This series of home-based, creative exercises reexamines the role of art during moments of crisis in the contemporary world.
The spread of coronavirus COVID-19 has developed into a global crisis. As the pandemic causes school suspensions and city lockdowns all over the world, Asia Art Archive expands the Learning at Home series to collaborate with international artists. These exercises bring in different perspectives and approaches to encourage teachers and students to reflect upon their experience of the virus outbreak, relevant social issues, and the purpose of art in times of emergency.
As the world appears to be put on pause, New York-based artist Chang Yuchen investigates the notion of time with a series of reflective activities inspired by different artworks.
Teachers are invited to share the process and result of students practising these exercises on Learning & Participation's Facebook group: Contemporary Art in Asia: Teachers’ Community.
Notes to Teachers and Students
I am sitting in my studio in Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), an art museum converted from a nineteenth century textile factory. I came here in mid-March for a residency, right before the coronavirus outbreak in the US. Although the museum and the residency were both closed shortly after my arrival, they kindly let me stay due to the lack of safe means for travelling. I do not know a soul in this town, but in the time of social distancing, I weirdly fit right in. As I experience grief for the pain of the others, I try to believe in what I always have—making art. In solitude, the cycle of the week, which shapes our “normal” work and life schedule, has become blurry. Yet the passage of time within a day has become unprecedentedly tangible to me: there’s a clocktower in front of my studio window, which rings almost exclusively for me every fifteen minutes.
This nineteenth century clock, inside an eighty-foot tower with a 750-pound and a 1,000-pound bell, has set the rhythm of the workday in North Adams since 1895. It is no coincidence that the first cinema film ever shown in public, Lumière brothers’ Workers Leaving the Factory (1895), was made in the same year—it was the height of the Second Industrial Revolution, when source material, fuel, machine, labour, all came together in coordination. This new demand for precision profoundly changed how we conceptualise time, which has evolved from looking at the trajectory of stars, the length of shadow, and the growth of trees, to measurements in the form of hour, minute, second. Time has always been a source of anxiety for me: I never have enough of it, and am so often running out of it.
Yet this pandemic suddenly put many of our lives on pause. At least, the daily race with time and the commute no longer exists. We are not brought together then disseminated at given times anymore. Is this an opportunity to reconcile our relationship with time?
- How does the school timetable regulate your daily life?
- Now that school is suspended, are there any changes in your routine?
- People are saying that they have more time now during the city lockdown. Do you feel the same? What does it mean to have more time, is time something you can “have”?
- Is time flowing at the same speed? Have you experienced a minute that is longer than the others? Have you ever experienced a month that went away too fast?
1. Set a stopwatch for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, do nothing but sit still in this period of time.
What happened in that timeframe, if any? How did you feel?
Reference: John Cage (1912–92), 4’33″, 1952.
4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. But was it silence? A audience recall: “In the Maverick that night, one could likely hear the sound of the breeze in the trees, rain pattering lightly on the rooftop, the chirping of crickets, a dog barking aimlessly somewhere in the distance, the sound of bodies shifting their weight on creaky pine benches, the sound of breath being drawn and being expired.” (Will Hermes: The Story Of '4'33"') Neither the exterior world (wind, rain, dog, bugs) nor the interior world (breath, heartbeat) ever ceases to exist. Is time a dimension for these happenings to unfold, like a string to a pearl necklace? Or is it only because of the stream of events, big or small, that time could exist, and be felt?
2. On a piece of paper, write down 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025… until the paper is filled, then read them out loud.
How many years did you write?
How much time (actual time) did you spend on writing?
How much time (actual time) did you spend on reading?
How do you feel about the year 3147? Is it emotionally relatable, as much as 2022?
Reference: On Kawara (1932–2014), One Million Years, 1999.
One Million Years contains two volumes: the first book, Past, is dedicated to “all those who have lived and died,” and covers the years 998,031 BC to 1969 AD. The second book, Future, is dedicated to “the last one,” beginning with the year 1993 AD and ending with the year 1,001,992 AD. Portions of the books have been read aloud in locations around the world. Through printing out the years, time gains volume and weight. Through reading out years, time is materialised in time.
3. Find a paragraph of a novel that mentions time, and take a picture of that passage.
When does the story take place? Do the characters measure time in the same way we do?
How does the mention of time affect the plot? Are the characters comforted or alarmed by the time they see?
Reference: Christian Marklay (1955–), The Clock, 2010.
The Clock is twenty-four-hours of footage spliced together from a variety of films, mainstream or indie, old and new. In each of the clips, someone looks at the clock, and they do so exactly at the time that it is in the real world. Day and night, across twenty-four hours, there will be a movie clip that shows the precise time it happens to be in the real world right now, synchronised with the accuracy of the finest chronometer. Cinema may be a technique for time travelling, yet the fictional characters are still confined to their constructed time. If you are maybe reading a sci-fi novel, please share with us how time could bend and distort!
4. Make a date with your friend twenty years from now, for example, let’s picnic at Lung Fu Shan Country Park on 28 April 2040, say, 3pm?
How do you think that date would be like! Would it be nice?
What would be the foreseeable difficulties to make that meeting, if any?
Reference: Yoko Ono (1933–), Morning Piece, 1964–65.
In New York in 1965, Yoko Ono presented Morning Piece on the roof of her apartment in the West Village, where she sold pieces of sea-worn glass labelled with past and future mornings. Language is being used here as a portal for imagination: through the simple date Yoko Ono wrote, you can access the future through your imagination. Does the future exist for us if not through language? How far can you see ahead of you?
- Exercise abstract thinking through the contemplation on time, something so present in our life and yet so intangible in its nature.
- Through learning how our perception of time has changed over the course of history, understanding the long-lasting impact of industrial revolutions, and the organisation of modern society, its potency and its cost. Maybe, then, start to imagine alternatives.
- To explore our relationship with time, and in doing so, perhaps exercise our ownership of time with more awareness.
Further Reading: More Art
- Agustina Woodgate (1981–), National Time, 2016.
- Kwesi Johnson (1952–), “More Time”.
- Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957–96), “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers), 1991.
About the Artist
Chang Yuchen is an artist based in New York. She works in an interdisciplinary manner—writing as weaving, drawing as translation, clothing as portable theater, and commerce as everyday revolution. By constantly entering and exiting each medium, she strolls against the category of things, and the labour division among people.
Yuchen was an artist in residence at MASS MoCA, Offshore Malaysia, MAD Museum, Bananafish Books, and Textile Art Center. She has shown her works and performed at UCCA Dune, Tai Kwun, Abrons Art Center, Salt Projects, Assembly Room, among others. Yuchen teaches artists’ books at Printed Matter, Asia Art Archive in America, and more.
Publishing date: 18 May 2020
The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.