By Caren Lai
An exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.
Marking Time, an exhibition whose title fittingly marks the opening of the new Museum of Contemporary Art, explores the ways artists visualise and conceptualise time and its transit. The exhibition opened on 29 March 2012 and features major works by eleven Australian and international artists, including: Jim Campbell, Tatsuo Miyajima, Rivane Neuenschwander, Edgar Arceneaux, Daniel Crooks, John Gerrad, Lindy Lee, Tom Nicholson, Katie Paterson, Gulumbu Yunupingu, and Elisa Sighicelli. The exhibition is presented through a wide range of media, including drawings, installations, sculptures, sound, and light. These accompany the study, concepts and representations of time.
The contemporary art world continually challenges artists in their creation and treatment of their subjects; it seeks to motivate and challenge the way viewers perceive art in various social settings and contexts. The choice of subject matter in Marking Time is as defiant as its representations and treatments in contemporary art. Time, in the view of Immanuel Kant, is part of a fundamental intellectual structure that is neither an event nor thing, and thus is not itself tangible. Hence, through varied interpretations, configurations and reflections of the subject, the exhibition aims to capture the transitory and intangibile nature and effects of time in its full dimension.
In an untitled work by Californian artist and leading figure in media art, Jim Campbell, electronics and light sensors are utilised to magnify and capture the flow and effects of time. By recording the percentage of sunlight remaining in the day through a sensor positioned at the exterior of the museum and an electronic counter which tracks and reflects the information, Campbell reconfigures the invisibility of time through a visual experience. While in Home Movies 1040 (2008, custom electronics, 1040 LEDs), he draws attention to the ebb and flow of time through LED lights that consecutively brighten and dim to convey various moments of major events in life.
On the other hand, Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima considers humanity’s perception of time in relation to mortality in Death Clock (2003). The concept of time as reflected through the human cycle of birth, death and regeneration is blatantly illustrated and documented by the numerical counters in Miyajima’s photographic archive of black and white portraits, which are mounted in a grid-like manner across four enclosing panels.
Movement is also used in the deliverance of the concept and visualisation of time. Gallery visitors are invited to witness the transcending nature of time in Brazilian artist, Rivane Neuenschwender’s interactive installation Continente-nuvem (Continent-Cloud) (2007-08). Thousands of tiny white styrofoam balls are blown around by timer-activated fans in an illuminated overhead light box to create time on different scale – the experience of the continuous movements of clouds or, alternatively, the shifting continents on our planet.
The exhibition presents works from a variety of genres and from a culturally diverse group of international artists. It has effectively achieved a commendable effort in curating and delivering a concept as elusive as time. The diversity among the works, coupled with their unrestrained approaches to the subject matter, has contributed successfully to the core energy and dynamism of the exhibition. Viewers are called upon to witness time through movements, sounds, lights, and space. The creative use of space, multi-media and technology, such as Campbell’s monumental installation Scattered Light (2010) that comes to life only at night, contributes to the achievement of an enhanced physical and visual experience and synergy between the viewers, the environment and the artworks.
The overall setting and arrangement of the exhibition is well thought out with comfortable lighting and sufficient space catered for viewing, while ensuring smooth human flow around the exhibits. Space has also been creatively employed within some exhibits, which physically engages and motivates the audience in the works while creating a more interactive environment that allows viewers to experience the effects, development and movements of time. Wall texts are generally succinct and clear in their descriptions. While the positioning of some video installations within exposed wall cavities gives them an edge in their settings, their placements creates a visual and physical displacement with the rest of the works which may hamper the viewer’s experience, thus, weakening their respective presence within the entirety of the exhibition.
Even though the diversity and multitude of approaches, genres and interpretations in relation to the responses, treatments and documentations of the subject of time contributes to the vibrant disposition of the exhibition, the distinctiveness of particular works, though interesting in their own way, may weaken and obscure its connection to the entirety of the show. Consequently, it creates a slight sense of ambiguity regarding the relevance and complexity of the relationship between the work itself and the subject matter, displacing them from the rest of the exhibition. As such, the flow and assimilation of a number of works, to a certain degree, appears contrived and affects the overall resonance and connection to the theme of the show.
Nonetheless, the creative techniques of interpreting, documenting and capturing the essence of time and its passing gives the exhibition an added edge. In relation to the redevelopment of the museum, Marking Time has contributed coherently to the overall theme that frames and marks the opening of the new MCA. It is also seamlessly integrated into the permanent collection of the museum that is currently on display; it adds a complimentary charm and level of breadth and depth to the history of the museum and its collections. The unique intra-force that it possesses between time and space contributes to the overall pulsating energy within the MCA and its launch into the new era of contemporary art.
Due to the universal concept of time, Marking Time lends a general mass appeal and draw; gallery visitors are also able to establish intimate and personal relationship and appreciation towards the notion and visualisation of time through its diverse body of works. The thoughtful effort that has been put into the formulation of the exhibition is apparent and admirable through the quality and organisation of the works selected for Marking Time, making it worth a visit.
Until 3 June 2012 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.
Tags: Caren Lai, Daniel Crooks, Edgar Arceneaux, Elisa Sighicelli, Gulumbu Yunupingu, Jim Campbell, John Gerrad, Katie Paterson, Lindy Lee, Marking Time, MCA, Rivane Neuenschwander, Tatsuo Miyajima, Tom Nicholson