MAKING TIME: Shannon Jackson

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 Shannon Jackson, ARC Director.
I come to the questions of Making Time from the field of performance–and before that, the field of theatre.  This is to say that, for a long time, the term “time-based art” did not mean that much to me.  It sounded confusing, or maybe even redundant. What art form does not involve time?  Indeed, it was not until I began working with experimental visual artists and critics of expanded visual art that I began to learn that I came from a time-based form.  “Oh,” they would say, “you’re interested in duration.”  “Indeed,” I would say back, channeling my field’s constant conversations about time, tense, and narrative.  But I still wondered if their referent for duration was the same as mine.  Is the Time in “time-based art” the same for us all?

Obviously, ARC is hosting Making Time because we happen to think that choreographers, public artists, performing artists, visual artists, theatre-makers, video-makers, musicians, photographers, and more have different conceptions of what time-based art is.  And we also happen to think that we can learn from each other by bringing perspectives and processes from these different fields into the same space.  Such a gathering can involve moments of disorientation, confusion, or impatience.  But our hunch is that disorientation can become a productive kind of de-familiarization, a moment when we look anew at practices and principles that we take for granted in our own art fields.  

In the worlds I myself inhabit right now, there is a fairly urgent debate upon the relation between so-called “visual art performance” forms and those forms of performance that descend from theatre and dance.  Artists, critics, and curators are in tangles right now, trying to clarify how such cross-disciplinary experimentation should be understood.  Many also find themselves asserting new principles for deciding what is artistically rigorous and what is simply “entertainment,” what is abstract and what is referential, what is innovation and what is a reinvented wheel.  Meanwhile, these interesting puzzles affect the kind of education we try to provide–what is skilled and what is unskilled in these difference kinds of performance?  What is amateur and what is “a Conceptual deployment of amateurism?”  When some artists “turn to time,” they could accused of looking “too theatrical” by some and of producing “bad acting” to others.  Meanwhile, some dance installations in museum galleries feel overly literal or spectacular to some, while others feel that choreographers are allowing themselves to be de-skilled by an artworld’s fascination with them.  

Similar moments of possibility and moments of mis-recognition shadow so much cross-displinary art.  In some socially-engaged art, the decision to make a work of long duration is often linked to its political content.  Meanwhile, in socially-engaged performance, critical consciousness is often said to occur when time is stopped, i.e. when conventional narratives are interrupted or stalled. Some experimental video is made to presented in the cinema, with audience members sitting in rows.  Other experimental video is made to be installed in the gallery, with audience members circling it as kind of sculpture.  The list of experiments continues–and will continue throughout our discussions in Making Time. I look forward to learning more about how everyone has turned moments of defamiliarization into new artistic possibilities–as we advance ARC’s efforts to provide a think-tank for reflection across art forms.