Time, Place and the Stuff of Art
“It is a mistake, this extreme precision, this orderly and military progress; a convenience, a lie. There is always deep below it, even when we arrive punctually at the appointed time with our white waistcoats and polite formalities, a rushing stream of broken dreams, nursery rhymes, street cries, half-finished sentences and sights – elm trees, willow trees, gardeners sweeping, women writing – that rise and sink …”
“ … by changing space, by leaving the space of one’s usual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating.”
Artist, curator and founder member of the research group A Place In Time, Graham Keddie, has defined the work in the One Hour project as “trans-sensorial explorations.” So not only does the artwork in question address issues of site-specific psychic geography and the shifting nature and momentum of time passing. It also begins to intermix media in such a way that the evidence of the senses themselves – both of the senses of the artists and of the viewers – might overlap in a more or less welcome disorientation of the banalities and predictabilities of the everyday. Another word for this disorientation might be enchantment. Another might be bewilderment. There will be theoretical and intellectual trouble on the cards for any active or passive participant in the affairs of A Place In Time who expects clear-cut definitions of motivation and meaning. This is a group whose collective raison d’etre appears to have been precisely the creative baffling of restrictive categorisations and linear discourses.
Consequently any account, such as this one, which aims to accurately comment upon A Place In Time’s place in the art world, its historical and contemporary context, might best do so in a sequence of interlocking yet centrifugal reflections. In any account, it must be recognized, of course, that place, time and the senses are just about all that is, anytime, anywhere and with anybody, be they mortal ‘artist’ or mere mortal. When all is said and done, all-that-is a confoundingly big arena to enact the game of art in.
To start with Keddie himself and the establishment and development of the group leading up to, or counting down to, One Hour. For the group’s previous major project Remain-Dismantle-Replace, staged in February and March 2013, the University of Northampton’s Avenue Gallery was used, in Keddie’s own words, as “a collecting point for ‘stuff’.” The ‘stuff’ was art objects and writings (it seems to me that ‘writing’ rather than the academically ubiquitous term ‘text’ is more appropriate a term for APT’s words, it being a more commonly used verb rather than noun). The initial art object, directly or obliquely focused on the ongoing theme of place and time, was exhibited, then removed and replaced by a piece of writing by each artist retrospectively describing or recounting the impetus of the work and hinting at its possible future trajectory. This writing was in turn replaced by another artwork that in effect might synthesise ideas bred by the prior ‘stuff.’ These artworks were accompanied by further reflective writings. The process of creation, partly sifted from
the studio to the gallery, its intellectual and technical struggle, its punctuation by self- critical analysis or downright self-doubt, became the changing physical presence of the artwork itself. Fluxus would have been proud.
It is taken as an art historical convention that an exhibition generally consists of art that, no matter how disparate in character, has been created and finished in the studio. A gallery is a resting place for full-grown and finished-off ‘stuff’ that is confidently posited as the stuff called art. There was nothing finished-off about Remain- Dismantle-Replace. It could be seen as a sequence of temporary displays of created things and writings that were in a state of movement and mutation. Therefore, in some sense it could be questioned what kind of art this is, or was, and, indeed, whether it was art as we have conventionally come to know it at all. Much cultural fun might be had, and I am sure was had, in chewing over such cultural quandaries.
Remain-Dismantle-Replace set the scene for Keddie’s next curatorial project, One Hour, staged in and around the distinctive venue of Northamptonshire’s Fermyn Woods Water Tower on the weekend of 6-8th September 2013. One Hour, involving seventeen artist researchers and eleven mentee artists, was a series of art events, each created or performed by individual artists and each focused on one hour. This time, escaping the white cube confines of a gallery setting, the project further evolved Keddie’s catalyzing curatorial agenda to fit variable site-specific ambiences, and thus perhaps to further confound any attempt, such as this, to coherently classify its contents.
To start with, it might be instructive to have a look at Keddie’s stated curatorial ambitions alongside the art he personally contributed. Keddie makes no secret of the fact, and indeed on the contrary stresses the fact, that he is “heavily dyslexic.” As with any artist worthy of the name, Keddie has translated what most would assume to be a disabling hindrance into a creative advantage. He credits his dyslexia as a major influence on his widely enquiring nature, his tendency and ability to envisage several possibilities simultaneously, his questioning of any fixed and finished assumptions, his healthy cultural uncertainty. It is a fact that we live in a time of greater global uncertainty than ever before in the history of the human race. We are uncertain of our environment, of our collective cultural identity, of definitions of art, of the future survival of human life on the planet. Yet the psychic vertigo of uncertainty can be suspenseful and exciting as well as dreadfully daunting.
Keddie’s motivation for his own One Hour piece was not just one body of writing but three, and all three apparently unrelated: Foucalt’s The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, Quin’s The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays and Mayol, Giard and de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, Volume 2: Living and Cooking. The piece, titled 10:05:13–11:05:13/10.05.13/GK (The Fieldworker in a Superposition), involved Keddie reading the books, his reading necessarily fragmentarily conditioned of course by his dyslexia, and constructing and mapping of a kind of duplicitous archaeological site in the field behind the Water Tower. The result is a labyrinthine layering of elements: the books, a trail outlining the course of walking up the field with a chair to sit on whilst reading the books, a picnic, the food and wine, the conversations. It’s a late summer story with no apparent beginning, narrative or didactic development, nor conclusive ending.
The other artists involved, their work too numerous to all individually mention here, each in their own way similarly engaged with the specific nature of the place within the one hour time remit. In some cases this was a lone and almost meditative interaction between artist and site. Sometimes the interaction was aided or contributed to by other collaborators. Sebastian Blackie involved the public in gathering together plants or any chance curios found around the Fermyn Woods site, which were then pressed into clay and fired to form a ceramic carpet. James Steventon led a group run between the Water Tower and Sudborough Green Lodge. The aerobic heart rate of the runner’s effort determined the characteristics of the art-run, thus, as the artist stated, somehow making “use of the heart as a perceptual organ.” Already we are encountering several questionings of the identity of the art object. Art has been reframed as a form of botched reading, fake archaeology, casual collecting, or a refreshing run in the country (but one in which some kind of metaphoric shift is taking place).
Bodily movement through place and time was also the name of the rather enigmatic game as Christina ten Bosch tethered herself, like a horse, to a post and walked around in a circle in a nearby field for a hour precisely. The consequent circular track, further marked out by seashells and accompanied by metal mesh sculptural mobius strips, answered her pondering of “what is one hour?” with some personal version of an image of eternal return.
Spencer Graham spent his one hour in Northampton’s cult Vinyl Underground store and sampled tracks from any record that might use the word Detroit in its artist’s name and album or song title. Choice examples such as Platinum Pied Papers’ Detroit Winter, Detroit Swindles’ Nothing Else Matters and one Mr Fowlkes’s Detroit Beat Down sounds&grooves were collected together and shared with participants in a form of friends’ favourite cassette collection. Another sound work involved Ben Baal- Bowdler walking the spooky confines of London’s Woolwich Foot Tunnel with his recording equipment, picking up the hushed ambience and the occasional overheard conversations of those he encountered en route. The sound sculpture was thence transposed to the rural spaces of Fermyn Woods, conjuring up a form of sound displacement in which the atmosphere of two highly contrasting sites is effectively collaged together.
Such works play on art’s tactic of disorientation, of enabling us to feel somewhere else, to listen to something else than more-of-the-same, to make imaginative leaps between disparate elements, to combat ennui with mysterious delight, to make the mundane magic.
Tom Hackett is no stranger to creative mischief and its outcome mysterious delight. His one hour was spent rowing around a Nottingham park boating lake daydreaming and watching and listening out for other laid-back boatmen and women. The experience, sculpturally embodied in cast concrete, was laid out at Fermyn Woods in the form of word trails interspersed with miniature boats. Hackett’s accompanying writing (as with Remain-Dismantle-Replace, each artist in One Hour was required to present a written passage) hints at the work’s reveric multiple perspectives: “A boat trip imagined … An hour visualized … A place duplicated … A fabrication of letters … A band-saw … A quantity of water … A marriage of convenience … A question of truth …”
As with that of the other artists, Hackett’s writing here is no way any explanation or attempted justification for the work. It is a part of the work and provokes more thought around the work. A selection of extracts from the presented writings of the other artists adds up to a series of mediations on the specialness of certain places and the poignancy of time passing. In some cases, as is to be expected, they movingly touch on the ultimate voiding of all time and space in the fact of mortality:
Desmond Brett: “The more I am saying about this the less clear it becomes … Here comes the night … What I hope will emerge out of this project is something new that might be an unwelcome interloper or a friendly visitor.”
Gary Price-Hunt: “A place in time is drifting, never caught completely, only available to us as fragments, the flick of a tail in a mirrored aquarium.”
Susan Bovin and Andrew Eden: “… consider how to measure the significance of the relative constituent parts of memory, and whether the duration of the experience could be agreed, filtered down to an essential hour and re-experienced as an hour one year later.”
Gail Dickerson: “A repeated unrepeatable journey … Gathering in an hour a representation of a much greater sense of time.”
Jack Eden: “Time and distance are not physical, irrefutable or finite but rather a conflation of transient and abstract ideas.”
Susan Williams: “Is the sky different every day, every hour? … Why isn’t the field just a field? … Is one hour empty until I fill it up? Will answers make any difference?”
Helen Frankland: “The starting point for this work is the hour I spent studying, recording and looking at the magnolia tree in the front garden of the house I live in … The tree was planted by a previous owner. I know that she had ten children and died in her forties.”
Michelle Keegan: “A year ago I scattered my father’s ashes at sea. The visual dialogue began at this place. A place of pilgrimage.”
Stephen Elvidge: “Since both my parents and brother passed away over the last 24 months … Vestiges: remnants, relics, remainders, traces, signs.”
The One Hour project, as with the whole of Keddie’s initiated A Place in Time venture, is thus, in the curator’s own unashamedly candid words, “practice led”, involves “a certain amount of collaboration” and is in spirit in fact “quite muddled.” Yet it is muddled with creative purpose, attempting above all to bring up unexpected images, intermixing forms and ongoing ideas. A Place in Time is on the go, not fully formed, unfinished, leaving space for rethinks and new directions. I for one look forward to seeing where it goes next on its wayward and paradoxical path.