Last Tuesday, the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery hosted an opening reception for its latest exhibition, “Passing Time.” Already overwhelmed by a lengthening second semester to-do list, I took a break from my tight schedule to contemplate infinity for the fun of it and question my reliance on time.
“Passing Time” is curated by Judith Hoos Fox and Ginger Gregg Duggan of c2—curatorsquared—and it features work from fourteen international artists. According to the description of the exhibit, the collection “explores the relationship between the time of our life and the time of the eons” through a spectrum of artistic media. During her gallery talk, Fox pointed out what is so appropriately meta about the exhibition: “the passage of time is part of the medium.”
“We assume things will be instantaneous,” Fox said, referring to “Passing Time” in a modern context. “Our whole conception of time is totally different now.”
When asked about the inspiration for “Passing Time,” Fox explained, “[Our job is to] see what artists are dealing with.” She pointed out the recurring theme: time. “[It] suggests that there’s something going on in the culture.”
My first instinct upon entering the exhibition led me toward the sound of haunting strings emerging from the small North Gallery, which comprises Siebren Versteeg’s “Untitled (Film 1).” Versteeg, who hails from New Haven, invites audience participants to take a seat on either of a parallel set of benches and observe one of two screen projections. The first, reminiscent of the opening credits to a film, presents a series of names in succession before pastoral backdrops. Another list of names takes the form of rolling credits at the end of a film on the other screen. The lists are uploaded in real time through a computer program that collects recently published baby names and extracts names from obituaries. “[It] puts the viewer between life and death,” says Versteeg. Conceived and coded entirely by the artist, this harmonious marriage of art and computer science makes “Untitled (Film 1)” the perfect piece to be on display at a liberal arts university.
I had what I suspect is a common experience among unseasoned gallery-goers when I realized that Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)” was not a household appliance, but a work of art. What can perhaps be classified as a sculpture consists only of two clocks set at exactly the same time at the exhibition’s outset and left to fall out of sync naturally. At the time of my visit, they were already fifteen seconds apart.
At around 6:15 p.m. (my dinnertime), I was gastronomically drawn to Gonzalez-Torres’ other piece, which was prefaced with an invitation I couldn’t refuse: “Please help yourself to a candy.” The interactive “Untitled (Public Opinion)” encourages viewers to become part of a work of art by taking a piece from the shiny corner pile. In a direct comment on the treatment of humans as disposable and replaceable in modern warfare, the candies represent soldiers. As the pile decreases, the death toll increases, and the candies are mechanically replaced just as new draftees take the place of the dead. Though I’m never averse to free food of any kind, this particular microcosm certainly gave the black licorice a guilty aftertaste.
Another standout in the collection is Luis Caminitzer’s “Last Words,” a series of human-sized panels displaying excerpts from the statements of prisoners on Death Row, their final wishes of love and goodwill woven into a seamless narrative.
In a moment of self-awareness, I caught myself glancing at Gonzalez-Torres’ clocks every few minutes to check the time. Even surrounded by suggestions of eternity and reminders of fleeting opportunity, I was unable to stop obsessing over the minutiae of my daily schedule for one hour.
For the exhibit, Fox hopes, “[People will] question something they had made assumptions about.” Despite modern art’s history of political and social statements, the curators’ intentions are purely objective.
“We’re not preaching or presenting a point of view,” she stressed.
By the end of the evening, I was enchanted with the wistful atmosphere and appropriately slow mood of “Passing Time.” As a perpetually hurried college student living in a tumultuous day and age, taking a minute to reflect on how I view and treat time was predictably refreshing. Perhaps this feeling is the exhibition’s greatest achievement.
Students are welcome to contemplate time for free between the hours of 12 and 4 p.m., Tuesday though Sunday, but should take care not to let too much of it pass before stopping by the Zilkha gallery. The exhibition moves to Indiana after March 4.