Each Second Like A Year Every Year Like A Second: Art Looks at Time Passing

Gaspard Noé ends his 2002 film Irréversible with a declaration on time and its destructiveness. The text that reads “Les Temps Detruit Tout”, meaning “Time Ruins Everything”, is smeared onto the audiences’ faces as they leave the theater by this auteur.

One of the most recognized and internationally acclaimed examples of New French Extremity, this film depicts the story of a young couple who is preparing for the coming of their first child. Played by a then real couple Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, the duo faces with a tragic incident that brings their lives to devastation. Alex, played by Bellucci, is brutally raped (in one of the most controversial scenes of film history) inside a tunnel and left with serious injury. As a result, Marcus, played by Cassel, decides to deliver the justice with his own hands through the dark back streets of Paris by night. The real twist in the storytelling is that the whole story is chronologically reversed, meaning the film starts with what happens after the incident and ends where it starts by moving backwards in time. As the audiences witness ‘the good times‘ of their relationship, such as picnics at the park or making love in their bedroom, only at the end of the film, the burden of knowing the tragic end that is waiting for them becomes harder to cope with. And at the very last moment of the film, we are left with just one sentence: Time Ruins Everything.

Untitled (Portrait of Dad), Felix Gonzales-Torres, 1991

Félix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Portrait of Dad), 1991

At Pratt Manhattan Gallery awaits you 0 to 60: The Experience of Time Through Contemporary Art. As the title strongly suggests, the exhibition aims to depict the connection between time and art, two phenomenons in the lives of us, art aficionados that have to wait three hours to go in to see the new Yayoi Kusama exhibition. Ephemeral yet dominating, time is probably the most striking reality in our lives and the biggest component of that human condition. It flows so fast and cunningly that it is almost hard to catch it, but once you sit down and ponder it, you are terrified by how unknowingly you submit to its power.

Among sixteen artists that are included to this exhibition, some of them deliver works that especially speak to this destructing yet salvational aspect of time. Richard Hughes’ “Untitled (Triptick)” physically deconstructs time by showing us a wall clock that is shattered into pieces. No longer functioning as a proper time-teller, this clock reminds us how one thinks time as a linear reality even though it moves in a Proust’ian mood with ups and downs or peaks and lows throughout our lives. Instead of streaming in one simple direction, time moves on in a different pace and in a different route as the artist reminds us.

Untitled (Triptick), Richard Hughes, 2009

Richard Hughes, Untitled (Triptick), 2009

Always magnificent and inspiring, Félix Gonzalez-Torres is also a part of this exhibition with a piece from his arguably the most iconic series. “Untitled (Portrait of Dad)” consists of 175 pounds of individually wrapped candies piled on one corner of the gallery. Each guest is encouraged to pick up a candy and help this sweet pile disappear in time by getting less and less. Being the body weight of his father, 175 pounds turns into 0 as each guest helps the disappearance of the candies to be executed throughout the time. I am not sure if any other artwork can depict sweet death and bitter life as subtly and vividly as Gonzalez-Torres’ artworks, but his works always manage to leave an undefinable bitter and sweet taste behind (yes pun intended).

Last Breath, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 2012

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Last Breath, 2012

On the other hand, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s “Last Breath” stands out as a multimedia installation that makes itself audible throughout the gallery space. A person’s constant breath that reaches up to 10.000 times per day is captured through Hemmer’s technology aided work. An attempt that endlessly circulates and each time disappears in eternity, this constant breathing is represented through an installation that includes a respiration tube, bellows and a paper bag along with a video of legendary Cuban singer Omara Portuondo who is known for her exceptional voice. This techno-human that is constantly breathing into the paper bag through a tube to be a part of this very moment in time is contrasted with the video of an iconic singer that represents timelessness and liveness to the universe.

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