Duration and Performance Art

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CHAPTER TWO Time and Technology


This chapter discusses the work of a group of art historians for whom the relationship between art and time has been indelibly shaped by the technological developments of modernity. Pamela M. Lee, Charlie Gere and Timothy Barker have variously addressed the significant intersections between contemporary art practices and the communications and information processing systems of both the modern industrial period and the contemporary ‘digital era.’ Time is the key constituent of the relationship between art and technology—it is discussed as a figure of technological unease, an architect of human interactions, a symbol of political modernity, and a cipher for collective cultural sensibilities. By comparison, Krauss and Fried’s discussion of minimalist sculptural practices approached ‘time’ as more defined phenomenon: the ‘time’ of their discussions was the ‘embodied duration’ experienced by the viewer as they circumnavigated an artwork. But the discourses parsed here approach time as a more ‘slippery’ phenomenal dimension—a cipher, a symbol or an experience—that is nonetheless shaped by the definitive politics and techno-­‐scientific developments of modernity. For Lee, Gere and Barker, the relationship between time and art is certainly not ‘unmediated’: it is very much informed by the modern paradigms of relentless social ‘progression,’ continuous speed and acceleration, rational linear chronologies, and the measurement and regulation of individual subjective experiences. Broadly speaking, art is said to counter this prescriptive mechanistic timescale by exploring the technological possibilities of delay, recursivity, non-­‐linearity, multiplicity and synchronicity.
Pamela Lee’s Chronophobia (2004) examines the relationship between American and European art practices of the 1960s and the contemporaneous cultural apprehension towards time as a figure of technological change. Her principle argument is that the cultural landscape of the 1960s was inflected by a broad-­‐ranging distrust of newly emergent proto-­‐computational technologies. Lee writes that this era was pervaded by a sense of technological unease that was manifest in a wholly ambivalent attitude towards time. In this respect, the neologism ‘chronophobia’ aims to describe both a utopian fascination with and an inherent distrust of the timescales that became associated with emerging computational and communications technologies. According to Lee, these post-­‐war communication systems embraced the accelerated rhetoric of modernity as a timescape of ever-­‐faster speeds and instantaneous information processing. This is a central narrative of time and modernity that is recalled in different formulations by many of the thinkers surveyed in this study. In this respect, Lee follows the philosopher of history Reinhardt Koselleck’s account of ‘late modernity’ as an era in the grip of an especially ‘peculiar acceleration’ that is shaped by the rapidity of continual teleological ‘progress,’ thereby emphasising the speculative values of the future over the immediate experience of the present.1 Lee’s primary thesis is that the art of the 1960s responded to this accelerated technological timescale by maintaining an ‘obsessional uneasiness with time and its measure.’2 From Jean Tinguely’s kinetic works, to Bridget Riley’s paintings, Robert Smithson’s engagements with cybernetics, Andy Warhol’s films and the serialised paintings of On Kawara, time is approached by Lee as a ‘compelling, if elusive, cipher’3 of a larger cultural ambivalence towards time and technology.
Importantly, Chronophobia is not a study of an explicit artistic engagements with the emerging technologies and ‘new media’ of the post-­‐war era. Rather, it takes up the difficult task of interpreting the art of the 1960s, not through its explicit use of new technological systems or media, but through its general sensitivity to the cultural reception of these systems. For Lee, the 1960s represents a ‘liminal’ historical period whose development is caught between the analog technologies of the ‘Machine Age’ and the computational communication systems that would eventually evolve into the contemporary ‘Information Age.’4 Lee writes that it was both the speed at which information could be transmitted via new communication systems and the pace of the technological development of these systems that engendered an ambivalent attitude towards time.5 Citing the Marxist philosopher and social theorist Herbert Marcuse, she suggests that twentieth-­‐century technology came to modulate human relationships and exchanges by imposing a bureaucratic ‘administrative logic’ that structured the individual consciousness of the worker.6 Lee is not concerned with the utility of a specific tool—for instance, how a new automated system could cut costs and increase productivity—but how the logic of its human use permeated social spheres beyond what it ‘could do.’
In this respect, time is a complex and indefinite figure in Lee’s study that remains an often frustratingly ‘elusive cipher.’ What seems significant here is that during the 1960s the ‘figure of time’ comes to represent a form of technocratic anxiety: ‘time comes to signify things that the literal image of technology cannot.’7 While the art historians Charlie Gere and Timothy Barker draw liberally on a range of twentieth and twenty first century engagements between technology and art, Lee limits the aesthetics of ‘chronophobia’ to the 1960s with the idea that this decade evinced a peculiar and unique cultural awareness and wariness of time.
I can appreciate that time as a ‘cipher’ of cultural representation might appear as an intangible, slippery and often abstract register—from Augustine to Husserl, time has threatened to slip from the grasp of the philosopher who follows it.8 But Lee’s argument is quite specific: the art practices that emerged roughly within the historical confines of the 1960s were especially concerned with time as a figure of technological anxiety. While it is important to acknowledge that artists of the 1960s and 1970s made significant contributions to contesting modernity’s linear teleological model—along with its various technocratic strictures—my own discussion of time, art and technology moves away from the cultural unease associated with technicity. That being said, Lee’s scholarship is critical to this study of art and time because it extends the discussion of time and technology beyond the categorical limitations of media. Lee offers an important analysis of works that engage the time of technology without being expressly ‘technological,’ or rather works that do not take the explicit form of a computational, informational or communications technology. Chronophobia is not simply a study of artworks that have employed or directly engaged these new technologies as artistic media, rather Lee sets out to assess how the logic of modern time has also permeated the structures of aesthetic forms that remain unconnected, unwired, motionless and inert. What Lee recognises in works of the 1960s, including minimalism, is a ‘systems logic’ that is shaped by new theories of technology. She writes that the logic of this time is
…explicit to the rhetoric of much art of the period as well, including minimalism. It is the time of the work of art now understood as a system, recursive and shuddering like an echo, the time of an expanding new media and the articulation of its logic within and by art.9
Before discussing Lee’s approach to minimalism, it is worth parsing the philosophical position that underpins her arguments. Martin Heidegger’s post-­‐war critique of technology is an important point of reference for artists and art historians concerned with the relationship between technologies and the human phenomenological experience. Lee writes that Heidegger’s thought is critical to her study because it denies the unsophisticated premise that technologies are inert tools that are simply passively waiting for active human use. Instead of understanding the tool as the ‘mere means’ of human action and agency, Heidegger proposes that our modern era is already ‘enframed’ (Heidegger uses the German term ‘Gestell’) by technological practices. In this respect, the human subject does not simply utilise technologies and apparatuses but is shaped and mobilised by a world that is already ‘technological.’

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Part One: Literature Review
CHAPTER 1: Minimalism and Duration
CHAPTER 2: Time and Technology
CHAPTER 3: Archival Times
CHAPTER 4: The Time-­‐Image
CHAPTER 5: The Temporal Turn
CHAPTER 6: Duration and Performance Art
Part Two: Time Measured
CHAPTER 7: Clock-­‐Time and Modernity
CHAPTER 8: Einsteinian Times
Part Three: Lived Time
CHAPTER 9: Bergsonian Durée
CHAPTER 10:Husserl’s Phenomenology
CHAPTER 11: Neuroscience and Time Perception
CHAPTER 12: Accumulative Time: Memory and Materiality
Part Four: Beyond Times
CHAPTER 13: Entropy and Deep Time
CHAPTER 14: Non-­‐Human Times

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