When I first visited 0 to 60: The Experience of Time through Contemporary Art as it was being installed, it was a spare group of seemingly incongruent works. It was impossible yet to understand their conversation. I was struck by Lisa Hoke’s organic wall covering, emerging from itself in radiating curls and waves. Kyoung Ae Cho‘s woven pieces, made from silk from corn stalks, were lovely and meditative and focused.
Walking into the installation the following week was a surprise and a joy. Most of the pieces had arrived, and the works were beginning to speak to one another and to me. On my third visit, the exhibition was open to the public, and the show’s message was fully realized.
In the first room are Tim Hawkinson‘s clocks. The old banana peel that ticks struck me as humorous and a bit melancholy, as did the candle with the moving wick. My favorite of his pieces is the medicine cabinet. Each item—an open lotion bottle, dental floss, deodorant—keeps time. Each is disposable, without value, devoid of the preciousness and sentimentality that we attach to so many possessions. But these charming little timepieces speak strongly, advocating the smallest things, showing us how our temporary, quotidian belongings tell the story of us and are keepers of our time. And I loved peeking around back to see the wires and mechanisms that power Hawkinson’s delicate timepieces.
In the next room is Beth Lipman‘s newly installed tower of glass objects, called Bride. It projects solidity despite the fragility of the glass. It held me in both a timeless and a very present space. Because the objects are clear glass, they exist in a fantasy world that cannot be touched, a crystal-magic world of memories and remembered dreams. It is fantasy, but it draws the fantasy out of personal experience. We are responsible for giving the piece meaning, but it happens effortlessly, unconsciously. It’s partially inspired by paintings at the NCMA, and we are very fortunate to have this work joining our permanent collection.
Nearby are Dan Estabrook’s small works on paper. They walk a line between delicate and aggressive. Like mementos or found relics, they hold a dream world’s sense of time and place. They remind me of Dali, with their dreamy surrealism and utter lack of self-consciousness, but the muted and antique tones make them seem like the dreams of people long gone rather than the dreams of the artist.
David Shapiro‘s work is a revealing and piecemeal self-portrait. He saved each receipt and ticket that he got over the course of a year, and then meticulously replicated each one by hand on vellum. It is a type of self-portrait, but it is also universal. He has devoted an exhaustingly large effort to turning average parts of everyday life into art. In another example of tedious and immense effort, Peter Matthews created his works by wading in the ocean for six to 16 hours a day and drawing and writing on a waterproof board whatever came to his mind. The intimate and idiosyncratic worlds he creates are most solitary and an indistinguishable map of one man’s mind.
The exhibition took a turn for me with Do-Ho Suh‘s vinyl house. As I approached, it didn’t particularly grab my attention, but once I walked inside, the exact reproduction of the artist’s first studio apartment in New York City grabbed my heart. It is sweet—not at all in a syrupy way, but in a thoughtful, loving, gentle way. It is not a replica of a house or an apartment. It is a home. It is not our home, but it very much carries the feeling of being our own. And this home can be disassembled, packed into a suitcase, and taken with you. There is a lot of soul in this piece, and it is lovely.
Next I walked under Lisa Hoke’s now-fleshed-out carnival of colors and was struck by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Last Breath. This breathing machine takes a person’s single breath and recycles and perpetuates it as long as the work is left on. It so moved me, the idea of taking something as personal as a breath and keeping it eternally. The work made me think about the obsessiveness and madness of wanting to hold on to the people we love, and the pain caused by the lingering in some untouchable form after they are gone. Next to this piece is Lozano-Hemmer’s The Year’s Midnight, which I found dark and funny and intriguing.
From here I moved into the last room of the show. It hit me with the full (but quiet) force of the exhibition’s depth and weight. Caetano de Almeida’s pollution drawings are a beautiful and horrifying record of time, the patterns created by leaving stencils on paper on the artist’s balcony in Sao Paolo, the air pollution coloring the paper outside of the stencils. They are evidence of the thoughtless and irreversible scar we ourselves have left on time. David K. Chatt‘s beaded objects are full of melancholy and longing. A stack of letters is sewn into a net of glass beads, bound by padlock, with the key sitting just beneath, rendered inaccessible by the pretty white beads that trap all of the objects. Finally: Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s pile of candy. It is sad, and also generous, and touching. Mortality and immortality collide and contradict one another. Taking a piece can feel greedy and destructive, but mostly it feels like a gift, and humbling.
Being acquainted with the artists and their work before the exhibition did not prepare me for what each piece, taken together and as a whole, would say. Time touches and works on us each in a different way. Yet these artists have found a way to harness their unique relationship with time and create experiences that can be understood by all. I found 0 to 60 melancholy, and also gentle and hopeful and universal. I hope it is as pleasant and rewarding an experience for you as it was for me.
Catherine Smith is a curatorial intern at the NCMA.