Unreal Nature

February 6, 2018

The Origins of Time and of Counting

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… The origins of time and of counting seem in turn to lie somewhere between the cycles of the earth and the moon (with the human body as medium) and the lines of a journey, a life, toward change.

This is from Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory by Lucy R. Lippard (1983):

… Plotinus said about stone monuments already ancient in his day that the sages had “once understood that it is always easy to attract soul (or the universal essence) and particularly easy to keep it, by constructing an object fashioned so as to be influenced by it and to receive a share of it.” This is a good description of what many contemporary artists have been trying to do, often without permanent objects, focusing on immediate experience rather than cosmic knowledge.

… Process Art, Earth Art, Conceptual Art, and Performance Art shared a deemphasis on the final work and an emphasis on how it came to be. Sculptors — among them Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Iain Baxter, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, and Dennis Oppenheim — explored gravity and random or naturally ordained activities like scattering, piling, leaning, breaking, by which matter and then shape are formed. Andre’s influential formal solution was to use flexible unfixed units like bricks and other “particles” and to take his sculpture back to “ground level” — to the floor or the earth — rejecting the pedestal and felling the traditionally anthropomorphic stance of heroic vertical sculpture by identifying with roads and journeys.

… When geologist Paul Leveson wrote that his task was “to interpret the earth to society, to bridge the gap between pattern and process,” he might have been describing the goals of these artists.

… The site-nonsite notion deeply affected the development of “site sculpture” (art made for specific outdoor locations) by making this leap between object and source, work of art and site and all surrounding views.

[ … ]

… Time, poised between the abstraction of distance and the concreteness of numbers, is in a sense the crux of this book, with its theme of forced synchronism. The origins of time and of counting seem in turn to lie somewhere between the cycles of the earth and the moon (with the human body as medium) and the lines of a journey, a life, toward change.

Ernst Cassirir has also pointed out that mythical time is always conceived “both as the time of natural processes and of the event of natural life.” Thus the determinedly “simple” art of the Minimalists and Conceptualists can be related to basic survival, seen as a way of coping with the clutter of modern specialization and going back to learn for oneself how humankind learned — within the “terrible simplicity of the archaic frame.” If one distrusts the value systems of this society, where does one look for alternatives? Back to the beginnings. Thus in much art about elementary systems there is a certain longing for precision that is simultaneously anti-technological and anti-romantic.

… Almost without exception, the most interesting, the most obsessive Conceptualists combined time and number in their work about perception separated from physical phenomena.

My previous post from Lippard’s book is here.

-Julie

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