Installation, Theatricality & Art Objects


A review of Installation and Theatricality. Thinking through Objects, by Gisel Carriconde Azevedo.

I tend to create objects from imagination, with some fragments of reality, contextualized in imagined spaces, which resemble existing spaces…” (Gisel Carriconde Azevedo, p. 32)

Gisel Carriconde Azevedo is a Brazilian practising artist, who was based in London for her PhD in Fine Arts at the University of East London, where she investigated her own practise as an artist as well as the relationship between installation art, curatorship and museum interventions during the 20th century. For her case studies, she investigated mainly the artworks of institutional critique artists Barbara Bloom, Goshga Macuga, John Armleder, Susan Hiller and Lucio Pozzi. Gisel admitted that it was by researching the artists she selected that she discovered that her work was more sensual and philosophical than political. Her research took two opposed ideas—‘theatricality’ and the ‘autonomy of the art object’—as guides for her investigation into installations by these contemporary artists who had been taking museums as their subject.

What these artists have in common is that they either critiqued museums or worked in collaboration with museums. They all had a strong dialogue with art history and their installations blurred the boundaries between collector, curator and artist. Giselle’s interest in institutional critique led her to question how museums have changed and how artists were instrumental in this change. By thinking through ‘objects’ and using objects to tell the history of the ideas behind them, presenting challenges as to how audiences make sense of the objects around them, artists have brought provocation and change. Key questions that surface in this dissertation are: what is the role of museums today? Are museums inspiring the viewer to construct their own narratives? And are museums acknowledging the fluidity of meanings of objects and ideas?

The dissertation is a reflection as well as a report of  Gisel’s four-year journey as an artist as well as a PhD researcher. It is organized largely in seven sections: the first is a brief account of her educational and creative background. The following four sections constitute the main part of her investigation, reflecting the development of the theory and practice during the doctorate, while the last section is a general conclusion about the whole process. Claire Bishop’s critical writings provided Gisel with a theoretical understanding of the installation approach, and Michael Fried’s criticism of ephemeral works of art and his claims for the autonomy of the art object established the starting point of her research. Thinking in terms of ‘making’ increased Gisel`s awareness of the connections of her work and material culture and brought to the surface the role that audience and objects play in her work. She describes her own creative practice and how, during the four years before submitting her dissertation in 2012, she had made ten installations and was involved in three curatorial projects.

She offers reflections on the styles and artists she has been inspired by, her reactions to the criticisms she received for her own installations and projects and a description of the process of her own artworks. She reflects on the ‘question’ underlying her past and present work concerning time and deterioration and how, as an artist, she responded to contemporary art’s longstanding interest in the ‘de-materialisation’ of the art object. The work she created in 2009/2010 reinforced her relationship with museums. The paintings from “The Parthenon Galleries,” the sculptures from “Baroque Feast” and “In Pieces,” all echoed things she had seen at the British Museum and at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. One of the artists Gisel was inspired by was Susan Hiller and she quotes her saying: “My own interest in Freud is probably complicated. I think we all live inside the Freud Museum” (“Discussion with Robert Malbert,” 2005,, quoted on p. 33).

Gisel explains how she originally started with objects and then conceived the space around them. Eventually, in the video “A Room of One’s Own” – made in collaboration with the choreographer Laura Virginia – she started with a specific space, the British Museum in Bloomsbury, and created a piece which captured in visual form her interest in theatricality, museums, installations and the Brazilian carnivalesque, reflecting on questions of gender and national identity.

Through her sculptural experiments and her reading on installation and theatricality, Gisel investigates the web of relationships in which art objects are entangled, their physical relationship with other objects, the space within which they exist and the viewer, as well as the social and cultural relationships that define them and give them value. Most of her work with installation has a symbolic narrative behind it. She realizes that one of the keys for the success is narrative, where the viewer knows where he or she stands. Although installation provides an appropriate medium for nonlinear narrative, its success depends on taking the viewer into consideration.

Romina Delia
PhD Researcher
School of Museum Studies
University of Leicester, UK

Primary Sources

Bishop, Claire. Installation Art: A Critical History. London: Tate Publishing, 2005.
Fried, Michael. Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Dissertation Information

University of East London. 2012. 121 pp. Primary Advisors: Geoffrey Brunnel, Alison Winckle, and Karen Raney.

Image: Capture from

Editor’s note: Gisel’s work may be viewed on her website:

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