"Looking at it, you do not see it.
You call it invisible.
Listening to it, you do not hear it.
You call it inaudible.
Touching it, you cannot feel it.
You call it intangible.
These three cannot be described.
But they blend, and are one."
Lao Tzi as translated by Isabella Meers, 19161
The essence of time is one of the most enigmatic, intriguing and explanation defying topics in philosophy and science alike. A concept that logicians, artists and dreamers have mutually pondered for centuries, providing the framework that measures, orders, and attributes value to modern lives. Elastic in its acumen, time proves to be an ever-constant reminder representing change, evolution and sometimes stasis. Long considered to be a self-obvious constant of nature, in our modern, fast-paced world, punctuality is worshipped. In their 54th in-house exhibition, the Shanghai based island6 arts collective explores the multiple and converging notions of 'time', its existence and what this means for the ever-evolving face of Shanghai. Turning to the traditional arts of a Chinese past, while drawing inspiration from its recent shift in pace, Temporal Visions seeks to explore the multiple temporalities of our lucid, modern existence.
"Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana", goes the pun, only fitting that time is the component of this illusory syntactic ambiguity. In fact, there are quite few modern academics who subscribe to the notion that time is, ultimately, an illusion. In this-admittedly, quite Eastern- view of metaphysics our modern notion of a linear based time model crumbles under unique philosophy of temporality in Chinese philosophy, which is more so modeled on a cyclical scale. The influence of Taoism (道), in particular, was pivotal in favoring such a cyclical model of time. As Chuang Tzu (莊子) , the great Taoist master concisely stated "Time cannot be arrested. The succession of decline, growth and fullness and emptiness go in a cycle, each end becoming a new beginning."2 The rigid metaphysics that has taken hold of our modern era is rejected in favor of a fluid metaphysics based in change. In favor of Nietzsche's eternal return, Heidegger's being and the Taoist Tao, the whole is affirmed over its parts; simultaneously the source and destination of all things.
Like their kindred spirits of the past, Liu Dao here applies our cyclical understanding of the world coupled with modern technology. It has been said the Chinese horizontal hand scroll is referred to as the first motion picture, unrolling in time and space as it is enjoyed in progression while the painting is revealed, foot by foot. As multi-perspective and temporality are important features for both Asian aesthetics and the medium of film, Liu Dao, through the use of LED technology and video-editing software, creates a continuous montage of time and space assembled in a single image. Their loops neither start nor stop, an indefinite cycle that through skilled editing techniques minimize the shift from one moment to the next, maintaining continuity of action. In the words of the 'Greek-Taoist' Heraclitus, "Everything flows, nothing stands still."3 Although typically only 30 seconds long, the length of the narrative loop can seem extended due to attentions to minute details, allowing the viewer to revisit past, analyze the present and review the future, all at one time. The temporal plane is composed within one image, and endless cycle of action and loops. In a fast paced, technology driven world, time is of the essence and there never seems to be enough of it.
From the usual motifs that have become synonymous with time and timelessness, the island6 Arts Collective reinterprets and reinvigorates such notions with their signature electric touch, fusing elements that merge into an original and harmonious whole. It is these organic principles that animate and bring life to the compositions. In 'From China with Love', slow trickles of LED water drop from a painted Ming Dynasty vase, reminiscent of the great clepsydrae's of 6th century China, illustrating how time, in any way you perceive it, acts as a framework to measure and define our lives. But just as time can be measured, it also proves fleeting. In 'Prunus Serrulata' a playful nymph hides behind jian zhi (剪纸) trees as she tries to capture ephemeral LED butterflies. They vanish delicately into their rice paper background, leaving a lingering sense where time is set aside. A moment is frozen in 'The Drip Drop of Dreams', conjuring an image of a 1920's Shanghai where time spend inside a smoldering opium den is captured on canvas, elegantly mixing pleasure and decay. The work speaks of the larger questions of collective memory, the place of history in the experience of time. In 'Soundscape in A Minor' other temporal structures are introduced. Duration, speed, rhythm and direction comprise this light-activated sound piece. Noises of car horns, jackhammers, squeaky doors and sirens are manipulated to sound musical as the viewer moves from one urban instrument to the next. With such constants in flux, the mechanics of memory in time are revealed, leaving the viewers to quietly contemplate the lasting connections between what they’ve seen and what they've heard.
Though we routinely see the world detached from us, in Taoist belief, the peculiarity between object and subject is understood as illusory. From this perspective we are not so much individuals in time, but conditionally held captive by it. Temporal Visions seeks to open a contentious dialogue on the different realities and perceptions of time through the use of audio-visual and time-based media. The interpretation of a photograph as a depiction of an individual moment coupled with film sequence as representation of temporal process presumes certain conventions of representation and perception. For Daoism, the emphasis on change becomes somewhat ambiguous, as it, paradoxically perhaps, entails the idea of the universal constant of Dao. Time, ultimately, becomes transcendental. However, as one delves into the latest exhibition at island6 and looks more deeply into its hidden cycles, a strange harmony seems to emerge. Yesterdays that are tomorrows, endings that are beginnings, and 'nows' that cannot be defined, they all suddenly acquire a fascinating meaning and a sense-making mystique.
Laozi, and Isabella Mears. 1916. Tao teh king
. Glasgow: McLellan.
3 Wheelwright, Philip Ellis. 1959. Heraclitus. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.