the sensorial experience, and interpret it in ways that would be most relevant to him or her. The conceptual reflexion triggered by Marmin’s pieces for each member of the audience may or may not exactly match the intended subject, but for Marmin, the fact that people feel something through his installations is more important than what exactly they are feeling. These sensorial experiences tend to lead to introspective spiritual reflexions, and therefore the pieces are more effective when their interpretations remain somewhat open for the audience. As Marmin explains:
“I know that the audience can not completely perceive what exactly led to each project but people can feel that something is being told. I like it to remain mysterious and intriguing. At the same time, in Timée, most visitors feel like they are “in space”, which is clearly the correct subject. For Hara, somebody once told me that he felt like “he had gone back into his mother’s womb”. I found this beautiful and totally relevant to the original intent. I feel like these projects first engage the audience in a sensorial way and then suggest a conceptual reflexion, and I find it great to be that way!” (Guillaume Marmin, 2016, Email interview)
The common use of light as a primary medium in both pieces, however, is not a coincidence. Marmin uses light for its potential to suggest subjects that transcend or go beyond humanity and mundane, tangible subjects. The poetic connotation of light, and its ability to call to mind the divine, allows Marmin’s pieces to be the entry point for inner conversations on things we can not know everything about, such the essence of life or the infinity of the universe. This use of light is a purposeful thread within Marmin’s entire body of work, not only these two specific pieces:
“Just like the rest of my projects, these two pieces tell in their own way a story about our relationship with light. When you explore light as a medium, you are always at the crossroads of science, art, and religion. Without being a specialist of all these fields myself, I enjoy playing with these subjects and their poetic potential” (Guillaume Marmin, 2016, Email interview).
With this in mind, it is hard to separate the medium from the subject within these two pieces. They both have the common intent of creating immersive sensorial experiences to open up conceptual, if not philosophical reflexions. But with the medium (light) being in itself already hinting at the subject, both work hand in hand to create both levels of the experience. Within Marmin’s creative process, both medium and concept build off each other:
“I aim at creating environment that are as immersive as possible, with each having a singular writing. This always requires research until I find the idea within which medium and concept go hand in hand and make for a coherent whole. I do not really separate medium and concept. Both feed off each other” (Guillaume Marmin, 2016, Email interview).
Ann Veronica Janssens - yellowbluepink
Another artist who created a sensorial experience that is reminiscent of Marmin’s Hara with her installation yellowbluepink is Ann Veronica Janssens. For this installation, Janssens filled up an entire gallery with a dense mist onto which Turrell-like diffuse colors were projected. The fog was dense enough that the audience would lose track of the physical space and people around them, as the visibility range was very short. The disorientation and loss of visual points of reference invites, in a similar way to Marmin’s Hara, to meditation and reflexion through limited sensorial deprivation. The piece is meant to contribute to an investigation of human consciousness by challenging our senses, perception and ability to allow intuition and immediate experience to take over logic. Janssens explained that she was trying to push her audience’s perceptual limits through this piece, as well as the psychoanalytical connotations of being within a mist of a specific color, and the relationship between brain activity and cognitive functions. As mentioned by Simon Ings,
“The pink zone is a true smog, the one that most obviously messes with your perceptions. It feels profoundly, viscerally wrong – faux psychoanalytical explanations of being trapped in a womb seem irresistible” (https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28336-ann-veronica-janssens-room-of-fog-bumps-you-through-the-rainbow/).
Both pieces then achieve similar feelings in a way, as the feeling of being in a womb has been brought by both audiences. Both pieces create similar sensorial experiences by limiting or challenging our visual perception, but Janssens’ seemed to have more of a scientific approach (exploring the consequences of manipulated perception onto the subconscious and our spatial skills), whereas Marmin’s piece was more an invitation to poetic self-reflexion, spirituality and mysticism.
Guillaume Marmin's website:
Pictures contributed by Guillaume Marmin.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxVIZAHFs6M (states of mind)
STRP Biennial - 2015
Prosopopées: quand les objets prennent vie - 2016
Chromatic Montreal - 2016