Dissertation

02/06/17

Recently I have started my dissertation period. I say recently, it’s been about a month. Having changed my idea several times however, I am finally making headway. The issue about studying art – and contemporary art in particular, is that I want to write about everything! The same problem happened with my artistic practice and in my studio on my Undergraduate; I had a notebook filled with so many ideas that I wanted to pursue every single one. Naturally, I realised this was not possible.

I think however that the process of refinement is really interesting. It teaches you what your core interests really are. So for my dissertation I have been toying with multiple ideas across several weeks, all of which encompass similar themes, which are listed as follows:

Contemporary art
The virtual
Capitalism
Spectatorship
Consumerism
(The archive)
Documents
Virtual representations
Art production online
The internet
The social
Social media
Politics
Ephemerality
Dissemination

I would have to say the core areas of interest are contemporary art, the virtual and capitalism. Finding a way to incorporate these very broad themes has been incredibly difficult, but the more I read and the more my research trajectory was shaped, a theme emerged quite organically; the theme of time. I found myself writing it several times over in my notes:

‘time as commodity’, ‘space and time’, ‘viewing time’, ‘acceleration of time’, ‘relation in time’, ‘temporal instability’…

It kept occurring and it was perfect. It also came as no surprise that this was the theme to emerge. I read Whitechapel Gallery’s Documents of Contemporary Art book on Time two years ago and it had a truly profound effect on me. I could not stop thinking about it or referring back to it. At that point I was exploring Performance Art, so notions of duration and performance time were more my focus. However the themes and threads of the book were incredibly thought-provoking and long lasting. So of course, I have returned to this collection of essays to explore the theme of time in contemporary art and capitalism for my Masters thesis. One of my favourite quotes I have extracted so far is:

‘The clock turns time from a process of nature into a commodity that can be measured and bought and sold like soap or sultanas.’ – George Woodcock, p.65

The reason I believe I am so interested in contemporary time, is that the notion of memory has always intrigued me. Ways to record, ways to remember, was to recapture. Memory and time are inherently bound up. Over time my interests have evolved from purely fixating on ideas of memory and counter-memory, to also encapsulate this idea of acceleration in capitalist culture. Although humans have always segmented their days with set time scales – morning, lunch, afternoon, evening; the working day, it is only in this century that we have become so governed by time. We have people getting up at 5:30am for a morning yoga or bootcamp session, eating a hurried breakfast on the go, grabbing a take out coffee, cycling, driving, or using public transport to get to work to start their day. Email calendar appointments, emails coming through on our phones, notifications on our Fitbits. Leisure time, work time – they are all blurring into one. You can be sat doing work emails at 11pm after only having finished the domestic tasks that needed doing. The lifestyles of late-stage capitalism and neoliberalism have enabled these accelerated timescales. As has the consumerist impulses, which are present not only in commodity goods and shellac nailpolish, but also in today’s ‘scrolling’ society. We are consuming images and information at rates never imagined. We skim and flit between links and articles, but how much are we really absorbing?

It is all comes back to time. Time spent scrolling, time spent listening, time spent planning. Time dictates our body clocks – and I am not referring to this purely in the sense of biological time, but in the time constraints we have established for ourselves as a society. What is an interesting paradox however, is that although time governs so much and so many of our lives, it is an elusive term which no one is able to define. There are several renditions of time, each relevant to a variety of fields; metaphysics, technological time, biological time, Newtonian time, time in philosophical thought, etc. All these grey areas but nothing concrete. I suppose there is the morbid element however; how many of us actually want to think about time? It is a reminder of our own mortality, our own fragility, our own time scales. Is our need and impulse to govern and segment time an attempt to conceal this?

Time will tell.

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