Time (that everything and nothing changes)
... Five-handed down lies your father.
His bones are now coral
and the eyes are already pearls.
Of him how much can ever perish
a marine change undergoes
in what rich and strange ...
Those who were in Venice in the autumn of 2017 had the opportunity to visit Damien Hirst's great exhibition "The Wreck of the Unbelievable" . It was a public display of the treasure recovered from the Roman ship Ápistos sunk in a storm in the Indian Ocean almost 2000 years ago between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. His introductory libretto begins precisely with Ariel's song from William Shakespeare's "Tempest" (1611) where the sea is the sublime image of time that everything and nothing changes.
The cargo of the ship belonged to a legendary ex-slave Cif Amotan who, made free and rich by his masters, had become an expert accountant and had amassed an immense fortune in works of art, statues and jewelry from all over the world. . The shipwreck had dragged to the bottom, with the boat, the fruit of a life's work.
Damien Hirst financed the expedition to recover the wreck treasure along the East African coast. He brought back all the magnificence sunk with the Ápistos and exhibited it in Venice in Palazzo Grassi and at the Magazzini del Sale between September and December 2017. The gigantic copy stood out as an icon of the exhibition in the middle of the courtyard of Palazzo Grassi , 12 meters high, of a standing rebel devil statue. Around the various floors there are beautiful busts of Venus and faces of Medusa and many other finds in their different conditions after the discovery. The exhibition opens with video footage of the underwater recovery. In the ship there were original statues with the marine concretions and corals still attached, copies that restore their initial conditions and many other magnificent finds intact or in fragments. And also mysterious popular icons of a recent time ... like a Mickey Mouse figurine (Mikey Mouse) or a Goofy (Goofy) completely covered in shells and a metal robot from a future past in the depths of the ocean.
In ancient Greek Ápistos means Incredible . It is the name of the sunken ship, but its contents are also incredible and perhaps the whole story is. What is true of the treasure and what is false? All? Nothing? Which are the originals and which are the copies? What is ancient and what is modern? And ultimately what does heritage mean and what is art? Who is / are the author (s)?
Who cares? Hirst / Amotan seems to answer, identifying himself in the statue of Cif Amotan: “the collector”. Damien Hirst proposes only doubts and ironic uncertainties to the observer and a motionless time in a large Aztec calendar that looks like the Piedra del Sol of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City.
Its presence on the Roman ship is not explained. Hirst shows it all together.
The true and the false do not matter. The forms of the ancient and those of the contemporary are charged with meaning in the same narrative, as they re-emerged in a still time.
The different vision of time and of the value that time confers on material things represents the real provocation of Hirst who in some way revolutionizing / mocking the concepts of heritage, authenticity, originality, authorship, sanctions the end of a modern and exclusive idea of ' art.
If the modernity that formed us has separated the past from today relegating it to history and invented the future as the only dimension in which the present is projected and takes on meaning in its exhibition, past, present and future are frozen in the depth of the today. Time is out of Joint as Shakespeare always writes in Hamlet and as Cristiana Collu headlines the first anti-didactic exhibition (2016-18) at the Galleria Nazionale in Rome under her direction. Time has nothing to do with it . It is only the narration that restores the sense of artistic performance and allows its users to establish its value. The author is multiple: who conceives, who brings together, who benefits and elaborates in different ways. Performance, storytelling and sharing make the concept of heritage creative and holistic and re-define it allowing everyone to enjoy its immanence in the current time.
This doesn't start now. Already in the second half of the twentieth century, some intellectuals active in various fields of creative culture began to question the end of modernity and a different conception of time.
In 1979 in the USA Fear of Music was released, an album by Talking Heads edited by Brian Eno. The New York group that binds rock, pop and avant-garde in this record includes a piece, Heaven, written by David Byrne, which between the serious and the paradoxical speaks of a bar that is called paradise. Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens and when something ends ... then it starts again:
“… When this kiss is over, it will start again
It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same
It's hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, could be this much fun
Heaven, heaven is a place a place where nothing
nothing ever happens. ... "
In 2010 Dave Bell a young PhD student from the Department of International Relations and Policy at the University of Nottingham wrote about Heaven ( https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk ) “… it is boring. There's no funky polyrhythms; no dada jabberings; no non-sequitirs in the lyrics and certainly no MTV friendly video in which David Byrne repeatedly hits himself in the head. It's just a simple, mid-tempo piano song which comes and goes in four minutes and one second. Yet I believe it's one of the most vital songs of all time-pop as Samuel Beckett might write it: tedious, beautiful and desperate. "
That the most suitable adjectives to describe not only the song but also the era we are living are really boring, beautiful and desperate? We can argue, but the question of time that seems to stand still while everything and nothing changes is real and concerns the spaces of life .
How many pieces of furniture, houses, or urban neighborhoods designed and built in the 1980s or even earlier are still relevant today? What clothes or shoes from that period can be worn without looking old or out of time? Almost all. In recent years the shapes of the living spaces have not changed that much. Their design, or in other words the way of designing them, has changed even less. Fashion, art, music, architecture are the sensitive figures that best represent a society in its time. For more than forty years they seem to have always expressed the same aspirations, the same expectations for the future. Is it possible that they have remained so indifferent to the great technological and social changes of the last half century?
Yet the digital revolution we are experiencing is more pervading and incisive than the industrial one at the end of the nineteenth century when with the new machines the world becomes modern and with its forms projects humanity into the future.
Modernity is time in the epoch in which time has a history (Bauman 2006). In modernity, genius loci and genius saeculi coincide. The forms of city art, architecture and fashion make up the era. In the modern era it would have been unthinkable to dress or design furniture, houses or cities as in the previous century. Today it is normal.
Few times the distance between gestalt and zeitgeist has been so dramatic. The paradigm that links aesthetics to the projection of time is missing. Above all in this lies the overcoming of modernity. We live as in a long present where the sensitive forms and their representations in solid space no longer realize an idea of the future and always seem the same. Even now everything changes and in a much faster way than before, but innovation takes place in the immaterial spaces of the network rather than in the physical space. The more traditional and unconnected places tend to remain inert, reassuring, always the same as themselves, or to change very slowly.
And is the idea of architecture changing? As Damien Hirst suggests to us, there are some fundamental issues concerning time, space and meaning on which perhaps we must return to reason in order to better understand the world and the society in which we live and how we can today continue to propose quality of life, happiness and culture with a project.