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Bare Time

May 23, 2020

(SculptureCenter, During the exhibition the gallery is closed, no.1 Exhausted in Place , April 3, 2020)

For the first time in contemporary history, everyone – or almost everyone – on the planet is faced with the conditions of being an artist. That is, waking up in the morning and having to invent our lives and make them livable. Or, to put it in other words, we are faced with the daily challenge of making our lives into works of art. Each day we are faced with the questions: how have I been living and how can I live differently, make changes, incrementally, consistently? The hyper-accelerated conditions of life that we were used to, the incessant pressure to perform, produce, post, repost, like, had filled life with content and were abruptly paused to a standstill. Suddenly we are faced with empty time, unscheduled time, deregulated time, time out of content, time without labor, bare time.

Of course, this is a romantic conception of an artist or an artist’s life (as Amy said, an artist’s life might have looked like the quarantine, but life is not always a f**king disaster—at least not for the most part, or for everybody at all times). But we are, for better or for worse, faced with this bare time instead of time scheduled, calendared time. Romantic or not, now we are faced with the imperative to create a livable life, maintain a life and try to make it less dull and wasted, or more fulfilling. Art makes something out of nothing, and we have a lot of the latter at our disposal at the moment. Artists, first and foremost, are people who own their time and claim it for their own, fill it up or empty it out. As pleasurable as it sounds, this is not an easy feat. No one asked them to do it or is going to fill their time for them, no one expects them to succeed or mourns their failure, and yet day after day, they would wake up and propel themselves to engage with an irrational yet logical activity of making and unmaking art.

Klein created The Void (1958), Arman The Full Up (1960); Lozano “dropped out” and Sturtevant “re”-made, and these two approaches could at least metaphorically be instrumentalized to think about what to do with the day and the night. With risk of hyperbolic exaggeration, there are two kinds of artistic approaches in making work. Those who take content out until they are faced with the least possible amount of it, no longer possible to get rid of, and those who accumulate content over content until they reach a point of saturation before everything starts spilling over and out. This is not a matter of minimal and maximal. One can be a reductive maximalist and an aggrandizing minimalist. We are faced with the question of how to fill our days, or how to empty them out.

Like it or not, right now, in a moment of global catastrophe, with death looming behind every touch, everybody (as it has been proclaimed before for other or similar reasons) is an artist—“and everyone hates it.” Artists are best equipped to deal with solitude, a sequestered life, unscheduled time. But this is art without contemporary art, there is no institutional mandate that propels the quotidian, no critical validation of the everyday, there are no deadlines in place to dust off the trivial. There is no contemporary art in quarantine yet there are decisions to be made towards an aesthetics of a tolerable life and to make it better, different, and less intolerable.

We are faced with the question, what kind of life is worth living? (Foucault) We are tasked with the dilemma of how to live a beautiful life. To make a life out of nothing. Out of incompetent governance, dreadful ambivalence, sluggish hourglass, banality of groceries, lethargic anxiety of the threat of furloughs and declined sustenance, out of the fear of not making rent and why to pay it. We are all pondering about the reason and value of what we have been doing, and why have we been doing it the way we did, can we do it differently, can we do it better, should we give it up altogether, jump ship, do something else? Is it satisfying, is it draining, does it give us joy, are we just wasting our lives away doing something we don’t want to do? These are all aesthetic questions. These are all questions that artists face when they get to their studio, or post-studio, when they stare at a blank page or canvas, or open whatever application they design their work in. These questions are fundamental, or existential questions, but we usually don’t bother asking them, because we have to be at the office or at the bar, on the train or the canteen, in a meeting room here or elsewhere.

There are people who are out there making our sequestered living possible by sacrificing theirs. We are nevertheless left with a romantic proposition, perhaps even an obsolete romanticism that could propel a semblance of meaning in the face of a significant loss of human life. What we can or cannot do is a question that we cannot turn away from as we pace around a shrinking life in a shrinking city, in a vanishing neighborhood and a room that is filled with our being and we cannot quite fill it up.

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