July 17, 2015

The Specious Present: Andrew Beck, David Claerbout, Colin McCahon, Keith Tyson

Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington
David Claerbout, The Quiet Shore, 2011. Single channel video projection, black & white, silent, 36:32. Courtesy of the artist and galleries Micheline Szwajcer, Brussels; Sean Kelly, New York; Untilthen, Paris.

Curated by Christina Barton

The “specious present” is a term applied by the philosopher and psychologist William James to that short duration of time the human mind appears to be able to experience, a period which exists between past and future and which is longer than the singular moment of the actual present. James developed the concept to tackle the problem of the perception of time, which is the only dimension that cannot be grasped by the senses.

The Specious Present is an exhibition that addresses the conundrum of representing time. It brings together four visual artists whose works can be read through the lens of James’ philosophical concept. Employing moving and still imagery, sculpture and painting, they offer visual and material propositions that suspend time, rendering it tangible as both an idea and an experience.

The exhibition features two major works by Colin McCahon (1919–87), New Zealand’s foremost modern artist. The Days and Nights in the Wilderness Showing the Constant Flow of Light Passing into a Dark Landscape (1971) and Walk (Series C) (1973) are both compendiums of time. Combining depictions of actual landscapes with references to autobiographical, historical and symbolic narratives, these paintings also employ formal and structural devices that make the viewer conscious of an immediate “now” embedded within the works’ durational dimensions.

Central to the show is Belgian artist David Claerbout’s projection, The Quiet Shore (2011), a 32-minute sequence of animated stills that capture a single moment on a beach in Northern France. Claerbout utilises digital technology to scrutinise the instantaneous nature of the photographic image, shifting the ontology of the photograph from its melancholic relation to the past and constructing new means to experience the present.

British artist Keith Tyson is represented by an iteration of his “Art-Machine” series. Angelmaker Part 1, 15 Seconds Prior to Apocalypse, 100 Views, (1996–8) is a 25-minute video made up of random clips shot from daily life. Lacking all signs of impending disaster, these humdrum images prove the impossibility of experiencing the future, just as their random, myriad nature denies definition of the coordinates of “now.” Each scene is a resolutely unheroic reminder that life goes on without any apparent grand plan, and yet each picture conveys a sense of the ultimate mystery of existence.

The show also features a new body of work commissioned especially for the Adam’s challenging architectural spaces by New Zealand artist Andrew Beck. Beck’s subject is the interplay between light, time and space through the production of large-scale photograms, in situ wall paintings and serial arrangements of glass and paper. He carefully places two- and three-dimensional works into physical space to tease out real and represented time, past and present moments.

In addition to the works of the four artists, a sound work by Hummel has been composed as a sonic response to the concept of the exhibition that can be streamed or downloaded and experienced in the exhibition. TIMEX, 2015, is a cut-up dronescape that mixes short bursts of sampled recordings with layers of found sound.

For further information visit the Gallery’s website:

The Adam Art Gallery is the university art gallery of Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand. It is a forum for critical thinking about art and its histories as well as the professional structure within which the Victoria University Art Collection is managed. The gallery’s programmes explore the full range of media available to artists and aim to test and expand art form and disciplinary boundaries. The gallery is a remarkable architectural statement designed by Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s foremost architects.


The Specious Present at Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington

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