DATE: 12/1/2011 | BY MING LIN
Though not always explicit, a preoccupation with time has inherently been a factor in western works of art. Drawing from it's religious antecedents, works of the early modern period attempted to immortalize their creators, securing both the notion of the individual and the place of the artist within the canon - both essential parts of the modern nation state. Art, by providing a material imprint, acted as proof of ones existence and as a window into a higher realm of thought. For a moment, art harnessed time, froze it, and used it to project certain ideas about how society should organize itself.But over time the inherent value of the meter and the kilogram has been degraded, the kilo loosing fifty millionths of a gram over the past 120 years. To Galison this suggests a universe "populated by the inexistent, failed objects that are, for their lack of reality, the most real of all" -meaning that the systems of value that govern us as are complex, elusive and arbitrary. Einstein, in his theory of relativity, claimed that every person carried his or her own time, this being contingent on movement, and thus he proposed a relation between time and space. A re-examination of time finds it to be defined by procedure and process rather than an absolute simultaneity. Galison concludes that presently, time and the rational frameworks which it is understood to be a part of are vestiges of an "obsolete science," a mere illusion. A contemporary notion of time is one that bears the human mark upon it. It is determined not by the rhythms of some unfathomable object, but by the blood coursing through our veins.
In The Refusal of Time, artist William Kentridge and physicist Peter Galison explore the ways in which time has been utilized as means of control. The first of two essays describes the event which set the precedent for systems of measurement to be exact and standardized. At the end of the 19th century, 18 countries agreed to recognize the meter and the kilogram as common units, based on a meter stick and a weight chosen at random and then buried in the earth. From this moment on, Galison writes: "every atom and asteroid, every galaxy and giraffe, would be given in terms of those two metal objects deep below ground." A craze for conventional forms of all measurement ensued, time above all. A standard time zone was established in europe and soon extended to the colonies as well.
Artists since the 1990s have increasingly emphasized the temporal rather than spatial in visual representations. Gerhard Richter's blurred and saturated paintings, for example, allude to the condition of memory - a product of time that is constantly in flux. In these compositions, the visible movement of the brush across the events depicted conveys the passing of time. William Kentridge's video works similarly illustrate the relation between space and time. His videos are comprised of pencil drawings drawn on a single sheet of paper, then erased or altered, and then redrawn, enacting a narrative where traces of lines and erasure denote process. In the Documenta notebook, Kentridge's sketches contemplate time as physical and spatial and therefore, alongside Galison's writings, demonstrate that time does not stand alone but is interconnected with space and other human forms of measure. This is not to do away with time altogether, but to reveal its constructed nature so that new forms of governance may emerge.
William Kentridge & Peter L. Galison: The Refusal of Time
HATJE CANTZPbk, 7 x 9.75 in. / 48 pgs / 29 color.