Introduction for the Art Affairs exhibition.
There are moments when you forget what time is. When the pores of your skin seem to breathe the sun and you can smell freshly mowed grass. High in the sky a plane draws a white trail through the endless blue. Only now and then birds can be heard chirping. At moments like these you lose all sense of clock time. In 2009 philosopher Joke Hermsen wrote the book, Stil de Tijd (Time on Our Side), which is her manifesto for a slow future. Her collection of essays discusses the complexity of time. She writes that “[…] since the introduction, at the end of the nineteenth century, of Greenwich Mean Time as an international standard, we have been adapting our lives more and more to clock time, and pushing that other, more personal or inner experience of time into the background”. (p.11)
Although we have all agreed to have one standard time – an hour has sixty minutes, a day has twenty-four hours – we experience time in very different ways. The concept of time is abstract and our Western society is organized in such a way that we completely depend on the exact measurability of time. Given that, we need symbols that reflect this notion of time. And so we have the clock and it is inexorable. The first mechanical pendulum clocks date from around the 1Oth century and are attributed to the man who would later become Pope Sylvester II
The earliest instrument for measuring time was the sundial. Time is measured with the shadow of the obelisk shifting around the sundial disk as the earth turns. The time span of one single day is needed to complete the rotation of the earth’s axis in relation to the sun. This is called a sun day, which is a wonderful name.
Photography is nothing more than using light to capture a moment on light-sensitive material and recording that moment. The word derives from the Greek and means literally writing with light. After almost two centuries of photography, the challenge that contemporary artists face is to go beyond the restrictions of the medium to document reality and find a way of adding something new to the sheer volume of photos that are engulfing us today.
This exhibition by Laurence Aëgerter is about recording the duration of time. Cathédrales is a series of photos which were taken of a photo of the 13th century cathedral of Bourges, and which was published in a book from the 1950s. Laurence photographed this photo at one-minute intervals for two hours and used this time span as her sun day. The shadow of the window in her studio gradually made the reproduction disappear into the darkness. Her work on the series culminated in the publication of a book and a series of a hundred and twenty photos.
In Gothic cathedrals the effect of the changing light on the architecture has an important role in that the light and the vertical dimensions of the cathedrals are a symbolic allusion to Heaven. In Laurence’s book, the
minute shifts in light only become apparent as you turn the pages. The book is an exercise in patience, in contemplation, in waiting for what is to come. The same can be said for the special edition which includes a photo of the interior of the cathedral of Coutances, printed with ink that reacts to light. In the winter you just have a black surface hanging on the wall. When the sun is higher on the horizon, a temporary image emerges from the black. The photos from the book, some of which are hanging in the gallery, are all published in single-copy editions as each moment is a unique moment in time.
Laurence herself has compared her book to classical music, to the rhythm and regular tempo of Bach. I thought of another composer, Hanne Darboven. Although she is better known for her minimalist installations of handwritten lists of numbers, she turned in the 1980s to her mathematical music, in which she transformed into sound the numbers from rows and columns in her visual artwork. Through rhythm and repetition, an abstract space is created that draws you in and which is pure and clear. I have a similar experience when turning the pages of Laurence’s book.
The other series in this exhibition is Cathedrals at Sunset and just like Cathédrales it is inspired by a cathedral which was painted by the French impressionist painter, Claude Monet. Cathedrals at Sunset is based on a poster of one of his famous paintings from the Cathédrales de Rouen series. Between 1890 and 1894, Monet made thirty different paintings of the cathedral from varying perspectives and in diverse light and weather conditions. They are wonderful studies of the effect of light in Gothic architecture and sculpture. Monet tried to capture the ephemeral circumstances of the changing moment in a painting that not only exists as a representation after nature but also as an object with its own structure.
Laurence used a poster of Monet’s painting as the foundation for the series. This poster is immensely popular and can be seen hanging in many shops. She added another layer of light by photographing the light patterns which the sun made on the poster.
In the series which can be seen at Art Affairs, Laurence is searching for new ways to add meaning to existing, familiar images that are embedded in our collective memory. She does this through minimal and subtle interventions which nevertheless have an enormous effect on the viewer. For me the cathedrals of Laurence are visual expressions of Joke Hermsen’s reflections on the inner experience of time. Laurence is building with these artworks her own cathedral: a space with its own temporal structure in which the sequence of reproductions from photos of Gothic cathedrals brings you to a meditative state of being. Laurence herself says that her series is a small monument to time. I would say that it’s a great monument to time.