Multi-sensory Sites of Experience: Public Art Practice in a Secular Society
Western secular societies have come to celebrate the individual within his or her community. Secular society has been shaped to fit the maximum freedoms and rights that are compatible within the compromise that communal life impose upon its members. Earlier communities in both Europe and Asia were bounded by religious practices that privileged the communal perspective over that of the individual. Rituals brought people together and the places in which these rituals were enacted, the temples and cathedrals so central to communal life, were places of complex and powerful multi-sensory experience. It is within such stimulating experience that people recognize themselves as vibrant parts to a greater whole.
Artists who work in public-space commissioned works, such as myself, are repeatedly invited to create works of art that signify and celebrate the forms and images that bring the community together. Such communal-building work attempts to countervail the drive to ever greater individual freedoms in secular society. Artists are placed in a difficult position.
The most recent developments in computer technology have been used to re-invent the bell. The reinvented bell has become a fundamental element in new bell- sculpture installation works. This thesis develops a context for the use of bells in contemporary public-space design. New bell designs and bell installation works enact similar community-building experiences for people in secular societies as they have done for religious bound communities. The experience of the bell within the overall sensory experience available in temples and churches can be just as powerful a communal experience for citizens of secular societies.
It is the contention of the author that such multi-sensory experiential sites of public- space art offer the community opportunities to participate and collaborate in community-building experiences. It is the mystery and wonder of everyday life that such gatherings celebrate. Rather than culture being understood, in the nineteenth-
century Western tradition as activities and achievements that separate the cultured from the uncouth, culture can be felt as those acts of communication citizens make between themselves. This thesis advances the position for developing community- building ‘sites of experience’ as places in which the public can gather together and experience itself as a community. Places where people can recognise themselves as a community able to share emotional experiences with each other. A number of 'sites of experience' installation works are considered in detail. Those of the author have been designed to be sacred sites in which everyday ritual and feeling is shared and celebrated. They were inspired by the philosophy put forward in this thesis, and are examples of possible fruitful directions for public-space design.
The author believes that such sites of experience are fundamental to the evolution of an ‘inclusive’ secular society in Western Civilisation.