How do Artists Illustrate the Passage of Time? by Karen Archey

Alan Michael, ‘Mood 8’, (2010)

Karen Archey writes about art representing the passage of time in MAP magazine:

There are certain artists whose works exist in multiple temporalities, and challenge the notion of temporality itself. They exhibit a sensitivity to an evolving contemporary condition defined by this recently developed shift in pace. such work operates under multiple, connected working methods, each containing at least two temporalities: the first being the specific cultural moment in which it is made, evidenced by the marks and mediums endemic to its time; the subsequent moment being that in which the work is accessed or activated by its viewer. But what happens when these temporalities are complicated, or even masked? Is it possible for an artwork to possess multiple meanings through different activation points in time, or preserve a singular meaning that is timeless?

Consider Andy Warhol’s ‘Time Capsules’ project, an archive of the artist’s everyday accruals from 1974 to his death in 1987. A set of 612 dated cardboard boxes containing banalities ranging from daily newspapers, correspondence, and financial records to gifts and refuse, Warhol’s ‘Time Capsules’ reimagine the impetus of the first time capsule realised in 1939 by Westinghouse Corporation for new York’s World Fair. As per the popular understanding of the time capsule, the Westinghouse version combined and preserved items considered emblematic of their historical moment: microfilaments, bank notes, recorded messages from Albert Einstein, commonly used textiles, etc. somewhat perversely, the boxes containing Warhol’s cast offs have since been lovingly catalogued, preserved and photographed by museum archivists. Yet Warhol presciently understood that it was the near-invisible matter most familiar to us that may most distinctly define a given historical moment, perhaps more so than whatever is ceremoniously deemed significant at the time. Warhol’s nonchalantly collected materials accumulate significance and authority through their maturation, acting as a glimpse into its historical moment.

While Warhol’s ‘Time Capsules’ simply exist in two temporalities (the dates on which Warhol archived his accumulations, and the moment in which they are activated by the viewer), it was his intention to create tension between his temporality and a projected future moment of activation that renders the work prescient. An oppositional model to Warhol’s auguring one, meanwhile, would be that of fashionability: an artist who has little regard for the future activation of her artwork, which consequently becomes diminished conceptually in time. Although such work may exist fruitfully in its given moment, the lack of consideration of its future activation will result in that work remembered solely relevant to its specific historical moment, and thus anachronic. One could understand Julian Schnabel’s oeuvre as such: while the artist acts as the figurehead of the bigness of the 1980s, his work has since been reduced to emblematising this period.

Working primarily through video and film- based photography, Moyra Davey contemplates the crawl of time twofold: first by tracking the frustrating accumulations particular to the domestic – dust, paper piles, empty gin bottles – and, secondly, by indexing the extinction of the late 20th-century technology. Davey’s straightforward photographs forlornly document shelves of dusty books, vinyl records, Manhattan newsstands, and radios as an emotional consideration of objects and the slowness, and authority that they represent...