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Tim Rollins and K.O.S, The Time Machine XII (After H. G. Wells), 2013, matte acrylic, pencil, and book pages on canvas, 72 x 72". Installation view.

Tim Rollins and K.O.S, The Time Machine XII (After H. G. Wells), 2013, matte acrylic, pencil, and book pages on canvas, 72 x 72". Installation view.

Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Galerie Xavier Hufkens | 6 rue Saint-Georges

Tim Rollins and K.O.S, The Time Machine XII (After H. G. Wells), 2013, matte acrylic, pencil, and book pages on canvas, 72 x 72". Installation view.

It’s been more than thirty years since Tim Rollins invited a group of “at-risk” pupils from a South Bronx public school to start an art project with him. They chose the moniker K.O.S. (for Kids of Survival) as a badge of honor. Rollins and the Kids set out to produce art collaboratively through a process they called “jamming,” in reference to a preferred method of jazz musicians. Rollins or one of the Kids would read aloud a carefully chosen passage from a book while the others made free-associative drawings reflecting on what they heard. But this approach, which explored the more ephemeral social and atmospheric qualities of the collaboration, also included a more concretely visual technique. Pages from the books themselves served as the material basis for collaboration, each one becoming part of a collectively authored collage on canvas. This intense working method resulted in a clear signature style that has continued to evolve as Kids filter in and out of the group, though some of the initial Kids are still active in the project.

For their latest exhibition, “The Time Machine,” Rollins and K.O.S. looked back to 1859, the year Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, one of the most important scientific publications of the modern era. In it, Darwin writes, “The affinities of all beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree.” For years, Darwin had been drawing sketches of the tree of life, showing all species on earth as related to one another. Those sketches were interpreted by Rollins and K.O.S. to make their series “The Origin of Species,” 2009–. “The Time Machine” series, 2013–, refers to the novel by H. G. Wells, a milestone of modern literature published in 1895. Rollins and K.O.S. chose to cover the pages from Wells’s science-fiction story with mathematical templates, turning this adventure in the fourth dimension into a kind of timeless abstraction.

Two other series feature not literary but musical work as the underlay. In “The Seven Last Words of Christ”, 2010–, named for Joseph Haydn’s orchestral work of the same title, refers specifically to the first performance of the piece in the Cathedral of Cadiz, Spain, on Good Friday in 1787. The event took place in what Haydn called “solemn darkness”: Walls, windows, and pillars were covered with black cloth and only one lamp provided light. Rollins and K.O.S. evoke this story by leaving only a small crack of Haydn’s score visible on the otherwise black sheet of paper, as if alluding to a ray of light streaming through a slit in a curtained window. Finally, in “Songs Without Words,” 2013, the score of Felix Mendelssohn’s lyrical piano pieces was covered with white spray paint.

As for the show’s title, Rollins sums up the rationale behind it most poetically: “We believe that every total work of art is a Time Machine—a synthesis of a living past and present located in an object that can only be completed by the social experience of a viewer in the future. The total work of art exists in the invisible fourth dimension of space/time. This is our determination that unites all the works in the exhibition.” For decades, Rollins and K.O.S. have succeeded in creating this synthesis, justifying their claim that “we paint on past texts in the present so that all will haunt our futures.”

Jos Van Den Bergh