Whether we like it or not, none of us is immune to the passage of time.
In many ways it is the most significant marker of our common humanity, and a new immersive exhibition in Sheffield is showcasing how contemporary artists have explored this concept.
“It’s something we don’t necessarily think about on a regular basis,” says Louisa Briggs, curator of The Time is Now at the Millennium Gallery. “So we were interested in looking at how artists have dealt with questions of time.”
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The show features a diverse range of works that investigate various aspects of time – including how we measure it, the way in which we experience it at different points in our lives, and how it shapes our memories and our imagination. It is also an opportunity – in our fast-moving, super-connected modern world – for visitors to the gallery to take a moment to pause and reflect.
“We wanted to encourage people to think about our own relationship with time and how we are affected by it, but also how it binds us together,” says Briggs. “We have tried to select artworks that look at time in different ways – for example, environment, human ageing, history and so on.”
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The starting point for the curatorial team was to consider pieces in the Sheffield Museums collection that fitted the theme. A key work in this regard was Ivy, a portrait of an elderly woman, by locally-based artist Andrew Hunt from his 2018 series Portraits from the Markets.
“Whenever you are putting together an exhibition and thinking about the topic there are usually a few works that come to mind. Andrew donated Ivy to our collection last year but we haven’t had the opportunity to show it, so I got in touch with him to see if he could loan us another one of the pictures in the series.” The result is a lovely pairing of Ivy – a woman in her nineties – and Nathaniel, a young boy. “Andrew sees them as archetypal portraits that comment on ageing. Nathaniel is embarking on life with all its infinite possibilities and Ivy is looking back on a good, long life.”
One of the undoubted highlights of the show is Katie Paterson’s Totality (2016), an interactive installation commenting on the enormity of space and time, created from drawings and photographs of almost every solar eclipse recorded by humankind, featuring over 10,000 images.
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“That is the work that visitors are really responding to,” says Briggs. “It is a piece that shows that we as humans are here for just the blink of an eye.” Another major piece on display is Jorge Otero-Pailos’ The Ethics of Dust, installed in Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament when it was being restored in 2016. The huge latex cast, when removed, brought with it hundreds of years of surface pollution and dust. “It is a piece about human history and its significance,” says Briggs.
“It’s almost like the voices of the past become trapped in this work.”
The show has sparked debate among visitors to the gallery. “People are really engaging with all the works and having interesting conversations about them,” says Briggs. And she hopes the exhibition will also serve as a reminder that time is a great unifier, an important message in the divisive era we are currently living through.
“Sometimes it is easy to get hung up on our differences but time is something we all have in common and at times like these I think it is good to reflect on that.”
Millennium Gallery, Sheffield until January 19, 2020.