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What’s the matter with time?

“I feel a little guilty when people want to buy my art. I think they know but I want to write them a letter and say it’s not going to last. I am not sure what my stand on lasting really is. Part of me feels that it’s superfluous. Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last.” 

(Eva Hesse, sculptor)

The relationship between time and matter is intricately woven. Fundamental versions of time have evolved through cavernous reflection into the nature of matter’s internal and external relationships. The art of sculpture, as studio, womb and laboratory for matter, has contributed handsomely to this process. In the broadest sense of the word, sculpture has over the past century expanded into a veritable definition sans frontiére in terms of the range of matter and subject matter it deploys. Artworks have spawned into a hodgepodge landscape of physical and intangible substances stretching the breadth of the sculptor’s vocabulary from bodily waste, to radio waves and bacteria. Nothing is off the table, not even nothing itself. Sculptors are matter junkies, abusers of all substances forensically exploring its boundaries, pushing, pulling and subjecting objects to contexts, directions and limits far beyond the intentions of nature and industry. This may be for no reason other than childish playful experiment, seemingly purposeless fun ventures in the face of a goods and services driven economy. It may also be an essential part of a journey for a matter that best musters up an idea on the rampage.

My own hands have been puppeteered to pulverise wood, weld coins, embalm egg shells, glue soil, copperise maize, solidify newspapers, liquify lead, capture sunlight, combust plastic, freeze paint, tear canvases, smear gel, fold doors, smithereen glass and dethread silk. Some of these processes of trial and (for the most part) error are visible in the finished work but many may never see the light of day and remain valuable only in the present of process. An intimacy develops between material and manipulator, it becomes an extension of you, sometimes it can drive you mad, sometimes it swallows you whole, sometimes it propels you to another dimension entirely.

It seems therefore only fitting, when combined with the flexibility and constant reinvention of art’s rulebook, that sculpture is neatly placed to supplement, invent and challenge versions of time through its versions of matter. And it is a particular version of matter, expressed through its identity and evolved through studio practise that forms the basis of the present article and through which time will be explored.

More precisely, I will hone in on understanding and articulating matter in terms of material and abstract states and what this means for time. How might time be deferred to as a means by which to determine these identities? How might time itself be considered as a type of matter that also manifests material and abstract versions? How do we attempt to materialise and reign in destabilising abstract versions of time through a process of abstrocrystalisation (sic)? Finally, I will consider how contemporary time can be understood as having become increasingly abstractified in the context of a more general age of accelerated abstractification (sic) (AAA) and the socio-political impact that seems to be playing out in response. 

Original manuscript introduction for book chapter: 'What's the matter with time?', In Other Times (In anderen Zeiten)- Changing Discourses of Time across Human History,  w/ MPIWG Berlin, Comenius Garten Berlin, Frank & Timme Press. The final published version is available by clicking the image below.


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