Some further thoughts: Time in works of Art

Time is essential to the experience of works by Stephen Antonakos, a light sculptor, who died in August of this year. Antonokos, pioneered the use of neon light in art in the 1960's.

One piece, which I encountered as curator at a museum in 1969, was in neon: an outline of a glowing bluish-violet cube. Whether exhibited in a dark room or in natural light, it featured the element of time. After several minutes of being "on," it suddenly shut off for a minute, during which a yellow-orange afterglow "appeared," on the viewers' retina, in the complementary colour to the lighted neon colour. This progression of on-off-on was precisely programmed with a timer within the base of the sculpture.

Similar to music, the afterglow corresponds to overtones, which linger at the end of a piece of music for a specific time: to convey a mood or a mood change, to provide a bridge to another tone, or a bridge between separate movements, e.g., in a Sonata.

The afterglow, or the overtone contributes a mysterious, or spiritual quality to the piece. We know that Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven used silences in music to achieve suspense. Beethoven used overtones as bridges to different moods, and to different movements in his Sonatas.

Thus, in both visual art and music, time can convey an emotional quality in addition to movement.

Several modern and contemporary artists have incorporated time into their works, either through mechanical motion: Lazlo Maholy-Nagy, Yves Tinguely, or through designed construction unbalance: the mobiles of Alexander Calder and the stabiles of George Rickey, or through a combination with displacement in space: Bruce Naumann, whose neon sculptures flash on and off, in different directions, reversing meanings. Or, Naumann's videos in combination with mechanical, electrically-controlled, rotating, embalmed animals. One also thinks of Jenny Holzer's lighted word pieces which must be read in sequence for meaning. Or, Richard Long's long walks in remote areas, leaving a record of his journey with arrangements of rocks, or his photographic record of the melting impression of his body in snow. Andy Goldsworthy's interaction with the forces of nature, especially, water, which moves through space and time is also an example, of which he preserves a record through film and photograph.

In the last two examples, a deeply felt spiritual reaction is provoked by the resonances of time, nature, and atmosphere: the overtones of nature.

A final thought, here: music travels through space, as it progresses, by time and resonance and overtones. It is sound sculpture at its purest, such as that found in nature. In that way, too, it shares a quality with visual art, in the form of sculpture. Both forms of art require the audience to "perceive" the work through sensory channels, through which, modern science has shown, art and music can affect emotion, physiology, and mental health.