Always seeking to encourage audience participation with his work, Shaking Cube is an important expression of Jeppe Hein's artistic attitude. Beautifully rendered in shining aluminium, this work references the minimalist and conceptual art of the 1970s, employing
the precise geometry and clarity that was so celebrated during this period. However, as quickly becomes apparent to its audience, in Shaking Cube Hein has produced a fresh interpretation of such works, giving his cube a youthful and playful twist which requires the engagement of his audience.
Reacting to human presence, Hein's cube vibrates when it is approached. It shakes for a few seconds, and then returns to stillness, activated every time a viewer enters an invisible field of motion sensors. Manipulating the space around it, Shaking Cube surprises the audience, causing the viewers to question their own assumptions and actions, and therefore can ignite a variety of reactions. At first this sudden movement is startling, apparently giving a warning to not come too close to the work as one does not know what will happen once the cube stops trembling. In some viewers, this shaking might even invoke fear. However, the more the cube shakes, the more it becomes humorous, engaging in a game with its audience. The noise of the cube rattling on the floor is reminiscent of a childs toy, like windup chattering teeth. The audience is almost encouraged to play with the cubes reaction in a similar manner, approaching and backing away to assess how and why the cube moves.
Although we know that it is not alive, the cube's almost human response to human approach forces its audience to question the nature of the object itself and re-evaluate their expectations of art. This questioning is prompted by the simplicity of the object which is
before them. In its stationary form Shaking Cube has an elegant purity and in this way Hein references such famed minimalist sculptures as Tony Smith's Die (1962, fabricated 1998) and Larry Bell's Cube (1966). Hein's cube also recalls the sculptural practice of Charles Ray whose work, 32x33x35=34x33x35 (1989), manipulates the idea of a box, with each of its four aluminium panels recessed into the ground. However, in the simple act of adding the motor, Hein challenges the artists who proposed this basic aesthetic and fundamentally alters the works meaning and impact. Hein rejects the expectations that an audience would have of a cube based artwork, making it humorous rather than austere and interactive rather than stationary. Thus by shaking and vibrating, Hein's cube not only pays homage to these early works but reinvigorates them. Playing on the unexpected, Hein reinvents the minimalist aesthetic for a new generation.
This reinvention of the cube is a common theme in Hein's work. Whether flying, burning, smoking, constructed from ice or neon lights, the Danish artist has frequently employed a rejuvenation of the geometric shape within his work as the vehicle for larger questions and themes. In one particular work, Invisible Cube, Hein sets up similar motion sensors in an empty gallery space. Each time a sensor is activated an alarm goes off, similar to the alarms which warn visitors in museums not to get too close to the artefacts. The alarms cause the audience to briefly panic, question their behaviour and wonder if they have broken the rules of the gallery. Hein has not been alone in seeking to create a new form of artistic cube for the twenty-first century; other artists such as Walead Beshty have similarly celebrated and challenged its minimalist aesthetic.
The important role which the audience plays in his artworks has been the key to Jeppe Hein's success. A prominent proponent of the idea of sculpture as a framework for interaction, the majority of Hein's works can only be experienced through physical engagement. Taking everyday materials such as water, mirrors, and even empty rooms, Hein places a great deal of emphasis upon those who view his works. As the artist has explained, 'I try to integrate sculpture into a broader context, allowing physical experience of the space as much as of the object. This implies the activation of the viewers physical and mental awareness; their movement in a given space is necessary for the perception of the works various dimensions this can stimulate multiple reactions: from amusement to fear, curiosity to doubt, wonder to surprise it disrupts the relationship of the visitor with the surrounding space and reality at large' (J. Hein in conversation with J. Jorgensen, Barbican Art Gallery, February 2007).
Hein's art has been celebrated and commissioned around the world. Exhibiting extensively in Europe, the Danish artist achieved particular success in his exhibition of a water pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale, the year before Shaking Cube was produced. One of an edition of five (plus two artist's proofs), Shaking Cube is an important piece within Jeppe Hein's oeuvre. Exhibited in prominent galleries in London, Berlin, Denmark and Vancouver, this work subverts the traditionally serious nature of minimalist art. Functioning through the unexpected, it questions both its own artistic heritage and environment, whilst engaging and amusing its audience with a radical reinvigoration of its simple shape.