Visceral experience

Plan Author

  • Colin Leon, 2016

Fields of Concentration

  • Sculpture

Sample Courses

Project Description

An exhibition of sculptural and other art works that are based in physical presence and movement.

Faculty Sponsors

  • Tim Segar

Outside Evaluator

  • Joseph Smith, Mount Holyoke College


This Plan is a study of sculpture and kinetic sculpture that explores the nature of physicality and special presence, gravity, and movement. Profound physical experiences are possible in the parallel worlds of nature and art alike. These experiences stem more from the body and the imagination than the intellect, and are shaped by our perception of the base qualities of objects, how those qualities relate to each other and to ourselves, and how they inform our perceptions of space. One paper focuses on the sculptural work of Richard Serra and Michael Heizer, as well as illuminating examples from everyday life. This is complimented by an exhibition of the artist’s own works, based in physical presence and movement.


One’s physical apprehension of objects happens constantly, and informs our interactions with the world. To truly apprehend an object is to utilize the imagination; in order to illuminate it, to understand it, to obtain a palpable notion of its fundamental characteristics; to enter into it and feel its nature as though becoming aware of our own body, in mass, volume, center, periphery, and balance. This imaginative event is similar to our experience of empathy for another person; one is said to “step into another’s shoes” and gain insight through that process. With objects, one can “touch with their eyes,” or “see with their fingertips,” but this may be misleading as it assumes a focus on one or another mode of sensation. More accurately, one’s full comprehension of an object, as well as the spaces that objects create, involves a necessary culmination or collaboration of all the senses. This is a continuous, though most often inactive process, one that does not necessarily produce an intellectual understanding of the things one encounters but a visceral one.

Gravity is a recurrent focal point in much of Serra’s work. Pieces such as “Carnegie,” 1984-85, and “Fulcrum,” 1996-97, which reach 40 and 55 feet high respectively, each involve large-scale slabs of steel about two inches thick which lean against each other in seemingly precarious configurations. The slabs of steel are not fastened but held together by their own weight. Here, an entirely observable application of weight and balance becomes tangibly risky. The heavy metal forms, along with the ostensible fragility of how they lean together, impose a sense of inherent danger to a viewer, as though they could shift and collapse unexpectedly like a card house pushed by a gentle breeze. A palpable sense of gravity is not only observed in the object, as with “One,” as an essential ponderable aspect of the work, but also as a tool that must be trusted like a harness.