Site-specific and installation based work is becoming increasingly relevant today, partly due to the rise of digital representation as now one of the primary means of viewing art. Impermanent Durations: On Painting and Time at the Peter Scott Gallery at Lancaster University is a group show featuring four artists from around the world, who have worked together to create a single collaborative installation piece which sets out to demonstrate how the gallery space can be used to shape an aesthetic experience that cannot be fully reproduced through digital images.
To this end, artists Beth Harland (UK), Laura Lisbon (US), David Thomas (AU) and Ian Woo (SG) engaged in an experimental process investigating, as the exhibition catalogue states, “the relationship between painting’s reflexivity as picture object and the real space of the gallery site.”
Upon first encountering Impermanent Durations, the effect of the exhibition (or overall ‘piece’ rather, as it is intended to be read) on the viewer, may seem somewhat indecipherable or enigmatic, yet a basic structure does eventually become apparent. At first, we are confronted by an array of abstract paintwork on canvas, paper and even the walls of the gallery, which starkly contrasts with a series of large monochrome photographs and small images that thread throughout various pieces of collage. Yet even the photographs have an ‘abstract’ feel as, placed sideways-on and distinctly blurred, their figurative content sits more closely to pure shape.
Elsewhere, thin strips of MDF are placed at intervals around the space, simply leaning against the wall as if left unintentionally. In any other context they would appear incidental, but the overall aesthetic of the show casts them in a more sculptural light. The viewer begins to see them as curved and straight lines rather than simple pieces of wood, or almost as extensions of the paintings surrounding them.
The rhythm of the paintings is reflected in the actual arrangement of the wider ‘piece’ itself, as many of the individual ‘components’ hang unconventionally high or low on the wall. This emphasises the way in which the exhibition is intended to be experienced as one overall arrangement, rather than as a series of separate works. It also addresses the theme of ‘the gallery space’ itself, as a number of the large photographs show unknown gallery and studio spaces in which the muted backdrops become an object of aesthetic contemplation.
On the whole, there is very little figurative representation within the show, and what representation there is appears vague and indecipherable; obfuscated beneath layers of abstraction. The visual language is primarily abstract; representational only in so far as certain shapes and lines which appear in the work recall the interior structure of the gallery itself.
Referring once more to the exhibition catalogue, one of the key aims of the exhibition was “to generate new visual relationships and readings that are recoverable over the time of viewing.” This notion of ‘viewing time’ is central to the idea behind Impermanent Durations. Painting, though technically a static art form, can only be truly experienced through time. That is to say, you can’t properly experience a painting in an instant; you have to allow for the unfolding of different layers of meaning and moments of appreciation.
This message may not come across as immediately as some of the other ideas within the show, but then perhaps this is intentional. After all, the fact that the inherent meaning within the work takes time to come through only confirms the overall message about the role of temporality in our experience of art.
All quotations taken from ‘Impermanent Durations: On Painting and Time’ Exhibition Catalogue 2016-17.