It's About TimeMarch 1 - August 25, 2009
Curated by Jay E. Cantor
View Installation Images
FISCHLI AND WEISS
ROBERT GOBER AND SHERRY LEVINE
This is an installation. It is not an exhibition. It has a theme, but not a goal, and is, therefore, best viewed randomly. It is not meant to impose a series of ideas or a specific viewing sequence to highlight the special significance of an individual artist’s vision. It began as a meditation on notions of time, considered in a personal rather than in a cosmic sense. I first thought to title it 15/15, a riff on the popular investigative program 20/20. The jokey notion of 15/15 lies in the gulf between the 15 seconds that, documentably, most art viewers spend looking at a work in a museum and at the far end are the 15 minutes purportedly allotted to us all for fame. Fame implies a public arena, but is that fame achieved in real time or in a self-fulfilling state of being ‘with it’? Does recognizing an artist’s work and engaging in a breezy dialogue about it, no matter how challenging the art, provide a path to fame or guarantee some notion of belonging in the modern world?
This installation represents a personal vision and point of view. Although the works have been juxtaposed for scale and visual compatibility, they are part of a larger dialectic, butting up against each other and often contradicting their neighbors or, sometimes, themselves. There is no linear movement, but rather a series of trajectories. And, like the hapless silvered sphere in a pinball machine, the visitor here will hopefully engage in similarly random encounters without any ambition to make a high score or to become famous.
Many of the works have the appearance, at least outwardly, of being documentary. Most are photographic, although the power to manipulate the photograph has stripped photography of any claim to representational reality, according it full recognition as a creative medium. In some sense then, there is little difference between oil, acrylic and film or digital imaging in the artist’s arsenal. The difference lies in the viewer’s expectation. The public has, in fact, become an accomplice in a new artistic landscape. People who have never looked seriously at a work of art, old or new, have likely spent many hours looking at photography, film and television. And since in those media, time is manipulated without questioning or complaint, the modern viewer has, wittingly or not, accepted disjuncture in both narrative and experience. This is the world of experience as sound bite, freestanding, self-justifying and assertive.
Many of the works in this installation have a filmic quality, as though the artist has simply hit the pause button for a moment, raising the necessity for further action and ultimate closure. That chosen moment may engage us in a drama within the scene itself or, in fact, set up a confrontation between the viewer and the real or implied action. In other works we are clearly on the outside looking in; we are forbidden entry and denied a voice.
Some images suggest a dreamy reverie, engaging the viewer and encouraging participation through an emotional response or by framing a narrative or completing an implied action. Alternatively, the viewer may back away from, or even recoil, in a personal reaction to the image itself or at a recollection that the image conjures. There are ever present questions: “what is going on and what is this about?” In the understanding and answering of those questions, scale has a great impact. Intimate scenes become monumental and vice versa. And so it is, like our experience of a dream, the meaning of scale and the measure of time in some of these works are lost or distorted, begging to be resolved to be fully understood.
Light, an important player in dreams and in the conjuring of emotion, has a significant role here. Traditional photography is a light based art: early photographs were dubbed sun pictures. The relation to light in more recent works is complex. Light might come from within rather than from any external source. The dependence on light for structure and meaning is countered in works which intentionally deny it. Artificial light has become a paradigm for the tyranny of repressive forces in modern life. Otherworldly experiences are now associated with brilliant light emanating from an undefined source. In contrast to the redemptive power of light for the 19th century romantic, bright light takes us into an alien world.
The digital world analytically measures and subdues light, potentially creating a neutral field between subject, record and emotion. It is largely unencumbered by film’s selective response to color and contrast. Light here is sometimes a messenger of content but, it can become a subverter of reason as well. The camera reaches out to grab the data that becomes fact in a genetically reconfigured world. The image, lacking film’s modulation, appears as a seemingly irrefutable icon.
The works in the installation range from the most sophisticated digital renderings, enhanced and manipulated by computer alchemy which has cannily expelled the momentary in favor of a super reality, to pictures taken with a camera obscura where prolonged focus on a scene has suspended all notions of instantaneous time. In both, time is thus contorted and the search for compelling imagery outdistances the conventional notion of photograph as snapshot. Composition transcends the artificially arranged tabletop still life or literary tableau. The moment has been overturned by the search for a classical equipoise, but one without philosophical hierarchy.
These thoughts may have little to do with the artist’s intent but confirm, for me, a notion that the initial and often visceral response by a viewer is to the image itself. The game of recognition, of appraising the work as a credible or even significant example by the artist comes later. That is a different game. The one played here is entirely subjective. Viewers might not need, or want, to know anything more about the artist, but they may end up knowing more about themselves. In a curious way this show does not ask one to think but, rather to indulge in a world of thoughts. Time - well spent.
JAY E. CANTOR