From now through the end of January, stop by the third floor atrium to view an exhibition created by students in Marina Moevs’s Fall 2016 ART 333 Visualizing Literature course. The works on display comprise two separate, thematically-linked assignments: The Past (Time) and The Present (Time). Students from Moevs’s class visited our Archives and Special Collections classroom to view rare and unique objects from our collections. Their works are based on the students’ interpretations of those objects as well as texts they read together in their course. The exhibition is inspired by the 2016 Bellarmine Forum and it’s “slow time” initiative.
The Past (Time)
The boxes enshrine and memorialize a moment from the past. Through images, found objects, sculptural creations, and three dimensional tactile materials, the memory of the past event is summoned and the experience is brought back to life in the present. The box or shrine then perdures: it lives on in the now as a constant reminder of the past event.
Each box rescues a moment from the oblivion of the past and reanimates it in the present, in our collective “now.” The boxes take as a point of departure Augustine of Hippo’s observation that the past itself does not exist; all we have is a memory of the past, and the memory is experienced in the present. The reanimation of the past in the present follows two strategies adapted from literature, including Denise Levertov’s poem, “A Time Past” and Ted Kooser’s poem, “Abandoned Farmhouse.” Further inspiration is drawn from the shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell and the autobiographical sculptural boxes of Lucas Samaras.
The Present (Time)
These multimedia drawings capture the present, a moment in time, the now. Through a fast and necessarily abstract notation the drawings are an immediate record of the sights, sounds, and other sensations (touch, temperature, light, movement of air) experienced in a particular moment in time. The drawings then undergo further development that might include the introduction of images.
The drawings are a response to two views of the present. Augustine of Hippo’s mediation on time in his Confessions and William James’s essay on the perceptions of time in The Principles of Psychology. Visual inspiration is drawn from Lisa Walcott’s “Kitchen Table” drawings and the graphic notation of composers such as John Cage, Györgi Ligeti, and Roman Haubenstock-Ramati.
Time and Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse
In 1927 when Virginia Woolf published her modernist masterpiece, To The Lighthouse, the experience and understanding of time was undergoing a significant change. Familiar local time, set to the noonday sun, was globally giving way to standard time which felt arbitrary and abstract. Radiometric dating, recently discovered, began revealing the dizzying depths of geological time. Time, finally accepted as the 4th dimension, took its place alongside the three dimensions of space. And Einstein, with his theory of relativity, showed how time does not flow “equably” as Newton had posited, but rather undergoes warpage and dilation. The impact of these revolutionary changes in the understanding of time are reflected in the commanding role that time plays in To The Lighthouse. In the novel time expands and contracts; it passes at a ferocious speed or at a glacial pace. It is measured less by mechanical clocks than by the lived experience of the rhythms of life. The characters seek to escape its grip, whether through fame or transcendence. Memories weave through the present and color its experience with a circularity that links the past to the present. Human lives shrink to insignificance in the face of the vastness of the ages.
These various two and three dimensional artworks respond to a facet of time as it is refracted and reflected in the novel, To The Lighthouse. Some of the art pieces address the warpage and distortion of time, and others explore a mystical transcendence of time. A number of art pieces investigate memory: its inadequacy and its inability to capture the complexity of the moment; our reliance on it (as in fame) to achieve a type of immortality; our use of objects as mementos in order to bring to life in the present a moment from the past; and the richness and significance that memories add to our experience of the present. A couple of art pieces consider the measurement of time: our obsession with quantifying and recording it, and our non-mechanical ways of measuring it. Ultimately, all the art pieces pay tribute to the fundamental mysteriousness of time, and our inability to fully comprehend it.
The Visualizing Literature exhibition will be on display through the end of January 2017.