Reconceiving Time

Sabina Bremner

In 1988, Adelheid Mers–curator of “Hairy Blob,” currently on view at the Hyde Park Arts Center–received a yearlong grant for graduate study at the University of Chicago’s Committee on the Visual Arts. “I spent all of my time in the Regenstein,” she says, “reading everything I could get my hands on about space.”

For twenty years, she kept that knowledge stored away. Then she turned to time as a theme for her art, and she found a natural outlet for those hours of studying. Time, she has come to believe, is intimately bound up with our conception of space. “We think of time metaphorically, in terms of space,” she says.

These considerations are central to “Hairy Blob,” whose aim is to reconceptualize time. She explains, “I came to realize that our everyday, traditional understanding of time as past, present, and future leads us to use the past to validate certain traditions, and to use the future to justify things we want today; it helps us to avoid thoughtfully thinking through things.”

She pauses and begins to speak slowly, each word suffused with weight. “It seemed to me that past and future were thought constructions used to leverage power, and if we could think about time differently, social justice and sustainability thinking could be furthered.”

The title of the exhibit is a metaphor for our experience on Earth: we are just transitory ‘hairs’ on a spinning blob. The show includes cityscapes made of cardboard, a column of gilded encyclopedias entitled “Sunsets,” and a net suspending ping-pong balls scrawled on by viewers contributing their own opinions on the nature of time.

One video installation documents a bicycle ride through industrial Chicago neighborhoods, its frames aligned both spatially and temporally. “Piers,” a glossy photograph encompassing an entire wall, features its artist, Sarah FitzSimons, overlooking a barren, mountainous landscape on a boardwalk inscribed, “In memory of ancient seas, and for those waters yet to come.” Emily Newman’s video triptych “Polyteknicheskaya (Don’t Love Here)” elegizes a decaying Soviet-planned suburb slated for redevelopment: in a spare, candid style, it presents several intimate portrayals of the culture that has organically emerged there.

Faheem Majeed’s installation, “Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden,” takes up an entire room. It features a table piled high with found objects–books, paint cans, photographs, and knickknacks–which he thinks of collectively as a cityscape. These ephemeral objects have not been imbued with a monolithic social value; they are poised to be discarded and forgotten. As such, their positioning in the installation strikes the viewer as particularly personal.

“Viewers may be frustrated,” Majeed says, “by the fact that they don’t know why these objects were selected, what their explicit meaning was.” But that is part of the installation’s aim: to rethink the way we select history, valuing certain objects over others through archiving and documentation. Here, that process is turned on its head. Reconceived as art, these objects have been imbued with new meaning both individually, through the personal relationship Majeed shares with them, and socially, in their new role as art objects. The connection between time and space is rendered explicit in the way the piece also documents the history of a given space–the South Side Community Arts Center, the previous home of the objects.

In keeping with the theme of temporality, the pieces will evolve during the course of the exhibition. “It’s very important that the show not be static,” Mers comments. “Otherwise it’s just the same thing all over again: it becomes just another archive that gets reinterpreted.”

Kirsten Leenaars’ piece, “Rising and Falling Actions (Everything is imprinted forever with what it once is),” is currently an incomplete wall drawing featuring the words “TIME AS WE KNOW IT IS COMING TO AN END” in bold text. It will be filled in with the unfolding plot lines of a science fiction video she will create during a residency at the Center, in which the Center itself metamorphoses into “a flagship on a time mission.” Becky Alprin’s cardboard cityscapes will march across the gallery space day by day, a process that will be documented in stop-motion animation.

“Hairy Blob” itself is accompanied by a website, “The Asteroid Belt” at hairyblob.net, on which contributors post stories and essays consistent with the exhibition’s themes. As for Majeed’s piece, the gallery put up a “Do not touch” sign next to his installation, inadvertently forcing viewers to choose whether to transgress the prohibition. As gallery staff and viewers interact with the piece, it changes to reflect their modifications. Majeed claims that “Planting” is “the most unintentionally interactive he’s ever made.”

Mers remarks that “we’re more networked now than we have ever been.” The accelerating social change of postindustrialism affords us a novel vantage point from which to view, and therefore to reconceive, time. “Hairy Blob” seeks to take advantage of this particular moment, and Mers thinks that the response to it has reflected the unique nature of the show. “It’s a dialogue starter,” she says.

Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through July 29. Monday-Thursday, 10am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. Free. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org