New York

“Time Is Free”

Boredom used to be a sin, attendant cousin of sloth, a welcome state for the devil to seduce weak minds. We know what it did to Emma Bovary. For most people now, boredom is instead a name given to a lamentable, persistent discontent. But boredom would also seem like a luxury today, having been displaced by the new collective condition of mass anxiety. In order to avoid guilt, dread, and other unpleasant thoughts, we prefer our time to be organized, eschewing purely contemplative hours spent doing nothing in favor of constant activity. So what about that state of just being, and where does artistic creativity reside in this cultural scenario? According to Jan Hoet, the director of SMAK in Ghent and a guest curator of “Time Is Free,” the artist is located in “an autonomous time zone,” somewhere between work and leisure. Collaborating with Ann Demeester, he presented seven artists whose work questions and/or functions within that indeterminate, potentially boring, infraspace.

Unavoidable boredom is boredom condoned, such as that experienced while waiting for a bus or plane. Scottish artist Kenny Macleod’s two-channel video Breaking Up, 2001, focused on such banalities, showing images of airplanes landing, a very ugly hotel room, and a suit of clothes, to a voice-over narrative of a business traveler’s mundane concerns. His two video monitors were installed high on a wall, creating a difficult viewing angle that underscored the generally tedious nature of the piece and of time spent waiting in airports. The sense of life as flat and dry informed Manfred Pernice’s installation Gartenfest, 2001, in which the elements of a shabby party setting—barbecue grill, outdoor umbrella, modular seats——could be arranged by the artist in any configuration, because, as the exhibition brochure states, the arbitrary mood is the same regardless. Inherently temporary was Jessica Diamond’s wall painting I Hate Business, 1989. With its title rendered in graffiti, the piece was decisive but still lacked the guerrilla impact of its previous installations on, say, brick walls outside.

Some of this work was too literal to manifest that in-between infraspace. Silke Schatz’s large-scale drawing of the rooms and houses she has lived in was made in a perspectival, quasi-architectural style like a cad rendering but was still imprecise, having been based largely on memory. Digging into such unfixed moments when memory, reality, and fiction intermingle is all well and good. But such work demands more than just plugging elements into an equation in order to yield real impact. Ellen Brusselmans’s slightly out-of-focus photograph of a shimmering swimming pool was lovely, but to schematize, abstract, or blur does not automatically enact transformation. The everyday—concrete moments and places—can’t be conflated, not even by art, with the truly evocative. But perhaps this complaint illustrates a sort of Neoplatonic current in the show: What you see around you is only a faint impression of something real that was, and is, already fake anyway, like the constructed division between work and leisure, marked by the evacuation of joy from either sphere. No spark of reflection is allowed to infiltrate leisure time, Adorno wrote when calling out the absurd distinction, since it might otherwise leap across to the workaday world and set it on fire.

Meghan Dailey