The exhibition calls for a fundamentally affective response. The concept of affect in contemporary art is generally used to rescue subjectivity from the cynical rationalization produced by the legacy of conceptual art. Reaffirming the power of affective response injects another form of intensity to the artwork. Indeed, intensities are assumed to be modes of signifying experiences severed from discursivity, placing the experience of art in an immanence that occurs on a level different from knowledge or meaning. But according to queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, affect has a strong transformative power, affirming mutually constitutive relations between meaning and being1. In this case what happens is a form of immanent experience of signifying sensation, a sort of aesthetic poetry, where the body is marked by impressions. Speakable, in the form of the poetic sentences engraved in marble plates throughout the installation, but unexplainable impressions that implement images on the mind. The physical response to the overwhelming stimulation of sight, smell and sound, as well poetry, speaks to the irrational mind, transporting it to an altered plane where discourse falls short. It brings together the senses of meaning and being in one affective response, severed from discursivity, but highly signifying and meaningful.
By creating a global experience, the exhibition addresses not only the visitor’s mind but the whole body. One is transformed by this experience, coming to embody a signifying sensation: becoming whatever crosses one’s mind during one’s own affective response. You experience for example a feeling of belonging, of being part of a world where humanity and nature are not opposite but connected. But this is possible on the basis of the knowledge that the wooden logs represent the domestication of the forest, bringing at some point into the equation a form of intuitive rationalization. Even if the visitor’s possible transformation is mediated through knowledge, which produces this intuitive rationalization, affect is the transformative vector that creates the impact, the imprint, the impression.
There is also a social and psychological parameter in the affective response created by the artwork. In Sara Ahmed’s view, “emotions can both institute and destabilize social boundaries between individuals and collectives”. They have constitutive effects precisely because they “mediate the relationship between the psychic and the social”, organizing the individual responses that bind subjects to regimes of power and knowledge.”2 According to this idea, the affective response that places the visitor in an internalized dialogue with the artwork – a dialogue made of both emotions and rationalizations -, has something to do with attachment to the place, to what the place implements physically and psychologically. The temple, for example, constitutes a bodily space that is also a social space, altering the reception of the artwork and embedding it in a sense of community where the individual psyche is transcended by the presence of a social heritage. Heritage as an ideological force to which the individual is bound through the very intensity of emotional attachment, producing a sense of psychological implication.
More than a transformative power that turns the spectator into an active agent in the relationship with what is presented, affect is thus the vector through which one can reflect on what really constitutes a psychological link to social and ideological environment. This second level of reception is made possible by a self-questioning of the spontaneous affective response: Why does this sensual environment make me feel calm, uncomfortable, or even scared? Each personal emotional response is the sign of an individually negotiated attachment to psychologically constructed ideas of nature and religion.
If affective response is therefore relational rather than a solid and autonomous sensation3, affective stimulation is particularly appropriate in an exhibition that places relationships and connections between nature and humans at its center, because this relationship is originally and fundamentally affective, blurred by centuries of trying to untangle it from being in communion to objectivation, rationalization, instrumentalization. Being or feeling comes first, then is amplified by meaning. The overwhelming sensual presence is echoed by artistic procedures that make sense in terms of what is at stake in the temple: procedures that signify first on an emotional level, but which can also be interpreted on a discursive level.