New York

Darren Almond

Matthew Marks Gallery | 502 W. 22nd Street

For his first solo exhibition in New York, Darren Almond parked Mean Time, 2000, a forty-foot orange commercial cargo container, customized with a giant built-in digital clock, right in the middle of the gallery, and it took up just about all of the space. It wasn’t just the sheer bulk of the time-telling fortress that suggested a literal occupation of the place; what really held one’s attention was the relentless, mechanical noise of the flipping and flapping, clicking and clacking plates of the digital clock face keeping time. The industrial sound that echoed inside the container’s metal walls, off concrete floors, and into back rooms was pure techno. Mean Time gets its name by virtue of its link to a global tracking satellite that, when the work is functioning properly, enables it to register Greenwich Mean Time to the second. Its potential to be accurate anywhere in the world makes it a smart box; and yet today it’s micro, not macro, models that point to the future. Almond’s oversize, animated object is both an amusement, presenting the march of time as an entertaining theatrical performance, and an anachronism, a perfect example of a thing that’s advanced and obsolete at once.

Photographs documenting the passage of the container-cum-clock from London to New York on board a freighter suggested a comedic aspect of Mean Time and underscored Almond’s interest in the performative and real-time dimensions to his art. Perched atop a stack of regular shipping containers (and hooked up to the ship’s power supply), the clock was fully functional, even though it was out in the middle of nowhere. The eventfulness of both its accuracy and its supposed universality mirrors our burgeoning global communication continuum, a virtual space in which there’s never a minute to spare and time is perpetually at a premium. By contrast, a suite of five “star maps,” all titled Magnified System Diagram, 2000, drawn by Almond at night as he accompanied Mean Time on the journey overseas, shuttle us from high tech to practically no tech at all and present a very different impression of time. Start with the vacation-worthy thought of drawing the Milky Way every night while at sea, and extend that to the concept of being in an absolutely elemental environment that is constantly changing but that remains visually unchanged, as it has from prehistory to the present. The sea, sky, moon, and .stars: now, as they’ve always been. Time drops out of the picture in favor of timelessness. Almond reconfigures the mundane as a romantic sublime, investing narratives of travel and adventure with emotional depth and subjective weight. He’s an ancient mariner, a space pilot, a contemporary artist—it’s preposterous and plausible all at once.

The exhibition’s title, “Transport Medium,” which Almond cast as an eponymous aluminum plaque, is also the name of the typeface used exclusively for all road and rail signage in Britain. (Almond, incidentally, was a veteran trainspotter as a kid.) His signage pieces have the tautological rigor and economy of vintage Conceptual art. “Abandon in Place” reads another cast-aluminum plaque. The counterpart to that imperative is found in Almond’s first train film, Schwebebahn, 1995, which he brought along and installed in a back room; it features a delirious ride on the world’s strangest train (the futuristic Sky Train in Wuppertal, Germany), which is so thoroughly upside down and inside out that you’re forced to abandon the very notion of place.

Jan Avgikos