A medial art project in the monthly magazine DATUM (2013/14)
"Layers of Time" is an exhibition series dedicated to diversity. It involves ten international artists who were invited by museum in progress to choose a date of specific importance to them and to use it as a basis for a double-page contribution for the Austrian magazine DATUM. The artists are between 29 and 72 years of age, they are currently at different stages of their career, they work with a variety of media (photography, drawing, aquarelle, conceptual art, etc.) and they all come from different countries (Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Russia). The works of art presented in the series are equally diverse reflecting political, cultural and personal events of the past, present and future.
Four of the participating artists chose a past date as the starting point for their work: Michael Craig-Martin opened the series with a formal-aesthetic reduction of one of the most significant art works of the 20th century – Marcel Duchamp's urinal "Fountain" – and placed it next to the famous "Red and Blue Chair" by the designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld. Apart from their historical significance, the conceptual connection shared by the two objects is 1917, their year of origin. It is also the year of the October Revolution in Russia, the event chosen by Anna Jermolaeva. Based on two family photographs she remembers how in her childhood the onset of the October Revolution was celebrated year after year. The pictures were taken in 1981 and 1982, in both cases just after the parade in St. Petersburg (Leningrad). With these family chronicles the Russian artist who left the former USSR in 1989 to escape to Vienna links private memories with the question of how to adequately address the topic of collective history. Also on the basis of old photographs Anna Artaker embarks on tracing the assassination of the Cuban Communist Julio Antonio Mella during the night of January 11 1929 in Mexico City. Artaker confronts a photograph published by a newspaper and taken by the police, in an effort to reconstruct the event, with a second reconstruction by the Italian photographer Tina Modotti who was Mella’s companion and the only one to witness the attack. Pia Gazzola juxtaposes a visitor's pass of the Greenwich Observatory – the historical reference point for the location of the prime meridian – with a photograph showing light reflections on the floor tiles at the Alhambra in Granada. Since the suggested connection between the Observatory's visitor's pass and the floor tiles in Granada is not made explicit, there is room for all the more associations. On the aesthetical level, however, certain correspondences become obvious: The blue colour of the ticket is found in one of the colourful tiles while the Zeros of the meridian in Greenwich appear to be multiplied by the light reflections at the Alhambra.
The present – be it the present of artistic creativity, current politics or the timelessness of "Today" – was at the heart of the contributions by the following artists: Olaf Osten and Jean-Luc Moulène named their contributions after their date of origin. Osten chose the Donaukanal (a former arm of the Danube and now a water channel in the city of Vienna) as the motif of his drawing and interlinked it with different layers of time. The background, a diary page chosen at random, refers to the past, the spontaneity of the graphic style to the present while the subject of the Danube is a symbolic reference to the continuous flow of time. Moulène's nude photograph consists of several references to the shot's present. In addition to the piece's title, a specific reference is made with the pages of the daily "Le Monde" on which the model is reclining. But also the subject of the naked body is embedded in its own present and refers – in the context of the series – to the topic of transience. Adeola Olagunju and Anett Hámori chose current affairs as their subject. Olagunju's photograph "1st January 2012. Bloodline-Bloodlust" is a critical reference to the massive raise in petrol prices in 2012 in Nigeria, the biggest oil producing country in Africa. What was officially promoted as instrumental if living conditions were to be improved in the most heavily populated African state had in fact dramatic negative implications for the people as with increased fuel prices many other necessities became much more expensive as well – among them food. Twenty-five years after the fall of the "Iron Curtain" Annet Hámori's aquarelle "25 December 1989. Politically Correct" establishes a pointed connection between two autocrats of our times: On the left we see Bashar Hafiz al-Assad clinging to power in civil war ravaged Syria, while the right hand side shows Nicolae Ceauşescu, the former president of Romania, who was executed on 25 December 1989. The two scenes recreated from press photographs also include seemingly surreal, lifeless animals. The Indian artist N.S. Harsha refrained from choosing a specific date for his contribution; instead he placed it in what he calls "Today" and depicted the present by placing a fragile egg in between past and future days. The handwritten dates on the egg boxes were chosen at random in order to refrain from any specific reference.
Agnieszka Kurant risks a look into the future. Based on the prophecies of a psychic who collaborates on a regular basis with Interpol and different governments, the Polish artist designed an edition of the New York Times titled "Future Anterior" and dated 29 September 2020. Originally printed with a special colour which disappears at temperatures of more then 21 degrees Celsius (or when touched by hands), the photographs in DATUM show an only partly legible front page. Here, the transfer of a newspaper to a magazine presents as a particularly striking connection which also comes to bear in Mouléne's photograph.
For the period of one year, the Austrian monthly DATUM provided one double page per edition for the medial art project "Layers of Time". The pieces of the contributing artists were specifically conceived for this particular media space, i.e. their contributions were not reproductions of previous works of art but instead functioned as multiples, as works in their own right created exclusively for the magazine's respective print run. Thus, each edition became an original and a collector's item. In spite of the link to the magazine's conceptual direction and its name "DATUM – Seiten der Zeit" ("DATE – Pages of the Times"), the project was also meant as a (productive) disruptive factor to crack open the closed nature of the magazine, to enter into a dialogue with the readers and to serve as a stimulant for thoughts. The only indication suggesting that the ten panorama pages represented an exhibition space was the lettering "museum in progress". Leaving out any explanation – indications with regard to the individual works and the series were made in the list of authors following the editorial – was meant as a challenge for the readers. They would happen upon contemporary art unawares and be thus in a position to look at these works without a given interpretation. For those who wanted to know more, short interviews with the participating artists about their contributions and their ideas of art were published on the websites of museum in progress and DATUM as well as in the iPad edition. In order to highlight the serial character of the project on the one hand and to gain the artists' individual points of view on the other, they were all asked the same questions. For instance, the question as to what constituted good art, was answered with the following possible criteria: Ambiguity, originality, honesty, relativity, art functioning as a catalyst for thought, inspiring imagination, taking on responsibility and touching on the sore spots of society. There was, however, a certain amount of disagreement regarding the question whether art had or should have a socio-political function or whether on the contrary it should not be tied to any socio-political implications.
Any preoccupation with current events is always also a discussion of the present, and sometimes the most exciting insights are brought to light precisely because of the discontinuities and contradictions. The art works presented in this exhibition series were deliberately not published in a chronological order according to the dates chosen by the artists nor were they (with a few exceptions) overlapping with the publication period of the magazine. And even though they shared a common basis to start from, there is no linearity between the individual contributions. Instead, each of them presents itself as a mosaic piece of a multiple, permanently changing conception of the world.
One could argue that past events are manifest in memories while possible future events are expressed in the ideas and imaginations of individuals and society alike. Yet, neither memories nor visions of the future are in any way objective because with the passage of time they're inevitably subjected to interpretation and change. So, this is why the exhibition series "Layers of Time" is devoted to diversity: in order to bear witness to the subjective nature of experiencing (time). With their contributions the participating artists attempted to approach a certain event and bring out its essence layer by layer which in turn allows for new artistic interpretations. And almost incidentally, these works change our view and our perception of time and current events as well.
Translated from German by Jacqueline Csuss