Monday, 17 May 2010

John Gerrard at Art21

“Time-based art” is a great new contemporary art phrase to drop into conversations, with the redoubtable Orwellian tautology of “movement-based dancing” or “sound-based music.” It’s one of those phrases that sounds neat but falls apart when you try to grasp it, like a stale meringue. All cultural endeavor is, by its very nature, time-based. After all, the 400,000 year-old Moroccan “figurine” discovered in 2003 (nominally the world’s oldest extant sculptural object), which is about as far away from contemporary art discourse as you can get on this planet, is intrinsically time-based — it exists in time and cannot be experienced immediately. Nonsensical though the phrase might seem, it does represent the good intentions of curators and academics to discuss a strain of contemporary art not satisfactorily contained by the term “video art” (nor its painfully literal cousin, “lens-based art”). The urge to categorize and identify is one of those Enlightenment hangovers we thought we’d shaken off, like Corinthian columns and powdered pompadours.

A new installation by John Gerrard, an Irish artist whose work is most often described as “time-based” (there’s not a lot of precedent for what he does, and calling it “video art” or “virtual art” isn’t quite accurate), opened this week in the Canary Wharf underground station. The station is a cavernous raw-concrete and steel Norman Foster construction completed in the late 1990s, set in London’s principal financial district. Canary Wharf creates the city’s only homogenous skyline as well as a catch-all visual metaphor for the flow of international capitalism. Its spiky towers, like the busted teeth of old robots, formed a prominent backdrop to recent scenes of sacked workers scuttling for the tube, cacti under their arms. And with the installation of Gerrard’s work – commissioned by Art on the Underground, Transport for London’s excellent series of installations in and around tube stations – the subterranean becomes both literal and metaphorical.

Read the whole piece here.

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