I’ve been thinking about my Critical Practice essay question, which is: how and why do artists record the passing of time in their work?
I have described this as being a kind of ‘archaeology of now’ in the sense that I’m interested in how we lay down layers of material culture, the kind of thing that archaeologists later dig up. And I’m interested in the everyday, not the spectacular per se. I want to record what happens, what actually shapes the ‘unrepeatable moment’. It is about time in the sense that everything happens in a particular moment but it is also about looking at the everyday as a way of engaging with the reality of the world.
But why do I want to record it? and what does that really mean?
There is a personal connection with forgetting and being forgotten, with uncertainty about what did and didn’t happen and why. This quotation from Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay strikes a chord with me:
Even though I had known him forever, he was made of dreams, and holding on to him forever would have been impossible: he came from childhood, he was constructed out of childish desires…
That might suggest that recording was about establishing the facts and perhaps clinging on to them, but that doesn’t feel right. That isn’t what I mean to do. Then I came across this thought by Oskar Kokoschka (in an interview with Edouard Roditi (1980) Dialogues on Art):
Each one of us must seek to organise so many conflicting facts, impressions or sensations in some kind of understandable synthesis, I mean in a Weltanschaung which will allow one to face the world as an individual, without being overwhelmed by the kaleidoscopic flow and swirl of phenomena.
This resonated with me as a way of articulating what it is to pay attention to things in the world, and thus to make sense of your own world. And it makes sense to me in terms of ‘archaeology of now’, because it’s about awareness of the present as we are organising and shaping it.
But then I worry that it sounds like something that could veer perilously close to some kind of art therapy! I had an interesting conversation with artist Sandra Beccarelli, at a local gallery where she had a solo show, about her working strategy. She wants to integrate ‘feeling a feeling’ and ‘analysing that feeling’. She starts with thinking and planning a painting (and that planning is quite detailed and extensive) but then she works with what arises in the making and her spontaneous responses to that. Her working method thus encompasses a kind of personal integration but doesn’t stop there.
So, recording for me is about the establishing some sort of truth about the moment, a kind of forensic, archaeological view of it, that expresses my feeling about what matters.