Nevertheless, for as long as humans have made art, they've made art about time.
Temporal subjects exist everywhere. They're in the decaying fruit of a Flemish still life and the ticking metronome of Man Ray’s “Indestructible Object.” Time takes its toll on peeling frescos and the leaky roof of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Salvador Dali challenges the very existence of time when, in his painting “The Persistence of Memory,” melting pocket watches and sagging flesh suggest it is an illusion and a human construct.
Manifest Gallery explores this elusive medium with the works of 19 artists in TEMPO, curated by Jason Franz and running concurrently with another exhibit called Rites of Passage, curated by Tim Parsley and featuring work by students and recent college graduates.
Sarah Bliss, a Massachusetts artist, documents the passage of time through conceptual, process-based work. In “Time/Light,” she photographs one of her sculptural paintings, made of black shrink-wrap over a wooden stretcher. In the shrink-wrap, you can make out the reflection of a room, with light flooding in from a window. The passage of time is literally reflected in eight different photos, as the quality of light changes in the shrink-wrap reflection.
Bliss writes on her Web site that the shrink-wrap is a “material considered valuable only in its ability to protect and contain objects of value.” That plastic packing material, which entices us to purchase and consume, is ultimately discarded as trash. “I investigate the reversal that happens when these materials shed their role as wrappers and lay full claim to a role as the primary object of value,” Bliss writes.
Where light cannot penetrate there are shadows, which change according to the time.
The Athens, Ohio-based, single-named artist Ghosh photographs the hazy shadow cast by a plastic soda bottle. In “Work in Progress #1,” Ghosh has divided the plastic bottle into three separate parts — the cap, the neck and the base of bottle. As light hits the three objects, it casts a shadow in the shape of a whole bottle. Like Bliss, Ghosh has resurrected the discarded plastic and immortalized it. There is something ominous and foreboding in photographing a shadow. It is as if we all live in the shadow of plastic.
Modern life encroaches upon the past in Ivan Fortushniak’s “Lone Ranger is a Dead Ranger,” an oil-and-collage painting. The Pennsylvania-based artist’s pastoral landscape is reminiscent of the Old West. Fortushniak’s palette is warm, almost sepia-toned in places. In the foreground stands the lone and lonely ranger, the only collaged element of this oil painting. Fortushniak’s skill as a painter is demonstrated in delicately rendered tree branches and the play of light on water in the creek. He could easily have painted the figure, but instead cuts and pastes him onto the canvas.
This lone ranger seems to be a devise to express changing times and changing values. On close examination, urban sprawl is on the horizon. Miles off, the iconic McDonald’s golden arches beckon weary travelers. What at first glance could be the steam from a locomotive is actually a smokestack belching a thick cloud from a factory. Just as Marcel Duchamp paints a beard and mustache on the Mona Lisa, this figure pasted into a traditional landscape becomes absurd. He is out of place in an oil painting and out of date against the post-industrial world of McDonald’s.
In TEMPO, time can be punishing. It holds us hostage in Missouri-based artist Duat Vu’s “Immigrants: Limbo Land.” Vu’s work draws from the danger and hardship he experienced escaping Vietnam by boat. In his ink drawing, ladders rise up from a placid ocean and houseboats levitate above the water. As the title suggests, immigrants may have found land but it is as if they still have one foot in the water. The houseboat represents the conflicted identity of the immigrant, trying to find a balance between eastern and western cultures. This is the state of Limbo, held up and frozen in time. The immigrant may also live in legal limbo, never able to truly feel at home until the government grants that legal status.
Ultimately, time seals our fate. Oklahoma-based artist Lance Hunter puts a modern spin on the three Fates in his oil painting “Atropos.” The Fates — Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos — spin, measure and cut the thread of life, ending our time on earth. These are not the old hags that Francisco Goya portrays or the voluptuous, ethereal nudes of Peter Paul Rubens.
Hunter’s young women wear spiked heels and wield garden clippers and yard sticks. They let their dresses fall off of their shoulders. The Fates have crossed time and cultural barriers to deliver our destinies.
Thus with Hunter’s work, Manifest’s current exhibit confronts our greatest fear of time that for us, some day, it will come to an end.
TEMPO, curated by Jason Franz, continues through May 14 at Manifest Creative Research Gallery in Walnut Hills. Get gallery and show details here.