Time and Ad Reinhardt

The realisation that over the next handful of months I’ll be making my final ever body of work at university is very daunting. I’ve spent the holidays working on the dissertation, an investigation into the relationship between contemporary ceramics and time, which has introduced me to a number of artists, philosophical concepts and ideas that I hope will act as a springboard for this term’s work. Some of these different aspects of time are listed below:

  • Material temporality and how it’s different from human time causing an instability in human-thing relationships.
  • Phenomenological explanations of non-linear time
  • The dichotomy between lived time and the homogenous time of the clock
  • How our experience of a static image is temporal because it takes place over a duration
  • The dichotomy between impermanent raw clay and long lasting fired ceramic
  • Indexical marks as visual traces of time
  • Keith Harrison’s ‘live firings’ make us feel the presentness of real time
  • Clay’s immediacy as a means of us experiencing ‘presentness’
  • How time can be transformed in a state of creative flow

One artist I don’t write about but who has captured my attention is the American abstract artist Ad Reinhardt and his series of black squares. At first the paintings appear uniformly black. It is only through contemplating the painting for a duration of a few minutes that it starts to reveal itself to the viewer – as a grid of very subtly different shades of very, very dark blues, greens or purples. In Arden Reed’s book Slow Art he argues that this is what he means when he describes a painting as a moving picture quoting the sculptor Robert Smithson’s remark that ‘each painting is at once both memory and forgetfulness’. In the past it was generally agreed that paintings could not show time because they were static images and seen in single instant (punctum temporis) in which change could not take place. However E.H.Gombrich in Moment and Movement in Art (1964) argues that we take in an artwork not in an instant but over a duration, building up the ‘reality’ of the artwork in our head partly based on guesswork, expectation and memory. Perhaps, following in the steps of Reinhardt, what I need to focus on is how surface can impact our relationship with time instead of form.

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Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1963, oil on canvas. Source: uk.phaidon.com

Currently in CSAD’s reception space is a pop up exhibition by some of the school of art’s technical demonstrators. With Reinhardt’s paintings in the back of my mind I was instantly drawn to Dallas Collin’s Behold (2018) – a wall panel made from 576 individually coloured oak cubes on which we see a pixellated image of a NASA project showing light from a distant galaxy when the universe was only 800 million years old (in perspective, it’s now 13.8 billion years old). The moment in time depicted doesn’t exist anymore – but then neither does five minutes ago or this moment now.  As Gombrich explains, we build up an image from a succession of tiny in focus dots which the pixels here are suggestive of. The two layers of the image below – the mathematical grid and the superimposed fuzzy space photograph might speak of the two kinds of time we experience – the objective time of ‘clock time’ and our subjective, lived experience.

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Dallas Collins Behold (2018)
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