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.

 

Color, Light, and Clouds: The Art of Thomas Wilfred

Here light is the artist’s sole medium of expression.

He must mould it by optical means,

almost as a sculpture models clay.

He must add color, and finally motion to his creation. 

Motion, the time dimension, demands that he must

be a choreographer in space. 

~Thomas Wilfred

How do you play light? How do you change noise, which is not-matter, into light, which is not-matter, and come away with an experience, which certainly matters?

In the charcoal grey, cave-like gallery space, ghostly, glowing forms draw you toward them. How can a form without mass have such gravity?

Part lava lamp, part screen saver, part soul trapped in a simple frame – the screens are opuses. This one, Counterpoint in Space, Op. 146 is an eternal smokey vapor trapped in a box. It ‘s like watching a sunrise through a puff of vape smoke: sweet and ghostly and just a little off-putting if you get too close. It is an always-shifting, rose-green, meditative viewing experience.

Throughout the exhibition there is a contrast of weightless, noiseless, changing color-forms, with the heavy wooden boxes that ground them, frame them, and ultimately allow them to exist. Here, a cage is a life source.

Track the light, follow the smoke. This is the world of a busy, multitasking mind – a dream-place built by a conductor of light. This is proof that light can be bent and moved and taught to behave, though it remains unburdened by its task.

At first glance there is stillness, then a gentle, bleeding, lazily drifting spread of brightness.

Wilfred believed that imagination was a concept, and that reality was the physical equipment which made it possible. The artist’s role is to make people believe that what they see on screen is actually a window; that the world of light and color and emotion and form captured in brief is all around us.

It’s all about laying back and finding shapes in the clouds.

 

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC until January 7, 2018.

Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, and The World

(The first thing that you need to know is that performance art is a social event. The success of the experience depends not only on the strength of the piece and of the artist, but of the willingness of the audience – the experiencers  – to commit…)

“IMAGINE PEACE” Yoko Ono’s voice rings out over the crowd, recorded but potent. “Imagine peace. Imagine peace…” A command. Are you ready to commit?

Imagine Peace (or perhaps: Imagine Piece) is an invitation to collaborate. Imagine, listen, feel. Cast yourself out into this audience and to the stage and to the space. Go.

Arising sets the stage with a haunting. Carnal and guttural and rhythmic, Ono’s voice screeches; viewers are uncomfortable with the contract they have signed by staying put. Now you are a bystander – no longer imagining, but witnessing.

Behind the screen you see one bright red dot (an orphan of the flames on the screen) pulsing as an inhale-exhale teases the cigarette in the dark.

This ember turns into a heartbeat. Next to you in the crowd near the stage someone puts two fingers to their wrist, searching for a pulse as their ears ring with one. Or: people hold their hands against their ears – against the sound of the too-loud life forcing itself through their chests. People hold each other in the dark. It is synthy and vibey and it passes over you like the sound of waves coming out of the speakers. Sound-gulls swoop in, coming to pluck the relaxed yawn from your mouth. Poetry echoes into a time machine – back to 1866 or 1953 or now elsewhere. Words fade, pause. Feedback turns musical.

Are you still there? Still committed to this art?

Break – a silent film plays. A match slowly burns itself out of existence. Who knew that your ears breathe when they aren’t clogged up with sound? Slowly the noise and the fire and the video burn out among the other silver screen stars.

Then frantic, uncontrolled, hair-whipping energy. “Why?!” over and over – whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy – until it not a word but a noise. Her voice on stage oscillates between orgasmic and painful. Behind walls of cymbal-symbols and a cart of incantations she is possessed with the spirit of the music noise light atmosphere of here and now and the crowd watches and nods – signs the dotted line.

Pause. Blink the confusion out of your eyes. No, slowly. Let your eye-lid-windshield-wipers restore the glimmer of eager amazement you have at experiencing this Happening. Do it even more slowly. This blink will take you five minutes to complete – think of it as a staring contest.

Now your nose fills with the smell of cigarette smoke as words swirl in your ears, over and over – “What about the dreamers?/ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ The world’s turning, I hope I don’t turn away./ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ What about the dreamers?…” It is a dropped and cracked music box, though it retains it’s hypnotic powers: watch the dancer spin, listen to the words chase each other in the microphone…

Then scream against the sky! PROJECT without thought. Ears open, eyes open, hearts open, minds open, ears blown, minds blown. Again and once more – break this atmosphere with the force of your human lungs.

Lean in to this. Further and further until you are on the edge – about to fall into the guitar noise and be cradled in the bend of her knee supporting the sound waves. You have entered a rippling, breathy, dissonant Nirvana – marked by the circles her finger makes in the air between strums on the always vibrating strings.

In the middle of this circle you will find the concept of gravity. Excitement draws everyone tighter – still stitched together by the commitment to this night. This text-turned-voice is a promise of what comes next, a promise of a man and a guitar and a blanket carrying shards of glass or memory or future or everything at once.

Pressing bodies are fast and harsh and unwavering. Imagine Peace! Bend into the crowd, hold your place but be flexible. Reach and touch and feel the cool vase that has become hundreds of little promises. Feel its rough edges and how small it is. One in hundreds but each totally unique. Imagine peace. This crowd is a jigsaw puzzle marked by shards of glass in pockets.

Commit to returning. This is a social event, after all, and now it is shattered and will be spread. Commit to returning ten years from now with your peace/ piece and rebuild and build better because now this piece of glass is not just white and blue and ceramic and broken: it is a story.

This is exactly what you signed up for.

 

Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, and The World took place on Sunday September 17, 2017 from 7 to 10 pm at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. It featured some of Ono’s video art, as well as performers Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother), Lizzi Bougatsos, and Kim Gordon, who performed selected Yoko Ono works from Grapefruit (including Collecting Piece and Overtones), as well as their own work inspired by Yoko Ono. 

90 Minutes at the MFA

“The important thing is first of all to have a real love of the visible world that lies outside ourselves as well as to know the deep secret of what goes on within ourselves. For the visible world in combination with our inner selves provides the realm where we may seek infinitely for the individuality of our own souls. In the best art this has always existed. It has been, strictly speaking, a search for something abstract.” – Max Beckmann (translated by Q. Beckmann and P.T. Rathbone) from Letter to a Woman Painter (1948)

I am not often caught without a notebook and pen. They are comparable to an appendage – naturally just there. This proximity enables frequent use. On my recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I challenged myself to not pull out my notebook, to just look. I was unsuccessful – Renoir shattered what little determination I may have had to stick to the challenge. For me, apparently, looking – soul-seeking – necessitates writing.

One may not immediately think of energy when they think of museums. Perhaps they think of white walls and long hallways and people speaking in too-long words and too-quiet voices. But, without a doubt, museums are full of energy – charged with it. Visitors are constantly in it – perhaps little stray sparks are what draw us toward one piece or another. They send out little invitations: Here, they say, walk through this doorway. Pause. Turn, slowly. Survey. Find the one that catches your eye and let it pull you into its undeniable gravity – there’s no point in fighting, something will draw you in and you will obey, observe, enjoy. Take it in one piece at a time: after all, you can’t see the world in 90 minutes.

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougival (1883)

Pause. You are struck by the light, the color, the movement. You are caught mid-twirl with the woman. You can imagine heavy skirts, taste the smoky setting. Trees bend in the wind – or maybe not the wind, but the breeze of the twisting dress fabric. There is music and conversation. The air is thick with excitement – a woman tips forward on her stool.

The man (looking suspiciously like van Gogh) cannot take his eyes off of the fresh-faced, coy girl. The pair is on their toes. Their mid-step is forever captured in oil. The maybe, want-to-be, almost-and-forever lovers hold each other close. It certainly isn’t the worst way to spend an eternity: safely suspended, together. The painting waits for people to sit on the nearby bench and watch. It, too, sends out an invitation: imagine the inhale that comes at the end of the twirl, imagine the smiling eyes beneath the brim of the man’s hat, imagine fingertips on fingertips.

Imagine: eventually, in a foggy someday, the woman’s stool settles safely back onto the dusty ground.

Scratch, scratch, pencil on paper, canvas to hand to sketchbook – carefully copied. The noise guides you through the massive galleries, drawing you from one space to the next – one painting and sculpture and subject and place and feeling and thought and not-quite-time-machine to another…

All the way to Pollock.

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Jackson Pollock, Number 10 (1949)

Here’s a challenge: trace it. Pick a drip, isolate it, follow it. Don’t get dizzy – don’t get too close. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Relax – it’s all in the flick of the wrist, flick of the paint can, flick of the eye following frantic motion frantically. Take a step back so you can see the whole image, all the way to the edges. Feel it out. Feel it. Can you decipher this drip-calligraphy? It is an unlimited, although not always easily-accessible, language. Try to learn it. Become bilingual – say you can speak energy disguised as paint on canvas.

Nearby, a few Picassos are mislabeled. There has to be some metaphor there, right? Something about the superiority of the image? Some condemnation of the crutch of a label?

Remember following that Pollock paint drip? Did it have a name? Did it need one to have a soul?