When first invented, photography and film seemed to have a fairly straightforward relationship with time. A photograph represented the single moment in which it was taken, a film sequence the number of minutes it took to stage a scene. The advent of more sophisticated editing equipment has changed that, however, complicating the viewer’s relationship to time and the camera’s documentation of it.
Antwerp-based artist David Claerbout’s video and digital photography projects intervene in our sense of linear time by slowing down, speeding up or even stopping time in filmic narratives. In his first solo exhibition in Canada, currently on view at Vancouver’s Belkin Art Gallery, a selection of Claerbout’s video installations from 1996 onwards mine our slippery relationship to duration. Presenting mysterious and compellingly incomplete storylines—such as a female figure emerging from a home, turning towards the camera and waving goodbye to the viewer in slow motion in Long Goodbye—in ways that separate narrative time from viewing time, Claerbout’s actors and dialogue quickly become the backdrop for the real subject of his work: the shifts in light and movements in environment that mark the passing of both hours and eons.
Nowhere is this focus on duration more keenly felt than in the artist’s epic video Bordeaux Piece, which restages a miniature soap opera between a woman and two men 70 times over the course of a single day. While the dialogue and setting (a modernist house and its gardens and porches) remain the same, the resulting 14-hour video betrays gradual changes in the atmosphere around the actors. Part endurance piece, part recombinant narrative in the style of Vancouver favourites Stan Douglas and Rodney Graham, Bordeaux Piece exemplifies Claerbout’s aim to “give form to duration by means of natural light.”
Accompanied by two special all-day screenings of the epic work in the gallery and a catalogue co-published with the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Claerbout’s solo exhibition offers a thoughtful meditation on the way that time passes us by, consistently and irretrievably, whether we realize it or not. (1825 Main Mall, Vancouver BC)