Time (by Olga Norris)

Specifically, time in the visual arts.  At a concert, watching a film or other performance, or reading a book, I enjoy the unfolding, the development, the altering of perspective and increase in understanding – all of which continue beyond the end in a work of worth.  What about art on the wall?  Paintings can be big enough to encompass the whole wall, and can take time to complete the looking, but generally the fixed image has to contain something else to hold and impart time. 

 While at a jazz concert listening to a piece with a distinct journey, holding back and revealing, teasing and revealing, I thought how difficult it is for a maker of fixed images to convey such a journey to the observer.  I started thinking about it seriously after that, and managed to answer a question which I’d casually asked myself many years ago. 


 Why is it when visiting a new place, particularly a foreign place, that so many of us are drawn to decay?  It is not just the old ways of building that attract us, because reconstructions are not seen to be quite as alluring as decay.  What is it about the poor parts of a city that make them so much more attractive than the prosperous well-tended parts?  What makes them so artistically inspiring

 Is it time?  The passage of time is writ clearly upon the face of the building in its decay.  Do we need to see the marks of time to feel a kind of comfort?  Which thought brought me to looking at the marks made by thread on cloth.  In a very direct way this can be seen in the work of Matthew Harris, and anyone who is inspired by the urban archaeology of peeling posters. 

stitched textile by Matthew Harris


 The question of time also brought me to thinking about ‘the frozen moment’: the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson being the ultimate example of this for me.  One of his genius abilities in my mind is that although he always seems to be there to capture the astonishing instant, he also does not detract  from or paralyse the action.  In that still we are given a glimpse into a continuum. 

 I realise that this is what I want from fixed images: that they should engage with both the concept of time and with my time.  I take as the ultimate example the magical image of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.  Having grasped the attention it immediately provokes the imagination to supply the continuum, it questions, it arouses curiosity, and is timeless.  I love it, and find that it leaps often from the void –or out of the blue – into my mind in conjunction with many different topics. 

 In my own work I suppose I try to capture an ambiguity or enigma which can change with viewings over time.  Although my own emotions are encompassed, I hope that they have been distilled and abstracted (aha! – see my last post here) enough to be more universal.  I aspire to the foothills of Edward Hopper in providing a work which is not-quite-completely-knowable, but which attracts and satisfies timeless curiosity.  It will take me some time to get there, but I hope to continue having fun on the way!

9 Responses to “Time (by Olga Norris)”

  1. 1 Olga May 31, 2010 at 2:58 am

    Nigel, thank you for your comment and the links. Have you seen Mirjam Pet-Jacobs award winning textile/music/film Timeless in time? http://www.mirjampetjacobs.nl/Current/frameset001.htm

  2. 2 Nigel Morgan May 29, 2010 at 1:50 am

    Your discussion on time in the visual arts I found most interesting, and if you’ll excuse the pun, timely. I’m engaged in a project called Textiles and Music Interact. This is a collaboration between a textile artist, a composer, a jazz musician and a programmer / technologist. We’ve recently been writing about one of our pieces Fifteen Images (Le Jardin Pluvieux) for the new Craft Research journal. We have been investigating issues of materiality and temporality in textiles. Olga, your observation about decay is bang on, and our source for referencing such an observation might be of interest: a fascinating essay by Suzi Attiwill on her exhibition A Matter of Time (2005) to be found of the Craft Australia website. That said, we are working with novel forms of digital animation of textiles that produce a play of layered images in the midst of a temporal process guided by the intensity of a musical performance. Such a process seems to emphasize an image’s materiality in its persistent remaking of itself in different densities, combinations and depths. In short the images perform, revealing their construction to the viewer over time rather than through a more conventional tactile and intimate exploration of the physical textile itself.

    Curious to know more? Do look at this web presentation.



  3. 3 Olga May 27, 2010 at 12:52 am

    I wish that I had more time to engage in a decent dialogue. So many interesting avenues of thought have been opened by your comments.

    June, thank you for the link to the film. I enjoyed watching the progress and process – which I think was so much more interesting than the finished static work. The accompanying music was delightful too.

    I agree about ‘lost time’ and the strange business of time expanding and contracting in our perception, according to what we are doing. I do think that those visual works which can achieve those blips of irregularity have indeed transcended the static.

    I like observing ‘anomalies’ of time such as changed light, multiple perspectives, multi-directional shadows. Works such as David Hockney’s Pearblossom Highway, or June’s Panorama somehow capture reality as we experience it in living time.

    The making of work does throw up time markers, whether to be judged by or not – but strangely too, I find that if I pick up a piece even some considerable time after last working on it, that I immediately am transported back to where I was and what I was listening to/concerned with then.

    As for the farf – well, that’s an interesting path to meander down too. Unfortunately, just at present I don’t have time.

  4. 4 kevan Lunney May 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I wish we had another word for time. Recording the passage the moon and sun is one thing so that we can predict and plan and foretell.I think of this as time, it belongs to the world of numbers and calculations and latitude and meridians.
    Experiencing a passage, or growth or transition or evolution should have another word- like farf.
    I stood in front of the painting for a whole farf. It seemed like only a farf before the cloud covered the hammock.

    • 5 Clairan May 25, 2010 at 12:36 pm

      Thank you Olga. A lot to think about. How time is evanescent and goes faster or slower depending on one’s situation. I think it’s clear that many of us consider time continuously in our work — the layering process mirroring that of time and history, public and private.

      And I agree June (although I had not been able to articulate it for myself) that one of the things I love best about the AB EXes is that their work takes me out of time and into a universal realm.

  5. 6 thelmasmith May 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Thank you. This dovetails with Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne, which I’m reading now. t

  6. 7 Terry Jarrard-Dimond May 23, 2010 at 4:53 am

    Thank you for the thought provoking article. One of the things I say about my work is that it is a residue of the experience I have had in my studio. The work does show layer and layer of thinking and doing which to me represents time. This brings us to the word TIME which is very abstract and difficult to understand. In many cultures, ours included, we use markers to denote time such as seconds, minutes, hours, days etc. or for me art work. People always want to know how long it took to make a piece. They value the time that is represented by the work. While I definitely don’t value artwork by this marker, it is one that many viewers understand.

  7. 8 June May 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Back again —

    I too am fascinated by the question of time in the visual arts, and how they tend to stop time. I say “tend to” because when there’s a story, a narrative, within the image, time is not stopped, because we finish out the story. Where there is a path or a road, we travel beyond where it’s on the canvas. Or, as in the Yves Klein leap, it’s really not a stop, merely a jog in the stream of things.

    I have not resolved the issue, although in my panorama oils, I worked from Am to PM, changing shadows and sky tones; I have also done some wonky city scapes where the shadows run in all directions, making time erratic. These elements are pretty subtle; most people don’t notice them.

    The artist, of course, is always working in time. John Currin apologized to a reporter about a problem in one of his paintings, saying that most people didn’t realize how long it took to physically make the painting work. But whether that is visible to the viewer is a different question.

    I think I like time in the painting because it’s proof of living. Only for the dead does time stop.

    But then there’s the “living in the moment” concept, which is, in some ways, the perfect way to look at a painting in which there is no obvious narrative or path or action or time passed. Standing in front of a Van Gogh once, I managed to lose a half hour (and my companions had to come find me) as I lost myself. I can’t recapture what I was thinking or how I lost the time — it just wasn’t there. That happens to me in overwhelming paintings, large ones, like the abstract expressionists, where the painting immerses one so deeply that time itself doesn’t exist anymore.

    So I suspect that we experience time as life itself, but sometimes, some experiences simply stop all time — even gazing at the ocean can do that to me — or watching the sky. But this latter is more difficult to achieve consciously, whereas we can consciously conjure up what’s beyond the bend of the road or what that couple on the ground are thinking about. Generally speaking, many viewers of art like art that shows time, shows life, makes them aware of their own time, passing and being. It’s harder, often, to pull oneself out of time.

    Thanks for thought provoking materials. The continued and varied ways that a single image works on us reminds me of the way great novels change as I re-read them because I’m not the same person the second or fifth time through. All art must achieve this, I think, if it’s to survive. And yet, that’s different from the mystery of the decayed surfaces or the road beyond the hill. Or at least I think it is.

    These are just evening thoughts, done as it is clearly time for bed.

  8. 9 June May 22, 2010 at 6:25 pm


    More later, but I had to send you this youtube of a visual artist working through time. It’s the sort of thing that only youth and energy and intelligence and insight could have thought of and carried out:

    More later.

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