There are a lot of striking, even somewhat disturbing works in 0 to 60: The Experience of Time Through Contemporary Art, which is on display at Raleighs N.C. Museum of Art until August. But what might be the most vividly weird piece is The Years Midnight by the Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.
Inspired by the 17th-century John Donne poem A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucys Day, Being the Shortest Day, its based on the saint who plucked out her own eyes because she only had eyes for God.
Its an interactive work that isnt complete until the viewer enters its cameras field of view. Stand in front of the screen, and youll see your image change. Your eyes will move from their sockets down to the bottom of the screen, and the empty orbs will begin to smoke. Its cartoonish, and also a little creepy.
The project is about who is the observer and who is the observed, Lozano-Hemmer said. Its about blindness, faith, all those gooey art things. And it has a history of previous viewers as more and more eyeballs accumulate at the bottom of the screen, and a sense of smoke and cinders from where peoples eyes were. The element of time is that memory.
As is true of a lot of the works in 0 to 60, the pieces link to time is not immediately obvious. But that was by design.
Rafaels work does not exist until you interact with it in real time, said Linda Johnson Dougherty, curator of contemporary art and co-organizer of the show. Thats where the element of time comes into his work, that real-time interaction.
Dougherty describes herself as moderately obsessive when it comes to time. Where more and more people use mobile phones for timekeeping, she still wears a watch. And she sets clocks at home ahead a few minutes, to try and keep the rest of her chronically late family running on time.
0 to 60 began germinating during a scouting trip to New York City that Dougherty took in 2009. At a Guggenheim Museum exhibit called The Third Eye, she saw Tehching Hsiehs Punching the Time Clock, based on pictures of the performance artist punching a time clock every hour on the hour for a solid year meaning he did not sleep for more than an hour at a time that year. And at a Lower East Side gallery, Dougherty encountered Oil Stick Work by Irish artist John Gerrard, an ongoing project showing a grain silo in Kansas being painted at the rate of one square meter a day for 30 years (it will be finished in 2038).
Time as art
That got Dougherty thinking about the concept of time, and its artistic manifestations. As the idea took shape, she began working with Jean McLaughlin, director of the Penland School of Crafts in Spruce Pine, N.C. They came up with six categories for works in the show: real, virtual, historical, recorded and manipulated time, and the passage of time.
Eventually, they assembled more than 60 works from 32 artists. Most pieces date from after 2000, and 17 are brand-new. Both of the pieces that started Doughertys time-based train of thought Gerrards Oil Stick Work and Hsiehs Punching the Time Clock are also in the exhibit (the latter is the oldest work in the show, from 1980-81).
The works range from clocks of various sorts to high-concept pieces. Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Portrait of Dad) pays homage to his late father with his weight in small white candies piled in a corner. Richard Hughes Untitled consists of slices of several clocks put together in such a way that its almost impossible to find a comfortable viewing angle theres just no getting to closure with this one.
Time is obviously not a new concept for artists to deal with, Dougherty said. There have been numerous variations through history, from still-life paintings where every object symbolizes the passage of time to Salvador Dalis melting clocks. Why are so many contemporary artists obsessed with time?
I think its because everyone is. So much of current life is about accelerating time and expecting everything to be instantaneous. Online instead of newspapers, microwaving food, drive-in restaurants, theyre all about the acceleration of time and lack of patience. Artists pick up on that.
A new taxonomy
The Years Midnight is one of three 0 to 60 pieces from Lozano-Hemmer, who is in the Triangle to give a Sunday afternoon talk at the museum. His talk has a provocative title, Anti-monuments and Sub-sculptures words Lozano-Hemmer coined because he did not want to be classified according to other peoples taxonomies.
So he came up with his own, based on the two main lines of his work. Anti-monuments are large-scale light and sound installations in public places.
But in contrast to things like fireworks, anti-monument pieces are interactive, Lozano-Hemmer said. Through sensors, theyre activated by voice or other things. And theyre called anti-monuments because they dont represent specific moments in history, but ephemeral and short-lived moments of the people who participate.
As an example, Lozano-Hemmer cited the huge 22-searchlight light sculpture he did for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Participants could manipulate controls to do their own light designs in the sky, and even download the image as captured by webcams.
As for sub-sculptures, theyre also interactive and often large-scale, but usually indoors. The Years Midnight and Lozano-Hemmers other two 0 to 60 pieces both qualify. Last Breath consists of a pump and brown paper bag that inflates 10,000 times a day with a breath captured from Cuban singer Omara Portuondo. After she dies, this piece will have her final breath go on display at the National Museum of Music in Cuba.
Theres also Pulse Index, which captures participants fingerprints and blows them up to nine-foot images projected onto three walls by seven projectors. The piece stores 10,000 prints at a time, and each one gradually shrinks in size as it cycles through before its ultimately erased a reminder of our fleeting existence on this planet, Lozano-Hemmer said.
Of course, the idea of having ones fingerprints stored conjures up uncomfortable notions of surveillance in our current age of identity-theft paranoia.
When people confront electronic art, there are two common impressions, Lozano-Hemmer said. One is that its playful, a game. The other is that its ominous, predatory surveillance. My work falls right on that boundary. Theres the empowerment of participation, but a reminder that these technologies have a predatory genesis. We are in a cultural condition of surveillance and mistrust. Those elements are not as disparate as they might seem. Oftentimes we are controlled through play, and control can be quite playful.
After 0 to 60 finishes its run at the Museum of Art, Lozano-Hemmers The Years Midnight will stay behind. Dougherty made a point of acquiring it for the museums permanent collection, although its ultimate resting place has not yet been determined.
I do plan on putting that out in the gallery somewhere, she said. I havent decided where yet, but it will definitely be up.
What: 0 to 60: The Experience of Time Through Contemporary Art
When: Through Aug. 11.
Where: N.C. Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.
Cost: $7; $5 for seniors, military, students and groups of 10 or more; free for children 6 and under, prearranged school and college groups; also free for college students with current ID, 5-9 p.m. Fridays; and museum members first visit.
Info: 919-715-5923 or ncartmuseum.org
Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will give a talk on Anti-monuments and Sub-sculptures at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Museum Auditorium in the museums East Building. Admission is free, but a box-office ticket is required.
Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat