The Time. The Place. Contemporary Art from the Collection.

Sunday, January 07, 2018 11:48 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

November 18, 1883 was called “the day of two noons.” It was the day that standardized time was instituted. At exactly noon on this day, four continental time zones were established in North America. It was called “the day of two noons” because at mid-day, people had to stop what they were doing and reset their clocks back to noon in order to get everyone on the same page of time.


The new exhibit at the Henry Art Gallery­—“The Time. The Place.”­—features over fifty artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, many of which seek to disrupt this sense of a standardized, linear time. Here, time is presented as layered and cyclical rather than a straight, organized line. Historical markers are nevertheless present in this survey. Artworks mark distinct moments in the history of the 20th century, including the Vietnam War, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and the emergence of modernist design mid-century. However, there is a push and pull between these two conceptions of time, fixed versus fluid.


Many artists in the show seek to bend time and turn it in on itself, denying its omnipresence, its oppressive consistency. And yet, at the same time (see—even I can’t escape it), the exhibit itself seems to insist on a standard marking of time. “In celebration of the Henry’s ninetieth anniversary”—every piece of didactic material about the exhibit uses this as the justification for mounting such a show at the Henry, and points out that the majority of the works have been acquired by the museum in the last twenty years. Wandering through the galleries, though, this clean-cut sense of a linear, divisible time all but dissolves.


The opening piece in the main galleries is “Ibi Sum.” What appears to be a clock is lying flat on a pedestal in the middle of the room. Except, this clock has only a single hand and no numbers. And it doesn’t seem to be ticking. In fact, it’s not a clock at all. It’s a compass. This compass is programmed to point to artist Kris Martin wherever he is, based on a geotracker Martin carries with him at all times. Even after death, the compass will continue to point to Martin’s grave. Transcending physical presence, transcending time, the compass will forever point. For Martin, time is a trick, a disguise. Time will pass, it will end eventually. But, the compass clock will continue its work, diligently pointing.


For me, the measure of a successful artwork is when time stands still while I’m experiencing it. These are the works where I can lose myself and forget that forward march of seconds, minutes, hours. Several pieces in the show conjured this experience for me, the most successful being the video works. What a thrill to discover that the Henry has in its collection videos by Bill Viola and Gary Hill, among others. I watched Bill Viola’s “Anthem” video piece with rapt attention, searching for any hint or trace of Seattle, wondering how this piece in particular came to end up at the Henry. What was the connection? How did it land here, in this time and this place, to be the opening work in the Henry show? Of course the answer was not there, in Viola’s clips of industry and commerce interspersed with the slow-motion scream of a young girl. The only answer being what Viola has always insisted—that human vulnerability stands outside of time or notions of its progression.


But where I really lost myself was in the second video room, a piece by Svetlana and Igor Kopystiansky titled “Speak When I Have Nothing To Say, After L’Eclisse (The Eclipse) by Michelangelo Antonioni.” The video is an edited scene from Antonioni’s film “L’Eclisse” where the artists have removed the dialogue and rearranged the shots so that any attempts to follow a linear narrative are thwarted. What starts off as confusing quickly becomes meditative and almost hypnotic, the sound of heels clicking back and forth on tile floor and a table fan lazily buzzing a soothing backdrop to the characters moving wordlessly across the screen. Here, time is a circle, there is no beginning and no end. There are no satisfying placeholders or landmarks to latch onto—only the silent despair of two characters who circle around one another, looping and repeating until they just can’t anymore.


This sense of a repeating loop, where time is more malleable than fixed, is a comforting cloak that drapes over the exhibition. It circles and doubles, as in Richard Long’s “Puget Sound Driftwood Circle” (driftwood arranged in an almost perfect circle) or Angela Christlieb and Eve Sussman’s “How to tell the future from the past, v. 2”, where video of forward and backward movement is seen side by side. 


It is comforting, this conception of time, because it removes the promise and the pressure of progress. It reminds us that nothing in life follows a single line. Seasons cycle around and around, lessons take practice and more practice to learn, change happens in fits and starts and never all at once. Sometimes going backwards is necessary to go forwards, and sometimes the day holds two noons. A heartening reminder at this time, this place in history where so many things feel positively upside down. 


Lauren Gallow

Lauren Gallow is an arts writer, critic, and editor. You can read more of her work at www.desert-jewels.com/writing.


“The Time. The Place. Contemporary Art from the Collection” is on view at the Henry Art Gallery, located at 15th Avenue NE and NE 41st Street in Seattle, Washington. The lower level galleries close on March 25. The upper level galleries remain open until April 22. Hours are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. and Thursday from 11 A.M. to 9 P.M. Visit www.henryart.org for more information.



   
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