Atemporality for the Contemporary Artist

The last transmediale.10 held in Berlin in late February contemplated the theme “Future”. A wide selection of new media artists elaborated proposals and exhibited projects, held workshops, conferences, seminars – a massive new media event with a prestigious following. The reliable Furtherfield.org has a great review on the exhibitions and talks at this event.

At the conference, cyber-punk futurist author cum historian Bruce Sterling presented Atemporality, a term originally coined by William Gibson, as he viewed it, an approach in understanding and recontextualizing history in terms of the passage of time, “an effort in humanities” to embrace reality, the now, in the context of technology and society.

A confessed post-modernist and lover of contradictions and juxtapositions, Sterling presents an array of examples from all walks of visual and scientific history to highlight this concept, which is defined as an analysis of the passage of time and people’s, especially an artist’s, relationship to time through a quirky analysis of images in order to demonstrate an artistic “atemporal sensibility”, where “futurity, history and the present” are conjoined in the same plane.

His way of looking at some ‘atemporal’ images is not formal, nor is it an aesthetic judgement or semiotic reading. He uses mostly ‘sightings’ from everyday life and examples from history to illustrate his idea of “temporal cosmopolitanism”. From what I understood, he is trying to see glimpses of futurism in visionary objects independent of the time in which they were made, such as a ancient Greek steam engine, or the use of a digital principle of pixellized imaging present in an archaic medium and craft such as cross-stitch embroidery. The examples are far-fetched.

I was fortunate enough to listen to this talk at the European Graduate School last summer where he talks about this approach to “a human standpoint of time” through possible definitions through 28 images.

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