Artists and time are at war. Artists are forever struggling with time to produce their work, to meet the deadline for and exhibition or to make sure their work survives environmental aging. Some artists exploit this challenge as a conceptual process.
The Collection Lambert in Avignon adopted this theme in The Disappearance of the Fireflies, an exhibition in Avignon’s former prison that opened on August 21. The title, adopted from a text by Pier Paolo Pasolini about the extinction of fireflies in his city, saturates the entire space with evidence of the slow and quick passage of time. In this homage to the firefly, a metaphor for a bygone era, the prison’s current deteriorated condition strengthens the connection between the memory-infused walls and the artworks. Each cell becomes a particular sensorial experience for the visitors as they connect contemporary art with the historical and spacial context of the exhibition. A number of the works directly reference timekeeping devices—Guy de Cointet’s videos of clock faces, Felix Gonzales-Torres’s two clocks, and the poems of Paul Verlaine.
The unavoidable passage of time is particularly relevant in Heather Benning’s Field Doll & Death of The Dollhouse. After discovering an abandoned 1960s Sasckatchewan farm house in 2005, the artist transformed a it into a life-size dollhouse over a period of 18 months. Benning painstakingly refurbished the interior to what she imagined it might have looked in 1968. She left the exterior as she found it; merely taking out the north wall and replacing it with plexiglas. Through this action, she allowed the house to straddle two temporal conditions: a mythic, 1960s dollhouse perfection and contemporary reality, continually altered by the constant flow of time. Over the years, the environment around this house was continually changing, as more oil pumps began to speckle the landscape. In the end, the foundation became unsound, and that spurred the artist to make a drastic move: she burned the house to the ground. This project—8 years from start to finish—belies the instability of time and conveys a celebratory, yet mournful vision of change. A photographic account of Benning’s project will be exhibited beginning September 14 at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin.
Another contemporary work that ties itself to a historical moment is Olafur Eliasson’s Riverbed at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The work is site-specific and links itself to the place and its past. The south wing of the gallery has been transformed by the insertion of a rocky terrain and a stream. Wandering through this landscape, visitors are transported to the time before 1982 when the south wing of the museum was added, and this space was still the rocky slope home to a sculpture garden.
The most fleeting project in this reflection on fireflies met its rapid demise in the process of completion. Brooklyn-based artists Lisa Hein and Robert Seng demonstrated just how quickly time can pass with Bruise, a wall of jello bricks. The edible building units were cooked and cooled on-site, then laid with gypsum mortar and supported with a durawall truss. Even as the wall was being constructed, the jello bricks began to melt and decay. Eventually only the mortar and the ghost of the bricks remained.