The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium MAKING TIME: Art Across Gallery, Screen, and Stage taking place from April 19-21, 2012. Participants have been invited to respond to the prompt “what does the phrase 'time-based art' mean to you?” in advance of the event. This posting is by Rebecca Schneider, Associate Professor of Theatre, Speech, and Dance at Brown University.
For me, it’s hard to imagine a work that does not include time as material. Perhaps timeless masterworks once existed? Of course, to say that they used to exist would imply that they existed, once, in time. It was the claim of “ruin value” that a work would endure to such an extent that it could be, or at least seem, timeless. But this claim is clearly, itself, time-based. For me (a performance studies scholar – so everything I say here is completely predictable) time is included in the instant or the hour or the year or the life in which I encounter an artwork, an art event, an art life. But time is also there in the work I may have missed – that time I didn’t make it to the theatre for instance, or to the gallery, or to the studio, or to the 18th-century. To miss something, to not encounter it, is as much a matter of time as of space. So the question perhaps is a matter of performative inflection: what does it mean to be time-based? Does overtly placing the emphasis on “based” alter the question? How might a work based on time, or based in time – work whose primary material, whose explicit material support, is time itself – be different from a work that may be encountered or missed in time, but is not explicitly based in time, or does not give time to be its primary material support? Work based in time might indicate work that takes some mode of marking time literally, like Tehching Hsieh’s time clock piece. It might indicate durational work that overtly expands or compresses the normative or habitual experience of time so that a participant spectator cannot miss the ingredient he or she might otherwise take for granted. It might be work that is purposefully anachronistic (though we could argue that all work is anachronistic), that is, work that clearly places one time in another time, such as Allison Smith’s Muster, or any production of a play or any citational piece or re-do. To think of time as material and to render that material palpable is a fecund project, for it undoes, almost immediately, the tendency toward thinking of time as a line -- linear – unidirectional – vanishing – gone the moment you acknowledge it as “now.” Time-based work is work that gets our hands or eyes or ears dirty with repetition, with event, dirty with theatricality, dirty with anything that falls outside ideality – dirty, that is, with mimesis, the basic building block of the social. But time-based artwork is also any work, the minute we decide to access an experience of that work as primarily temporal. So, another question becomes, what is time-based encounter, viewing, experience, participation, or consumption of art – and what is not? There’s also the question of why now? Why now (again) the privileging or undoing, the stretching or condensing, of “now” as a mode of making and a mode of access to art?