The exhibition Slow Time and the Present, at Kunsthalle Basel, is posited on the idea that the past, as we conceive it, is part of the present, a present that has dimension, a deep or profound present in which our thinking about the past accounts for parts of our experience for which we have no other resource. The seeming otherness of the past, its separations from us, both its strangeness and its familiarity, are not aspects of a past that is elsewhere and distant but of a present that is complex and often opaque. The title Slow Time and the Present concerns a sense of the duration of our attention and of life as something other than the busy and often frenetic onrush of everyday experience and our consequent separations from a consciously lived present. it concerns the notion of a present we may inhabit, a dilated or deep present.
About twenty years ago, ideas of “slow time” that I had been working with since the late sixties began to be associated with the earlier work of historians like Fernand Braudel (1902‒1985). Braudel, together with others, had developed a set of theories that came to be known as those of “slow history”. This concept of history eschewed a description of the past as a chronicle of great events and rulers. Instead, it proposed a history of the everyday traced through the records of small communities and their institutions, for example in legal documents, petitions, transcripts of witnesses, and in the archives of ecclesiastical courts. At the centre of this notion of history lay the idea that societies and culture do not alter so much as a consequence of momentous happenings, moreover that there is even a certain resistance to the far-reaching consequences these events will have. “Slow history” shifted attention toward the observation and description of habit, custom and the repeated rituals of the everyday. It favoured attention to small incremental changes over time and to the slow development of culture and society. While there were certainly connections, particularly with the social projects with which I work and the politics that have informed much of my project, the ideas of “slow time” I had developed were radically different from those of “slow history”. “Slow time” pertains, first of all, to the present.
The works in the exhibition draw from ideas of relation, conversation and art as social construct that we together engender. The concept of relation brings together two meanings that weave through the exhibition. The first meaning of relation concerns how we are one to another, and how we bring each other into being. Relation also carries a further meaning as the giving, or sharing in an account of the world, our speaking of and to each other of our experiences and perceptions. In this sense, relation can be understood as story telling conceived and experienced as thinking together.
We together make art in our reading, our attention, our recognition and in the ways in which our experience is translated. We generate the consequences which realize art’s meanings. We as the audience, the viewers or readers, make the work in and through our present, the present of which both the past and the future, both consequence and effect, is predicated. It happens in our thoughtfulness together, in our conversations and in a relating that goes beyond the space of the museum.
The material substance is only one of art’s many constituents. This may, at first, seem to be a curious description of an exhibition of very physically present things: tapestries, frescoes and prints. There is a tension between the conceptual play of representation and the insistent materiality of both substance and surface which is intended to correspond with the fugitive insubstantiality of consciousness in its accounting of the phenomenal world we bump up against, the world we negotiate together with others. And in our attention to the work, we make associations with things we have experienced; we may be conscious of our thinking together with others. These observations may appear to be the matter of philosophy and not of art, however they attempt to account the ground of what art may be.
Craigie Horsfield, 2012
Craigie Horsfield (b. 1949, Cambridge) lives and works in New York, London and Naples.
The exhibition is supported by LUMA Foundation and Stanley Thomas Johnson Stiftung.