William Mackrell in Context - Deciphering Duration / by Claire Mander

Allan Kaprow, Fluids, photographed by Dennis Hopper in Beverly Hills, October 1963

Allan Kaprow, Fluids, photographed by Dennis Hopper in Beverly Hills, October 1963

Art can explore the concept of time and humanities’ relationship with time in a variety of ways, artists having often chosen to engage with ideas of time through the nature of the medium itself. 

As performance art happens in real time a connection with the audience or participants is made as they are fully immersed in the experience of the piece. The fact that, in pieces such as Allan Kaprow’s Happenings, the art existed in a temporal rather than physical sense served to elevate the experience as it itself became the art, as opposed to a physical product produced by the artist. Kaprow developed his performance art as a medium explicitly engaged with time, describing his intentions to move away from ‘making pictures as figurative metaphors for extensions in time and space’, making the relationship between art and time more direct. 

In Tehching Hsieh’s piece ‘One Year Performance 1980-1981’, also known as ‘Time Clock Piece’, a literal relationship was made between art and time, as the piece entailed the artist punching a time clock every hour, all day and night for a year. Hsieh’s passing of time with such a repetitive action without tangible product meant that the meaning of time was lost to a certain extent. The piece invited consideration of the meaning of ‘wasting time’, as an action associated with productivity, punching a time clock, prevented outside productivity in the artist, through its strict demands. 

‘One Year Performance 1980-1981’ was one of six durational art pieces performed by Hseih, five of which took place over a year. The choice of a year was explained by the artist in Mousse Magazine, as he stated that ‘One year is the basic unit of how we count time….It is about being human, how we explain time, how we measure our existence.’ This sheds light on both the piece’s consideration of human quantification of time, and how it has made a physical marker of the division of time.

Time based art is often created in mediums other than performance art, however, as it regularly takes the form of media art.  Video art often involves the idea of time, as the nature of the medium allows techniques such as looping to be used, allowing pieces to be potentially infinite, possibly to provoke a reduction in the perceived importance of time on the viewer. 

Fischli and Weiss’ piece for the 1995 Venice Biennale, for example, invited a consideration of time and its value as they presented 96 hours of footage of car journeys that had taken place in Zurich. In describing their intentions in the work Fischli said that the piece allowed the viewer to place value on different aspects of the work, by choosing a particular monitor and moment to pay attention to, and deciding how long to remain looking. The artist stated in an interview with Frieze Magazine that “They have to ask themselves the same question as we do: what shall I waste my time on? And by giving them this time I enhance the value of these things”. 

William Mackrell’s piece ‘Going to the gallery’ (2013) engaged with time as it made a physical representation of time and the artist’s experience travelling from his studio to the gallery, as he continuously wrote ‘going to the gallery’ on a roll of paper, the used material accumulating and bearing a physical marker of the journey as it became dirty or torn. This piece thus translated time and experience into a physical medium, displaying another way to develop the relationship between art and time. For his forthcoming Sculpture Shock AMBULATORY intervension Mackrell will continue this theme as he plans to reflect the live journy of a Routmaster bus through automated drawing and sound. In this way the physical journy, and therfore time, will once again be reflected in different forms, as well as becoming a shared exsperience for the passengers. 

Written by Octavia Young