Late Ramblings on Time

It has been three years of Beyond Art! My first post was published January 20, 2016. How far I’ve come since then…

And now: six months! Since my last post I have spent six months of time… On what? Finishing school; traveling. I’ve spent the time on seeing too much art to name (and writing about some of it other places). I’ve been to maybe 18 museums in that time…

After all that time away, I’m think about inertia. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite understood it like I do now, as I stare at the cursor flashing on my screen, leading letters along into words and sentences – into seconds becoming minutes. Into a post after a six month hiatus.

Over that time, I’ve been looking into this void. Maybe it’s something like the spin cycle on the washing machine, or watching fan blades spin, or the moment one’s eyes adjust the split-second when a room goes from light to dark. I know in that space, this strange cliff-side, there is so much potential – so much it looms like the monster under the bed: harmless, but intimidating nonetheless. It’s one big clock – big hand, little hand, second hand. One big hypnosis device.

The time-void. The clock. The Clock… I am sitting on the floor in the dark room. Bodies shift around me in the gallery-cum-movie theatre. The people are the sands in the hourglass, marking the passage of time that, even without the bodies, would be inescapable in this room. On the huge screen at the Tate Modern Christian Marclay’s immense, 24 hour long video plays. The Clock. Pulled from movies and beyond, the expertly-combined clips match the exact time in the “real world” outside of the video. I go in to the room at something like 5:15 pm. As I watch, the artwork reminds me that this little gallery-bubble is not so outside the world as it might feel: one clock shows 5:22, various scenes take place, then I am looking at 5:34. Time frames the actions that flash before me – people going in and out of buildings, children waiting for their father to come home. So much has happened in these 20 minutes in which I have sat on the hard floor in the darkness. So much has happened in these six neglected months.

Across town, earlier that day (Marclay’s video reading 11:30), 15 forty-something year old women gathered around a Rauschenberg at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.  There, then, they follow the guide like hummingbirds to a feeder – sucking down his sweet nothingness. If they dare to lift their bright plumage, dare to speak, their voices are cut off by that man with the clipboard. Obviously that can’t be, he says, looking down his beak over theirs. Why do they stay here, wasting their ideas on this man who won’t listen? Why do they stay here, wasting their time with him, when it could just be the art?

Intermission at the January 17 performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Macbeth. Featuring a pocket-sized copy of the play, in front of a prop clock that ran the duration of the show, reading 01:10:43.

Intermission at the January 17 performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth. In the background is a clock that ran the duration of the show, here reading 01:10:43.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time…” (Shakespeare – Macbeth 5.5)

Macbeth comes tomorrow – the day after the Tate. The Scottish Play is all about time: when is the right time; what to do when time moves to fast; how to recover it when it is lost; how to beat it… The list goes on, reaching out for those very tomorrows, as if they could provide the answers. Those questions look to break Marclay’s time-frame, to make the video repeat over and over. A reset button at midnight. A clock chiming – calling Cinderella home. A cry to “sleep no more,” making one day bleed into the next. It is the seemingly-endless cycle of our world hurling through space. And among that rush all we feel is a little morning light on our eyelashes. Maybe the sound of a hummingbird’s buzzing wings.

In my neglected six months I have had so many adventures. Notebooks full of them – hard copy notebooks. Pages that will tear and fade and rip their bindings. My screen pages, resistant to dust, show no sign of their neglect. Time, even here, passes differently.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve figured something out. My cursor, I think, flashes once per second when I’m not typing. My pen, when I pause, just waits, hovering like some fourth clock hand – some bigger time than seconds or minutes or hours.

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On Witnessing Nonlinear Creation

You enter the industrial space with your hands still shoved in your pockets, desperately trying to keep your fingers warm against the chill of waiting in line outside, wondering where you’re about to be.

As your hands adjust to the indoor warmth, your eyes adjust to the near-darkness. In the center of the room, a glowing half-sphere is filled with some gel – glue, Jell-o, opaque alien ooze? The light from the orb diffuses around the room, illuminating the audience – a well-packed group of about 100 viewers – as well as the three performers, all masked, all dressed almost fully in black. On one side of the orb, a woman lies on the ground, feet up on a mirrored chrome cube. On the other, another figure is seated, Buddha-like, with a circle cape encompassing their body. Attending the vat of goo is a lanky man. He reaches in, smoothing and testing, dipping his hand in and out.

Slowly, he reaches in and pulls out a submerged net, he shakes the goo off, and walks away, between the crowd, which fully encircles the performance. The two dancers stay behind, their bodies cranking and bending mechanically, twisting and writhing in unnatural ways. You are enthralled and confused.

Upon return, the man moves between the goo and an iPad – bee-like in his attention. Slowly, a device is lowered into the gel, a syringe pumps out blue-back something, trekking around and in the half-circle.

Around you, a mechanical soundtrack, loud and rhythmic, is punctuated by the hiss of an air compressor, determined to be acknowledged.

You are braver now. You have adjusted to the strangeness and are moving – skirting the perimeter, watching the dancers, whispering to those around you as you all wonder what is going on. The artist statement clutched in your now-warm hands is useless in the dark, more of a security blanket than a sword to fight whatever masked-monster may separate itself from the shadows, or whatever alien may be birthed from the centerpiece of the performance.

As you move you discover a fourth performer inside a large black fabric cylinder, which has been slowly creeping its way around. A tall body is visible, back lit by the gel depository. It moves deliberately, winding something up and slapping it to the ground, moving in a circle like a trapped animal in a cage.

In a heartbeat, the lights go off. The music stops. The air compressor is silent. The dancers stop moving and the vat-attendant has dematerialized. There is a collective pause. Do you clap, or wait? Is this a pause, an accident, or the end of the performance?

In the back of the room, the lights come on. A slow, careful curiosity draws people toward strange objects, hanging like fabric on a clothesline, and a shallow pool of water on the floor. The walls feel too white to have been so dark the moment before.

There is some kind of collective relaxing as people decide to touch – feel those blue-black umbilical cords and stick their hand gingerly in the slime.

What you have just witnessed was a birth, of sorts, printing in three dimensions; not layer by layer, but as a line pulled through space, in reverse.

Terre Mécanique, a performance by Kelly Nipper in association with the MIT Self Assembly Lab, was presented as a commission at Performa 17 Biennial (November 1 – 19, 2017) in New York City on November 9th, 10th, and 11th (this performance on the 11th). More information on the event can be found here. More information on Performa can be found here. Note: “line pulled through space” is a phrase used by Nipper at her artist talk on November 12, 2017.

 

Making Connections

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Light string by Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea

Art is about connection. Connecting ideas and stories and people and more art. These connections can happen serendipitously.

For example, at the Whitney Biennial – among all of the clamor over VR violence and questionable portraiture – stood a quiet alcove. Across from the gaping mouth of Anicka Yi’s video room was a classic white box gallery space containing six brightly colored canvases. These paintings by Shara Hughes were vibrant, abstract, and full of life. They made me stop and sit for a moment on a bench in the center of the space. I paused. The next day, I stumbled across another Shara Hughes show at Rachel Uffiner Gallery in the Lower East Side. Engagement, then a second, unexpected opportunity.

Visual art is, of course, associated with the eyes. But it can connect to all of the senses.

Sound was also featured in the Biennial, in various ways. There was the awful sound of skull on concrete in Jordan Wolfson’s Real Violence , on the other hand there was the calm voice of the narrator in Anicka Yi’s The Taste Genome. Plus the glorious hum of museum goers, quietly discussing, debating, dissecting.

Taste. Following the Biennial, I went to David Zwirner, where a new Felix Gonzalez-Torres show was up after the recent change in representation. It is undoubtedly the best gallery show I have ever experienced. Experienced – not seen – because I did not simply exist in the space, I participated. I bent down and plucked a sweet, minty candy from the pile of Ross in the corner of the upstairs gallery space. It was hard and real on my tongue. Substance from substance.

And touch. In that same show I walked through a curtain of beads. I heard them click against each other and I felt their weight shift around me and over me as my body disrupted the solid but shifting barrier. There were blue curtains, too. Light and thin and airy, they covered the windows in a long room upstairs. I could imagine them flowing in the breeze if the windows were open. I could imagine the fabric – smooth on my fingers.

My pen was blue, too, that day as I wrote what I saw. I touched it. I felt it.

Smell is tricky. I wasn’t knocked out by Pope L.’s bologna at the Biennial – it was disappointing, in a way. But today I spent all my time among art and people that love it. Young museum professionals, as we connected in museums. Together we looked, and then we smelled through time – experiencing Ancient Rome through six bottles (like Hughes’s six paintings those few weeks ago) containing ghosts – from flowers to fish sauce. Along the way we talked and listened, too.  We touched – with a handshake our connections expanded. All of our senses worked today.

Feeling needs to be distinguished too. It is different from touch. Feeling is the most important sense in connecting with visual art. Maybe feeling is a well-placed bit of dismembered metal on a wall – a Trigger, left by Puppies Puppies as subtly as a landmine. Or maybe it’s those curtains – beads and fabric – blue and blue. Maybe it’s the way color can get wrapped up with a person, so blue becomes love. Maybe it’s taking that moment on that bench in the center of that white room broken by Shara Hughes’s fantasy environments.

Art is about more than eyes. Eyes are a part of a larger body – your larger body. And it is made of so many connections.

 

Shara Hughes “Same Space Different Day” at Rachel Uffiner runs until June 25, 2017.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner runs until July 14, 2017.

Palimpsests: Being Haunted by the Ghost of a Ghost

In just over the past week the word “palimpsest” has come up in my life in three different contexts. This seems to be a sign from the Universe (with a capital “U”).

A palimpsest is an old animal skin, such as parchment, which has been written on, then scraped over so that new text may be added. It is a document with attempted erasure, but which still has underlying traces of its past stories.

And so: I am being haunted by the ghost of a ghost.

The word’s repeated appearances have gotten me thinking about palimpsests of the world, outside of literature. I heard a great example of a “cultural” palimpsest in my first recent encounter: when an adult uses a cutesy word from their family or their childhood, such as “jammies”, that could be considered a palimpsest. People may do this and create verbal palimpsests without even realizing it.

Another example I heard was New York City. It was in my second encounter, and it floored me. I have a certain romantic obsession with New York – the lights, the people, the art – and the more I thought of it, the more I realized how perfectly the comparison works.

Initially I had thought of Rome as a city-palimpsest. But Rome has been built over itself in layers, creating a situation in which the further you dig down the more you find. That’s more of a messy manuscript than a carefully kept recycled story board.

But New York… New York is constantly in flux, keeping up with the times, modernizing, destroying to create and create and grow and grow. It maintains its status as a shiny beacon of the world by being just that: shiny and always new. Undoubtedly some ghosts have been created there in the process, but not buried alive like in Rome.

No, these urban ghosts linger; ready to draw you in with a whisper and ask you to join them in the city, even if it means that someday you will be just another layer in the palimpsest of time.