Letter to Ane Hjort Guttu regarding Time Passes

[Written on 30th August 2015 after seeing Time Passes (2015) at The South London Gallery]

Dear Ane,

I went to the Hirschhorn exhibition yesterday at the South London Gallery and was lucky to explore upstairs. We sat and chuckled at the antics and wisdom of the boy with the unsinkable spirit [Freedom Requires Free People (2011)] before moving to Time Passes (2015). I often moan that narrative film in galleries should be shown within set schedules. It is so frustrating when you enter halfway through a piece and have to edit it together in your head. Fortunately we hit Time Passes at its beginning and were glued. I wrote a text to someone after: “Hirschhorn Shmirschhorn, this is the best film about art I’ve ever seen.” Over coffee both my friend and I gushed with ideas triggered by the film. And questions. Hence this email. Firstly we were at a loss to decide whether (or to what extent) the film was scripted. The acting was so cool, the lines delivered with such ease, that we assumed it was a documentary, but doubted ourselves because of its ‘too perfect’ condition. Either way the story cleanly lays out the exact experience shared by myself and countless friends and acquaintances during our art education; that period of time where validity, authority and understanding reach a sort of self-cancelling crisis. The position of the undergraduate art student is a significant period in the Western cultural dialogue. Regardless of subsequent engagement with Art this time resonates. After graduation I found the questions of institutional art left me disorientated and unable to make anything for over a decade.

The archetypes of the film were so clear and believable to both of us. I found myself thinking that there was The Female, The Male and The Beggar. To me, The Female represented its exact eponym, the female artist. Without sounding like some simpering male apologist, and this should be taken with the sincerity it is written, the female artist represents such a radical and relevant practitioner these days that I find myself slightly disappointed by anything produced by a man. Hirschhorn, as a nearby example, failed to move me at all with his mess of polystyrene and tape. Whatever humour the room may have had was nullified by the giant, unnecessary quote from Gramsci, as patronising as it was banal. Dramla’s [sic] predicament expressed a truism of art-creation in the legacy of undeveloped ideologies. I assumed the Adorno book was intentionally placed on her shelf. Revolutionary twentieth-century ideas surrounding the context of Art practice, feminism, orientalism, cultural theory, seem suppressed in all but those that make the effort. Their influence seem to remain only in the burgeoning questions of the female artist. The second archetype, The Male, fails to develop as a destabilised figure. The autism that effects young male artists, myself included, mires him in a blindness to misunderstanding. When the young male artist describes his works he talks in such a recognisable rhetoric. His assumption is that the audience for his work will always understand the intention of his work, that it somehow remains evident in all, that it is a truth. The critics within her seminar group and her tutor, look for intention where there is none. If I was to step further than I feel you may have intended, I would say the black student’s comments (in English) that he is concerned with difference appear comical; how could any male, black or white, understand the apolitical stance of this female? And they try. They continually interrogate the politic of the project she has embarked upon. Yet Dramla is unable/unwilling to convince them of the functionless practice of the work. I guess it would seem arrogant for her, and yet it highlights its purity as a work of art. The work has no function. At best it meditates. The Male paints because the symbolic seems enough, The Female doesn’t because it’s not. Then there is the third archetype, The Beggar, literally sitting beside both. The Beggar is genderless in the political sense that the first two are gendered. Her position as female is a reality of loss or hope, towards children, kindness, health. It’s ageless and genderless [this letter ends unfinished]