How to hear the sound of time?

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When it comes to time and sound, many people respond to timers such as clocks. From ancient times to the present, “time” has always been a favorite theme of artists. Artists have different understandings of time. Some are straightforward, some are obscure, some show concrete images of clocks and watches, and some abstractly depict birth, old age, sickness and death.

Taking time to savor these artworks, I found that artists in different countries and cultures tend to use time as a measure of life to reflect their views and attitudes towards life and years.

As I watched it, some questions emerged in my mind, not only about the artist’s thinking about the way of expressing time, but also about my own understanding of the subject of soul and life.



Question 1: What is the shape of time?

Last year, I saw an exhibition titled “The Shape of Time” in Vienna, which was curated by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. In my mind, this is the best exhibition of 2018.

The biggest highlight of this exhibition is to discuss the shape of time by displaying and interpreting the works of 19 groups of artists.

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Old Master: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Large Self-portrait, 1652

New master: Mark Rothko, Untiteld, 1959/60

The works of Rembrandt and Rothko are all “self-portraits” they completed in the latest and most experimental way at the time.

Rembrandt used the “light and dark contrast” method to express the traces of time and experience left on him, as well as the dramatic use of light, just like his life from hope to despair.

Rothko adopted a more abstract “color gamut painting”, using subtle brushstrokes and subtle colors to reflect his feelings of life: his early works are more colorful and richer, and later they are getting darker. Even if you don’t know Rothko’s life story, you can feel his expressiveness and breathtaking when standing in front of his paintings.


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Old Master: BRUEGHEL – Large Bouquet of Flowers, 1606

New Master: STEVE MCQUEEN Running Thunder, 2007

The same is an oil painting. The flowers in Old Jan Bruegel’s paintings are not in the same season. Painting these flowers that cannot exist at the same time together creates an eternal illusion of transcending life and death.

Running Thunder is a video, the whole process is a newly dead horse carcass, a full 11 minutes. The serene horse face, the gradually rigid body, the pleasant breeze-it rots silently. The camera angle did not switch, but I stared at it for a long time. As if staring all the time, it will come alive in the next second.

These are the different expressions adopted by the two artists when facing the proposition of life and death and time.

“Life is short, only art survives”.

——Ancient Greek Proverbs


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Old Master: Tullio Lombardo, Young Couple, c. 1505/10

New master: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, „Untitled“ (Perfect Lovers), 1987-1990

Speaking of sculpture and installation art, Tullio Lombardo’s “Young Couple”, the marble statue will always retain the appearance and feelings of this couple.

The clock installation “Untitled” by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. At first glance, you might think this is a pair of clocks that show the degree of co-production between men and women. In fact, Felix Gonzalez-Torres wrote a letter in 1988:


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“Don’t be afraid of the clock, it is our time. Time has been too generous to us. We imprint time with the sweetness of victory. We conquered fate by meeting in a certain time and space. We are time. Product, so when time is approaching, we also give back with time.

We are synchronized, now and forever. I love you. “

Therefore, the two clocks are an installation work made by the artist after he learned that his gay man Ross Lawcock was suffering from AIDS. And the lover Ross passed away shortly after this work came out. Most of Felix’s works are created with Ross as the source of inspiration and the only audience.

Watches and clocks are not only tools for marking time, but also a bridge connecting people’s intimate relationships.

I hope you are as lucky as I am to find the person who is in sync with yourself in a limited time.


Question 2: Do you really have a sense of time?

In addition to using figurative or abstract elements to portray the shape of time, masters in art history have created thought-provoking works on the subject of “the three stages of man.”

We all think that age will tell us the speed of life, but these works tell us in a more intuitive and cruel way-the speed of time passing faster than we thought.

Seeing such shocking and extreme beauty and ugliness, I felt that the “timekeeping” of my life was not enough.

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Erhardt or Cyrlin “The Fable of the Flesh, the So-called “Void Combination””


For believers, this represents a reincarnation, men and women are like Adam and Eve.

The woman is pregnant, and the man and woman seem to want to escape each other.

The old woman was bald, but by then, her partner was no longer there.

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Klimt “The Three Stages of Women”, 1905

Klimt continued to use his representative decorative techniques to show women of three different ages. The two young ladies are in a cool, flowing halo, while the old woman is alone in a warm, more rigid halo. The young ladies are lovely and touching, while the old ones have only swollen abdomens and prominent veins, and they have exposed feet that can show signs of time.

Three stages-our whole life seems to be so bluntly “represented”. If we can replay these moments, will we hear the sound of time passing by?


Question 3: From silent to sound, do you hear the sound of time?

Speaking of the most famous works about time in art history, many people would like to Dali’s “Eternal Memory”. In fact, I prefer the Japanese translation of “Memory Stubbornness”. Because these soft clocks represent Dali’s consciousness of time, memory, and his hometown of Catalonia.


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Dali “The Stubbornness of Memory”, 1931

Dali uses almost invisible brush strokes to make you forget that this is an oil painting. You seem to have entered another world. This is the magic of surrealism.

Of course, there are also many people who eat melons who love to guess what “soft” really means.

The masters of the past undoubtedly have the powerful ability to express “silent imitating sound”, but with the emergence of more sound art works, time is expressed in an intuitive or even more somatic way.

In fact, the sound of time has always been in our sweetest memory—whether it is the chime of the old big clock or the bell tones most eagerly heard when I was young.

It is precisely because personal time is so precious and never returned that artist Xie Deqing’s performance art work: “One Year Performance 1978-1979” (also known as “cage”) is still shocking today. That year, the artist locked himself in a cage, unaware of day and night, unable to read, unable to communicate, and only knew the time by two meals delivered every day. Every day, like primitive people, draw a bar on the wall to record the passage of days.

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A year later, Xie Deqing completed the more famous work “One Year of Performance 1980-1981” (also known as “punch-in”). This time, he didn’t need to be locked in a cage and had all freedom. However, no matter when, Including sleep time, he must complete a check-in every 1 hour, 24 times a day, spanning a year.

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That year, he was the most punctual person in the world.

Although mainstream critics believe that this work satirizes the “check-in” behavior of the capitalist labor system, Xie Deqing said that this work only uses his limited life to experience the absurd relationship between so-called infinite time and life, and has no other value. The artist continued his “Do One Year” series for the next three years.

Just as time is relative, so is value. Xie Deqing believes that the value of his works lies in absolute “valuelessness.” Some people think that “five years have made a history, and it is certainly worth it.” Some people took the opportunity to shout “It’s an incomprehensible contemporary art.”

This kind of controversy is also the most interesting aspect of contemporary Time Based Media. Time-based media art refers to contemporary art works that include videos, movies, slides, audio, and computer technology; these new media art works take time as a creative dimension of the work, and allow the viewer to participate in it through the passage of time In the process. (The definition is from the Guggenheim Museum, New York)

For another example, Christian Mackley’s “Clock” is an exaggerated work. He sampled thousands of films and edited together “clock shots showing time” that appeared in the history of human cinema. The length of the film is a full 24 hours, and the time displayed by each close-up clock exactly matches the actual time of the day.

I really want to challenge this 24-hour movie in the theater.


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Christian Mackley, “Clock”, 2010

I think of the great master Poltansky who held a big exhibition in Shanghai the year before and recently held a big exhibition in Tokyo. He is best at expressing his “life clock” through videos and installations.

Boltanski believes that although personal memories are useless, they are all real. He recorded his work and life with video throughout a period of time. One of the works uses a beating number to represent the number of seconds he has lived so far.

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Looking back on three issues, it is not difficult to find: from the clock installation of Gonzalez-Torres, the surreal view of Dali and the clocking machine of Xie Deqing, to the images of Marklay and Poltanski, the images of timepieces and watches are interspersed. among them.

With the flow of art history, works of art about time have also changed from silent to sound. The whole process is like “time” slowly being given shape and sound, becoming a vehicle for artists to express their personal experiences and even life perceptions. .

At the same time, as the dimensions of media performance become wider and wider, the audience’s personal experience will also be more involved. “The sound of time” is no longer just the regular sound of alarm clocks and watches, but the artistic connotation behind specific images and audiovisual.

I have always emphasized that there is a “threshold” to appreciate contemporary art. Only through active learning and feeling can we better respond to the voices of artists.

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