Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Installation Art
“Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Installation Art.” in Claudia Giannini, ed. Installations Mattress Factory 1990-1999. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001; pp. 18-23.
by looking first at Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology,which examines embodied, interactive
perception in which the “see-er” becomes one with what is seen.
Rosalind Krauss proposed that the initial French reading of Merleau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception differs from the American understanding of it in the 196os. Because Merleau-Ponty’s work was not translated into English until1962,…(18)
Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy might be summarized as a reworking of the idea of phenomenological
reduction, which is Edmund Husserl’s epoche, or bracketing of everyday phenomena from that which is known.
This serves as a method for becoming aware of one’s initial relationship to the world, and as a means of com·
ing to terms with consciousness through one’s own acts rather than from a preconceived perspective or a later reflection. Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on the primordial territoriality of the body. (19)
Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology promised a release from the twin pitfalls of empiricism and intellectualism that forced people to choose between a world that imposed its reality on them, making them its subject, and a world that was forced to accommodate itself to their thought.
In place of empiricism and intellectualism, Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy offered installation artists a primal vision lurking beneath their personal subjectivities.
Even more importantly, it transformed the viewer’s role so that looking became a dynamic and ongoing pursuit. We might say that in installation art, the role of the viewer is enhanced as never before, and it is this role that needs to be understood if we are to appreciate the important contributions that this recently developed genre offers to our way of knowing the world.