Time is an illusion
…or so Einstein said, but two exhibitions this month set out to explore how time is used as form, content, and material in art, and how artists evoke, manipulate, or transform time.
To make potentially ‘timeless’ art, Matt Calderwood asserts the necessity of beginning from the transitory, of playing with the idea of time as a uniform, linear series of events, and relating contemporary art to the rhythms of life and nature. His Exposure Sculptures (2013), co-commissioned by BALTIC Gateshead and De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea (where they are currently on display), employ a very specific sculptural language to examine the physical properties and dynamic between materials, and how they change over time.
The element of chance plays an important role in Calderwood’s practice; his geometric structures, made from welded steel clothed in billboard paper, have been transformed by four months’ exposure to heavy wind, rain and salty air on the De La Warr Pavilion’s outdoor roof terrace. The video below charts the process.
Now reassembled inside the gallery, viewers can see tears and stains, how the paper has flaked off and how metal panels have been infected with rust to form traces of a performative installation. The materials have grown weak and tired, creating a snapshot of an exact length of exposure, but their decomposition is now stilled. Change and endurance are simultaneously evident. Past and present are apprehended and locked in a timeless unity in the gallery space.
Time and the concept of art as both object and process also form the core of Edmund de Waal’s forthcoming intervention in Cambridge. Long revered for his ceramic art, de Waal is probably more widely known as the author of the bestselling book The Hare with Amber Eyes – his family memoir tracing a collection of netsuke from fin-de-siècle Paris to the Palais Ephrussi in Vienna to Tokyo. Opening at the end of this month, On White: Porcelain Stories from the Fitzwilliam will see de Waal re-curating the museum’s permanent collection of European and Chinese ceramics with poetry, letters, and photographs taken during his residency in Jingdezhen, China.
However, the real highlights will be two major installations of ceramics by de Waal. One of these works, yourself, you, has been specially commissioned for the show, and will hold thirty-six thrown porcelain vessels (glazed and unglazed) in a pair of free-standing vitrines. The other piece is one of de Waal’s most ambitious projects to date – a thousand hours (the centrepiece of a major exhibition held at the Alan Cristea Gallery in London last year). The installation comprises one thousand pots, their muted palette inducing a hypnotic fascination with the variations in form, encased in two large walk-through vitrines. De Waal describes it as being “anti-monumental, a work with real architectural presence and scale but that isn’t a monument since the viewer can move through and around the work”. Crucially, the piece explores the notion of “holding” a large amount of time in one space. Each pot took a little more than a minute to make, and represents the unit of time invested in its creation, introducing the idea of a quantity of time contained, suspended in a timeless moment.
Both de Waal and Calderwood aim to stimulate in the beholder a particular complex of ideas, emotions and responses, encouraging us to reflect on that mysterious potential where time falls into the timeless. You cannot help but conclude that Einstein and his fellow philosophers of physics were right – time really is an illusion.
Matt Calderwood: Exposure, until 23 Feb 2014, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea
Edmund de Waal: On White – Porcelain stories from the Fitzwilliam, 29 November 2013 – 23 February 2014, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Matt Calderwood, Exposure Sculpture, 2013
Edmund de Waal, a thousand hours, 2012 (Photo: Michael Harvey)