Marking Time
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia, 29 March – 3 June 2012

Edgar Arceneaux, Jim Campbell, Daniel Crooks, John Gerrard, Lindy Lee, Tatsuo Miyajima, Rivane Neuenschwander, Tom Nicholson, Katie Paterson, Elisa Sighicelli, Gulumbu Yunupingu

Including eleven national and international artists, the exhibition responds to the idea of mark-making and the marking of time’s passage through an array of artistic media. Part of the newly re-developed MCA’s opening season, Marking Time was an exhibition about time and duration. It responded to the idea of mark-making – the creative gesture which brings visual form to life – and the marking of time’s passage through an array of artistic media. Marking Time included eleven contemporary artists from Europe, the United States, Japan, Brazil and Australia whose works encompassed drawing and painting, sculpture and installation, and screen and light-based media. In the exhibition time was slowed, made circular, reversed or expressed through performances and events. Clocks and calendar cycles featured prominently as did numerical and light-sensitive counting devices. Some artists considered time in relation to daily experience, family, memory or mortality, others on an ancient geological or cosmic scale.

The exhibition was presented in the Level 3 Galleries, with works spilling into the MCA atrium and stairs. Some required viewer participation and others materialised slowly over the duration of the exhibition. In Rivane Neuenschwander’s floor piece Walking in Circles, transparent circles of glue were revealed through the build-up of dust and residue from gallery visitors’ shoes. To realise Katie Paterson’s 100 Billion Suns, MCA staff ‘exploded’ confetti from a pop gun each day at 11am and 3pm. Colour-matched to the brightest explosions in the universe – gamma ray bursts millions of years in the past that are only recently visible from Earth – they accumulated like a pile of leaves until the exhibition’s conclusion.

Daniel Crooks breaks time down, frame by frame, in his hypnotic videos by manipulating digital ‘time slices’ so short they are normally invisible to the eye. John Gerrard’s large-scale projections unfold in real time over a set duration, typically one solar year or longer. Based on existing scenes and events, these hand-built simulations were described by the artist as portraits. Drawing processes were explored by Tom Nicholson and Edgar Arceneaux. Nicholson’s hand-drawn map of geopolitical dates, from 1901 to the present, is updated whenever shown by the artist. It requires three weeks of intensive work to recreate and extends to nineteen metres in length. Arceneaux drew onto the gallery wall in his Drawings of Removal, recording fragments of a trip to his father’s hometown in Texas in 1997. He completed the work in situ during the opening week of the exhibition, adding and removing sections as memories faded or were replaced by new ideas.

Several art works addressed themes of mortality. Jim Campbell re-imagined the final 24 hours of his brother’s life in his immersive light work Last Day in the Beginning of March, while Tatsuo Miyajima’s photographic and video archive Death Clock reflected the artist’s engagement with human cycles of birth, death and regeneration. Inspired by Buddhist cosmology, Lindy Lee’s weather drawings harnessed water and fire in their creation, their stained, burned surfaces resembling constellations. Elisa Sighicelli rewound time in her footage of fireworks against the night sky, their brilliant forms contracting to pinpoints as ends became beginnings. Yirrkala artist Ms Yunupingu also turned her gaze upwards, telling stories of the night sky on bark panels and memorial poles (Larrakitj). In her works, human and ancestral realms co-exist, as do past, present and future.