The basic thesis of the post-contemporary is that time is changing. We are not just living in a new time or accelerated time, but time itself—the direction of time—has changed. We no longer have a linear time, in the sense of the past being followed by the present and then the future. It’s rather the other way around: the future happens before the present, time arrives from the future.
So the Austrian philosopher of Armenian descent Armen Avanessian summarises the shifting paradigm of time in his formulation of the ‘post-contemporary’ – part of the prologue to The Time Complex: Post-Contemporary. This is a new era in which time moves fluidly, in a non-hierarchical order, and where there is no obvious progression from a before, to a during and an after in historical terms. Fluidity is a queer attribute or attitude. It indicates the power, intention or will to escape categorisations, thus eluding crystallising definitions. This fluidity should be considered an action, a revolutionary act, and not just a simple inert feature. It is a militant transformational tool.
Paraphrasing Boris Groys, one could say that “to get access to the flow, time (the form, in the original text) must be made fluid – it cannot become fluid by itself. And that is the reason for modern artistic revolutions.” In keeping, The Time Complex (the exhibition) is an investigation of the radical use of time in contemporary art that highlights the strategies and methodologies adopted by artists for imagining future scenarios, revisiting contested histories, creating unexpected narratives and correlations and unveiling untold stories.
Time in flux, anarchically inhabiting different tenses and geopolitical contexts, is something that artists have intuitively worked on and experimented with for some time now. Their research amply precedes any attempt at philosophical theorisation. This should come as no surprise, as artists are notoriously visionaries – if not The Visionaries par excellence – as well as being storytellers. They often predict the “not-yet”, to quote artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, formulating possibilities and hypotheses for that which is in the process of becoming. Furthermore, art can create anachronic loopholes and punctuations in the progression of time. These time suspensions have been poetically described by the American minimal sculptor and pioneer of conceptual art, Douglas Huebler, who, in 1972, summarised the experience of art in a text piece: FOR THE ENTIRE TIME THAT THE READER READS THESE WORDS HE, OR SHE WILL EXIST FREE FROM HISTORY. And history, as Winston Churchill put it, is generally kind only to the winners, because they are the ones who ultimately write it.
The Time Complex exhibition brings together artists from all over the world whose practices challenge conventional readings of time, and ultimately question its linearity. Frequently, they do so by confronting or mimicking disciplines and sciences created for measuring or categorising time according to a logic of Progress (ie archaeology, art history, anthropology), a Western notion often used as a colonial tool for pursuing either cultural dominion or assimilation. In some cases, the artists included in the show imagine futures – as seen from the present or the past – as an act of resistance and a call for emancipation. They imagine the future as an actualisation of the present, as per the case of the many ethno-futurisms that are reconfiguring the way we look at history entirely.