TEHCHING HSIEHOne Year Performance (Time Clock Piece), 1980–81, photo documentation of performance. Courtesy the artist.

In Search of Lost Time

One of this summer’s most lauded exhibitions, “Artempo: Where Time Becomes Art” at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, presented a mélange of eastern and western artifacts, antiques, Renaissance masters and contemporary work together in the beautifully decaying Gothic mansion of Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949), the Spanish-born designer who was, among other things, an inspiration for French writer Marcel Proust. The exhibition, indebted to the vision of Belgian collector Axel Vervoordt, who loaned many of the works on display, harked back to the aristocratic privilege of material dilettantism, a way of sampling the world through the random curiosities it coughs up. But in its willingness to collapse the boundaries between epochs, it also appealed to a prevailing attitude informed by the past half-century’s splintering of grand historical narratives, a process accelerated by the diffusion of media and disputing viewpoints brought about by technological advancement: human consciousness evolves ever further away from our physical limitations as we are now able to work in New York from a hotel room in Tokyo or follow the news in Delhi from a taxi in London, and yet we still hunger for immediate experience, sensations that short-circuit the mental ordering of reality. It’s just that we are rarely forced to confront this desire until something—call it art—shocks us into an awareness of how little time we actually spend inhabiting our selves. 

In this issue, we look at artists working at the intersections of performance, installation and new media practice who shock us into a consideration of time and place. Contributing editor Paul Laster leads off by describing how Tehching Hsieh, who arrived in New York in 1974 after jumping ship from an Iranian oil tanker, pushed himself to the limits of endurance in creating his “One Year Performance” series during the 1980s. Writing from New Delhi, Minhazz Majumdar sheds light on Bharti Kher’s stunning sculptures and paintings—adorned with scores of mass-produced bindi ornaments—that result from hours of meditative focus. For the cover story, associate editor HG Masters sorts through the chaotic collision of history, idealism and architectural form in the recent work of Lee Bul, currently preparing for a major exhibition at Fondation Cartier in Paris.

Also, Rachel Kent, senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, discusses media artist Paul Chan’s “7 Lights” cycle of silhouette projections combining Baroque music structures with apocalyptic imagery to comment on the endless loop of disaster news coverage. Almanac co-editor Gina Fairley shows us how Perth-based Singaporean artist Matthew Ngui transforms familiar spaces into filters for competing points of view. Paris-based writer Devika Singh visits Bangalore’s rising young artist Ranjani Shettar, who creates ethereal organic forms through industrial materials. And deputy editor Andrew Maerkle follows the trail of the Long March Project, the nebulous curatorial organization that turned the route of the Chinese Red Army’s epic 1934 cross-country retreat into a conceptual map for socially charged art interventions.

Elsewhere, Shanghai desk editor Rebecca Catching catches up with Gu Wenda, who pushes the boundaries of both literati connoisseurship and bio art, while Sydney desk editor George Alexander expounds on the intersection of text and image in the work of new media artist Zina Kaye and husband-and-wife team Caia Hagel and Tim Georgeson. For The Point, contributing editor Shinyoung Chung parses the impossible case of Shin Jeong-Ah, the ambitious young curator who foxed her way to the highest echelons of Korean power, but saw everything unravel after it was revealed she had faked her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees. Senior editor Don J. Cohn reviews the personal photos of painter of Chinese life Liu Xiaodong, published in a massive new book by Timezone 8; For Projects in the Making, Nadim Abbas travels to Guangzhou to learn about emerging conceptual artist Chu Yun, who celebrates quotidian chaos; and for Where I Work, Amrita Jhaveri calls on Raqib Shaw, whose infatuation with ornamentation, grotesque imagery and obscure historical references returns us, in some way, to the cabinet of wonders conceit of the “Artempo” exhibition.

What is time-based art? Is it film or video, measured in terms of duration? Is it the ephemeral performance piece, which can only survive in posterity through documentation or legend? Or can anything be time-based art, provided it can, in fact, transport us away from a sense of time altogether? We must remember that we are always behind the curve, unable to comprehend our experiences without a sensory lag. Is there any way to make up for lost time?

CHU YUN, Who Stole Our Bodies II?, 2003, installation of soap bars, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.