schlemmer and bauhaus dance troupe as buildings

Schlemmer's Bauhaus: the intersection between human and urban form

I went to an amazing talk by Michael Century a few days ago called Aprés le Deluge, in which he spoke of the polychronous (or multiple aspects of time: past, future and contemporary moment) that radical historical, mostly relational artworks possess. Examples used included the choreography for Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, rural Chinese hand-drawn animation from the late 1940s, and changes in structure of education based on the relationship between rational science and intuitive creative practice at the Bauhaus in the 1930s. These works imply not just a significant shift in modes of creative practice and thinking, but a folding of time in that they revisit, anticipate and are present in ways that allow for exploration of, well, our lives and existence (I suppose that is really why we keep finding art interesting: it exists not necessarily as a product, but as a jump-off for a new or different way of thinking about experience).

If you’ve read here before or know me, you’ll know my interest in time, so bear with my tangent here. Traditional live media made many assumptions with linear time, as plays and music were perceived to move forward, based around narrative structure. I would guess that this perspective is based on our physical experience of time: the decay of objects, the pull of gravity, the community created around standard time for commercial interest. These experiences lead to our belief in history. Now, with the advent of digital media, the idea of “history” and “memory” are fundamentally changed. Our experience is that things are always present, or can be if we wish them to. Time is not so much on a line, as it is a series of branching and overlapping events. This seems like a serious shift. And yet, if we look at practices like oral traditions, time has always been folded. Cultures that have a deep-rooted ritual of oral history use repetition of stories that are reconsidered, remixed and re-told in order to address contemporary issues. The fixity of the object (the written word in this case) is is irrelevant; it is the substance or thematic as a permeable tool that is significant. And it’s been going on way longer than the PC.

FAT architecture Villa

Villa designed by FAT architecture

This is not to disregard the object as a point which can address multiple moments and concerns in time. Most of the examples from Century’s lecture dealt with process, the relational view of time-based media and performance in terms of creator, performance or distribution, and audience. As I was doing my morning reading, I considered his idea with what as viewers we read in a static object. CAM in Raliegh just opened an exhibition called “Deep Surface: Contemporary Ornament and Pattern.” Visually, this is looks like a fantastic show: there is so much for the eye to do in pattern. Plus, ornament and the baroque have had such a bad rap in the eras that followed the utilitarian design of modernism. (Writing on that would be a whole other post.) What struck me as interesting with regard to polychronous time was under two of the thematics listed for the show: inheritances and elaboration.

Century’s talk on the simultaneity of time touched on many of the things that, for me, make ornament an interesting element of design. Ornament can draw on the vernacular and historical to convey meaning in an object; here the objects incorporate physical layers of their past. ” History lives anew in projects like Czech designer Maxim Velčovský’s Vase of Vases, which was patterned by impressing antique Bohemian cut glass into its sides.” Elaboration explores the endless iterations of objects in the digital age, in particular type and fonts. Mass production shifted the “aura” of the object from its unique objecthood to its unique reading. Digital mass production moves this even further along to a recognition by the viewer of visual, aural or experiential form, and the subsequent relationships made there.

I’m looking forward to the next two, where he elaborates more on these ideas. His Extraordinary Freedom Machines lectures will be at Empac Oct 11 and Nov 29.