The following is a transcript and description of a ‘Saturday Talks’ presentation made in the Serpentine Summer Pavilion, at 3.15pm on Saturday the 28 July, 2012. The quoted segments were written by me beforehand, printed on 12 sheets of A4 paper and shuffled. Introduced with an amplified microphone, I invited audience members to take part in an ‘experimental seminar’, to choose a sheet at random and read it into the microphone. The microphone had a short, 3-metre wire, which required willing audience members to approach the ‘stage’ to then sit and read. The text written by me and read aloud is below in italics. File under ‘Productively Failed Experiments.’
The first person to volunteer is a girl, six or seven years old in a Tintin t-shirt, who enthusiastically throws her arm in the air to be chosen, then runs up to the platform where we sit with the PA system. She reads assuredly, halting on a few overly complicated (maybe unnecessary, even) words. I scoot up next to her, to hold the paper for her so that she can concentrate on reading, and to help with any words if needed. It goes on for quite a while—I begin to worry that she is bored:
Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi in 1947 is curator of a private museum housed within Brazil’s Associated Press offices. She is hanging paintings from metal bars that run from floor to ceiling, and writes, ‘no distinction is made between an old or a modern work of art.’
She opens her Museum of Art Sao Paulo eleven years after it is begun. In the upper gallery, she creates an open plan floors are filled with controversial ‘panel-easel’ display panels, rectangles of clear, tempered crystal propped up by cubes of concrete.
Each sheet of glass holds a painting, arranged at the same height irrespective of chronology, typology, style, genre, artist. There are hundreds of them in a room, all facing the same direction. The name of the artist, title of the work, and some additional information is displayed on the back of the panel. The display system was abandoned in 1996.
2011, several replicas of her display panels are still in use, eleven in a temporary exhibition at Eindhoven’s Van Abbemuseum, two as separators between the Museum of Art Sao Paulo’s kitchen and restaurant checkout line.”
People clap for her effort when she finishes. I ask for her name: J. This sets the norm of applause after every section read out, then giving their name. The next volunteer is a gentleman in his sixties, B., with a long, grey moustache and a bright red t-shirt. He reads lightly looking down his nose through his glasses, intently but in a staccato monotone:
“In conclusion, in placing these particular moments beside each other, it would seem to me they pose a contradiction.
Each of these examples attempts to squash time, to make time various points all present at once. But if we only see the end result, the resulting anarchic mosaic of superimposed moments might just appear like an unintelligible jumble, reading its pores like a flat, single surface.
From the outside, these structures might then appear to be built only for those who inhabit them, to make sense only to those who are involved from the start, who know the whole story. A quick glimpse feels hierarchical, when they are intended to be the opposite- flat, open structures that can be accessed from any direction.
What these structures appear to require is a quality of contact that demands involvement, whether that involvement is historical, intellectual, emotional, or sensual. A level of immersion, commitment, of being embedded in order to gain an awareness or sense of the layers so that you can them take them in all at once, simultaneously separate but together. Like Bo Bardi’s attempts to rid experiencing art of art history, but at the same time overwhelming the viewer with a barrage of visual information, it has to be patiently picked apart to then be able to read the ‘book of the universe’ Le Guin describes in The Dispossessed.
These co-existing timelines create the imaginative suggestion of time travel, of being able to jump back and forth in time just as we dream and remember throughout the day. We can only imagine time travel, and as these examples from novels, races, temporary exhibitions, and temporary architecture attest, this suggestion of non-linear experience is achieved, for us, only through linear media. It would seem, perhaps claustrophobically, that it is only via these linear structures we can access these open, multiple co-existent spaces, and imaginatively achieve the mosaic impossibility of seeing in four dimensions.”
B. halts for a moment before saying “you can take them all in at once.” The woman next to him volunteers next, coming forward and staring intently at the page. She has a thick accent, from somewhere in South America, that makes heard comprehension difficult for me. She seems short of breath:
American artist Christopher D’Arcangelo in 1975 is chaining himself to the front door of the Whitney Museum. The security guards board off the front walkway from view to the public, saw the chains and evict D’Arcangelo. He commits suicide in 1979.”
She stops, turns her head to the side, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. I wonder whether the mention of the suicide has prompted this, and also think how lucky we are that J. didn’t pick this passage, or Vonnegut’s. She continues, though, apparently unperturbed:
“English born artist Peter Nadin in 1962 is painting a wall white in Bromborough; 2011, he is posing for a photograph holding two piglets on his farm in the Catskills.
D’Arcangelo and Nadin begin a gallery in Nadin’s loft studio. An eight-month project gathered under the heading, ‘The work shown in this space is a response to the existing conditions and/or work previously shown within this space,’ they are attempting to make communal work by asking artists to cumulatively produce and display within the room. Everything shown there will remain for the remaining duration of the entire project.
After building the walls and finishing the space, they show the empty room with the title “30 Days Work.” Daniel Buren adds a series of marks around the room’s perimeter. This is followed by responses by Jane Reynolds, Peter Fend, and Rhys Chatham. I have found no pictures of these works.
Following D’Arcangelo’s death, the names of Nadin, Lawrence Weiner (who in 2005, is saying, “It’s all about the content, and in fact it has less to do about the context than anyone would like to admit.”), Dan Graham, and Louise Lawler are stenciled on the floor as a final, communal art work in that space.
2008, Eastside Projects opens in Birmingham, an artist-led exhibition space modeled in part on D’Arcangelo and Nadin’s loft space. Preparations for each exhibition overlap with current displays, traces from each show remain left behind, some works sitting permanently in the way. The project is still on-going.”
She doesn’t give her name. I make a note in my notebook: ‘Tongue twisters. Accents, reading, legibility.’ The next volunteer, a young woman named C., reads roundly, matter-of-fact but clearly paced:
The Olympic cycling men’s road race will be passing by Hyde Park, from Knightsbridge to Hyde Park Corner while this talk is taking place.
Cycling road races began in 1868. There is no note of when the peloton became a noted phenomenon or strategy in road racing. The word itself, meaning ‘little ball’, was in use in French in the 17th century to describe a small group of soldiers- finding its way in to English as ‘platoon’. By 1884, the word came to describe the main body of a cycling race. The peloton offers its own particular physics as a mass slipstream. Riding behind another rider reduces wind resistance, saving those riders towards the middle of the pack up to 40% energy.
This is more pronounced in those longer road races with multiple stages. The Tour de France, which was started in 1903, with this year’s race ended just last week, is the highest profile example of the multi-stage road race. Over 150 riders, almost identical in their helmets and spandex outfits, ride over three weeks and hundreds of kilometres, each with their own efforts and near-invisible ‘style’ of riding, create a sort of organism beyond themselves. Similar to a swarming of bees or starlings, the body of the race becomes its own biomorphic entity, with correspondingly different physics and movements. Each team of riders carries its own specialists: sprinters, hill climbers and support, and teams take turns keeping up the pace of the entire race. Each day of the race is a thing in itself, but the action, the event, being made of the entire body of racers, is always elusive, always simultaneously elsewhere and shifting. As a result, the immediate spectacle of stage cycling is distinctly boring, as if nothing is ever happening, thought it is brought meaning embedded in a wider sense of history, strategy, geography, and relativity.
You can win a stage road race without ever winning a single stage of the race. Advantages, distances, and times become purely relative. Within the entity of the peloton is each rider, with their own time covered so far, their own goals within the race, for a time submitting to the larger, shifting mass of the peloton what has no agenda apart from movement, and whose on-going end is simply to test its participants to reveal their own process and practice to themselves. When the peloton crosses the line, every rider in the group is given the same time.”
The next volunteer, A., is tall with a full beard. He sits, holding the sheet he’s chosen at a theatrical distance, and speaks loudly and clearly, in the tone of enunciating a public speech:
“The Rocky Mountains: Visualising Co-Existent Timelines.
Welcome to the Serpentine Pavilion.
Sat here among the angles and curves formed by the foundations of the eleven previous structures built on this site, I wanted to take this as a starting point to look at other instances where distances of time and space are brought together.
The architects and designers of this year’s pavilion describe themselves like a ‘team of archaeologists’. But they don’t just uncover the hidden supports of the past pavilions, they adapt them and absorb them into a new building, one that crystallises the fragments of the past in the present, like an odd sort of hybrid mosquito trapped in amber that we can then examine and walk around in.
This structure is a set of co-existing, accumulated timelines, representing twelve years of work simultaneously. What I want to do over the next thirty minutes or so is gather together instances from exhibition makers, fiction, and other areas that similarly integrate different timelines into a structure, instances that make multiple timelines visible at once.
By placing these together, I’d like to ask: what happens when you’re inside these structures? How does it feel? Is it important, for example, whether you have seen all eleven previous pavilions to fully understand and experience this one?
Like the pavilions, each passage is loosely anchored in a particular year. I’d like to suggest you could imagine each of these passages as their own room, their own structure, which we are placing one on top of the other, an additional temporary, cumulative structure.”
The next volunteer, a young woman mid-twenties, chooses the inserted question section of the ‘talk’:
(Take questions from the audience as you see fit- you, the reader, can choose to answer, or if you prefer the author, Chris, can answer)”
She reads out the parenthetical part as well. B raises his hand and says,
“In the section that I read, there were two words together that didn’t belong together. Was that deliberate?”
I say no, and apologise for the error. No other questions come forth.
The next volunteer, a young woman, also possibly mid-twenties, is sitting in front near the PA system:
Science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula LeGuin is born 1929, the daughter of anthropologist Alfred Kroebber and writer Theordora Kroebber. She attends Berkley High School with Philip K. Dick.
In her novel The Dispossessed, the physicist Shevek from the egalitarian, anarchist planet of Aras, is at a dinner party on the capitalist planet of Urras and asked to explain the Theory of Simultaneity he is developing.
‘‘Well, we think that time ‘passes’, flows past us; but what if it is we who move forward, from past to future, always discovering the new? It would be a little like reading a book, you see. The book is all there, all at once, between its covers. But if you want to read the story and understand it, you must begin with the page, and go forward always in order. So the universe would be a very great book, and we would be very small readers.’
‘But the fact is’, said Dearri, ‘that we experience the universe as a succession, a flow. In which case, what’s the use of this theory of how on some higher plane it may be all eternally co-existent. Fun for you theorists, maybe, but it has no practical application- no relevance to real life. Unless it means we can build a time machine!’ he added with a kind of hard, false joviality.
‘But we don’t experience the universe only successively,’ Shevek said. ‘Do you never dream, Mr. Dearri?’’”
I decide it’s only fair that I also read out a section. That I wrote this whole talk with my own speaking tempo in mind becomes apparent now:
Alan Moore is midway through writing his mini-series of comic books The Watchmen he is making with illustrator Dave Gibbons.
In 1992, he writes the lines, “The one place gods inarguably exist is in our minds, where they are real beyond all refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity,” leading him to pronounce himself a magician in 1993.
2012, he writes on the BBC website of his satisfaction about his 1982 use of the Guy Fawkes mask in V For Vendetta being adopted as the face for the hackers group calling themselves ‘Anonymous.’
He is writing a page in The Watchmen with a 9-frame grid, where his character Dr. Manhattan is sitting on rock among the pink dust of Mars, looking at a photograph. Dr. Manhattan is counting down the seconds to when he will drop the photo on the ground, while remembering different points in his past life. In the comic book’s present day of 1985, he is holding the picture, not recognising himself in the photo from 1959 while at the same time recalling its details: it is a frozen moment from the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. He drops the photo and walks off to look at space, saying, “All we ever see of stars are their old photographs.””
While I am reading I notice the documentary maker Andrew Kötting walk in and sit down. He leaves again before I finish. It’s then I notice how many people might have left, or maybe more came in. The girl who began the talk, and her parents, seem to have disappeared. Another quick jot in my notebook: ‘ventriloquism. It’s boring…’ We ask the Serpentine staff operating the PA system volume controls, S., to read a section. He skips the date at the start, reading nervously and uncertainly:
Architect and scholar Shima Mohajeri is at the International Merleau-Ponty Circle Conference in Mississippi State University. She says the words:
“Bring in the idea of spatial depth infused with time. The porous layers in space indicate the simultaneity of presence where the body moves through depth in time.
That is when the body experiences the event of time and space in its continuity. The spatial porosity is a method for destabilising the outlines and limits while displacing them back and forth in-between spaces. This continual opening and closing of space provides and room for the body to discover its own visibility among the invisibles created by the empty voids. Thus, the porosity of space will appear as a result of an uninterrupted flow of interpenetrated events within the spatial depth.””
He struggles with ‘simultaneity’, asking in passing if that’s actually a word. C., sitting nearby, reads another section:
Irish architect Michael Scott and art critic and former Guggenheim Museum director James Johnson Sweeny (In 1971, they are walking together along a windy coastline, making polite conversation as they are filmed from 4 metres away) begin the first in a series of exhibitions in Ireland showcasing contemporary artworks alongside ancient artefacts, under the name ‘Rosc,’ coming from the Irish for ‘eye’ or ‘vision’ and ‘battle-cry.’
The exhibition is to take place every four years, featuring fifty living artists selected by a panel of international experts brought to an island largely unexposed to international artworks. Held within the draped hall of the Royal Dublin Society, artist and architect Patrick Scott hangs the paintings from wires suspended from the ceiling.
The effect is flattening- it’s like making sliding doors out of the paintings; they become walls, corners in a maze. But placing historical sculptures alongside newer works, all of them free-floating, it seems both chronological and spatial distance have been suspended, holding its breath.
Rosc is held only three times, in 1967, 1971, and for the last time in 1977.”
Inspired by the reoccurrence of readers, the South American woman waves and trots forward again:
Kurt Vonnegut Junior’s first novel is printed as Utopia 14 in 1954, which is later released in 1966 under the more enduring name Player Piano.
After a suicide attempt in 1984, he dies after complications from falling down a set of stairs in 2007.
Vonnegut releases what was intended to be his first novel, describing a dim-witted alter ego who witnesses the bombing of Dresden in World War Two, and is later abducted by an alien race.
The aliens are described as ‘two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber’s friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings about time.’”
She halts here, again like last time pausing, turning her head. For breath it seems, rather than the unfortunate coincidence of having read both sections that mention suicides. She continues, a dense and swirling set of thickly accented sounds:
“The character, Billy Pilgrim, describes the experiential differences of this alien race:
‘All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.’”
The reader who had chosen the ‘Any Questions?’ earlier comes forward again, wanting to read a full passage:
Italian designer, essayist and art critic Edoardo Persico is invited, in 1929, to move from his native Naples to live in Milan by architect Pietro-Maria Bardi to run his magazine Belvedere.
He dies in 1936, three months before his contemporary neoclassical ‘Room of Honour’ at the 6th Milan Triennale opens, which is renamed triumphantly soon after the ‘Room of Victory’.
Persico and artist, architect and designer Marcello Nizzoli—a former Futurist, who after World War Two works as an industrial designer for Olivetti, designing products such as the Lettera 22 typewriter—together they design a set of light metal grids to be used display a series of photographs and documents.
One such display is for the outdoor open pavilion of the ‘Hall of the Gold Medals’ of the Exhibition of Italian Aviation. The structure is light, like an enlarged garden trellis where instead of ivy, images and text wind their way over the bars. Photographs patch the holes, images of war planes and exploding landscape that you can glimpses of from between the layers, meshing to make a quilt of textured histories.”