Sarah Forrest, Sue Tompkins, Geneva Sills and Toby Paterson
Co-curated with Sarah Strang
Supported programme Glasgow International 2018
215 High Street, Glasgow G1 1QB\
19 April - 7 May 2018
Toby Paterson, Palisades. Image courtesy of the artist and Civic Room.
That which impedes access to the present is precisely the mass of what for some reason (its traumatic character, its excessive nearness) we have not managed to live. The attention to this ‘unlived’ is the life of the contemporary. And to be contemporary means in this sense to return to a present where we have never been.
Giorgio Agamben, ‘What Is the Contemporary?'
Time, like the mind, is not knowable as such. We have access to it only indirectly by what happens in it. To understand time
is necessary to observe processes of change and permanence. On the one hand, historical time is understood on the basis
of the linear sequence of events; biological time, on the other hand, is perceived from the successive stages of development
of living beings.
In the most practical sense, time is represented in calendars and archives, schedules and timelines.
It appears in the form of hours in our clocks, deadlines in work. Time, under an administrative agenda, announces the occurrence of activities that will happen and record the ones that have already passed. It serves to plan and imagine the future as well as to document and to recall the past.
Time similarly is apparent in our memories and desires. The encounter of certain visual and sensory stimuli such as images, objects, smells or sounds can awaken our sense the passing of reality. This type of time is perceived in memories and remembrances of former experiences as well as in desires and longings of what is ahead.
In all these senses, however, we conceive time from the standpoints of both the past and the future. Again and again,
we return to the past and shape the future within a present that we seem to be incapable of living.
In his text ‘What Is the Contemporary?’, Giorgio Agamben makes a rereading of Nietzsche’s 'Untimely Meditations', who wrote that being untimely is a necessary consequence of striving to become who one is. The Italian philosopher further explains that the word ‘con-temporary’, which means literally ‘together with time’, is, paradoxically, and by its nature, ana-chronistic (‘up against time’). In fact, to be contemporary compels us to be anachronistic; since it implies a disconnection, dis-junction, and rupture with regards to the present time.
The present, according to Agamben, has a broken vertebra. It is most distant and cannot reach us. It has a broken backbone. And we are located in the exact point of this fracture. To be contemporary means to be able to write by dipping the pen in the obscurity of the present, to gain awareness of it. This requires the ability to feel beyond the sequential past and the progressive future by experiencing the proximity we have with our own temporality.
For this reason, the contemporary gives meaning to the individual, ‘out of joint’ moments, and not to history as a whole. The time of the contemporary is a never-to-be-completed process of self-development and self-overcoming. By being aware of the temporal character of the human condition, the contemporary makes the fracture of the present a meeting place, conscious of the black hole between times. To be contemporary obliges to witnesses the historical becoming of both past and future times.