Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 19-26, 2009

We’ve been spending time considering the implications of appropriation and hybridity in the field of art + environment in the first two weeks of this conversation. I’d like to shift gears to raise a question about time as a concept in this discussion.

First disclaimer: I’m no linguist. Second disclaimer: I know just enough about linguistics to be dangerous. Now that I have my disclaimers out of the way, what I recall from my very introductory undergraduate training in linguistics was the impact of lectures Ferdinand de Saussure presented between 1906-1911. The resulting compilation of the lectures, Course in General Linguistics, more or less shaped the field of historical linguistics throughout the twentieth century. To deeply simplify and summarize one component of his proposed/theorized methodologies: linguistic analysis is conditioned by the relationship of linguistic study to time. The primary methodological concern in early-twentieth-century historical linguistics had to do with a debate over analysis: synchronic analysis (for example, the examination of a language at a single moment in time or in the language’s history, specifically limiting study of the language’s development over time) as compared to diachronic analysis (for example, the examination of a word’s development over time, and its relationship to other language changes in that same period of time). So what does any of it have to do with art?

I would argue that a good deal of what might be considered “traditional” landscape art would appear to be synchronically oriented. That is, paintings or photographs depicting landscape depict, generally, a moment in time. Even the language we use to describe more traditional landscape art has to do with “capturing the moment.”

In comparison, many contemporary artists—especially, perhaps, those artists working at the intersection of art + environment—create work that is about the experience and perception of time in relation to the work’s space | place | context. By way of a very famous example, Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977) was created with very specific expectations of visitors’ experience over time—hours and even days (Figure 1).

Fig. 1 Walter de Maria, The Lightning Field (1977)

Similarly, the artist Mario Reis’s “watercolors” (Figure 2) are also very much about time—but perhaps on a hydrological or geological scale. Leaving a canvas in a specific creek, stream, or river, Reis captures the sediments and silts of a particular place, both reflecting and creating a sense of time and place in his creative practice. His work physically embodies the places from which they are literally made, but they also reveal the effects of time—the rivers’ currents, changes in weather patterns, and so on (Figure 3).Fig. 2 Mario Reis, Nature Watercolors Fig. 3 Mario Reis, Nature Watercolor in Process

So my question for this group of provocateurs is what do you think time has to do with any of this? How does time play into your work or creative process? What are the promises and pitfalls of thinking about time conceptually, particularly in relation to work located somewhere near the intersection of art + environment?

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