Art and Its Ways of Being and Fleeing the Present
A jellyfish appears in the empty canals of Venice, throwing up new questions about the
potentiality of art and time. The immemorial heir of the first animals on Earth and a denizen
of the world for over six hundred million years, the Venice jellyfish is an image that bears
evidence of the reversal of varying degrees of urban pollution, while also reminding us of all
the past time embedded in today’s natural organisms. It is an original survivor of a more
primordial Earth. Its image has persisted almost invariable across the history of nature,
travelling in bodily form, condensing and expanding various messages about time and its
After the work of art historians like Aby Warburg and Georges Didi-Huberman it is possible
to understand the image as an object of compound times that holds ‘more memory and
more future than the being who contemplates it’, as our image of the jellyfish does.
Conceptions of time have changed in this context of pandemic crisis and lockdown: the
present stretches and densifies as history recedes, and the future vanishes almost entirely.
It is here at this temporal crossroads that images of contemporary art can work better, as
eddies in time, to bring us a more intense experience in order to think about all the times
we are simultaneously living and all the multiverses we can live in.
Once modern art put behind it the historical avant-garde and its linear, progressive idea of
time, where the past was a cluster of obsolete forms and the present a revolutionary
means to grasp the future as fast as possible, contemporary art emerged to hold out the
prospect of perceiving time through a more manifold, sensible understanding.
CON-temporary art is a sensibility and way of thinking that stands WITH time: a capacity
to travel and flow, like the jellyfish, across the diverse histories of life on Earth. By taking
on the past and the future as working materials, art became a time machine to travel
unfettered by borders throughout the length and breadth of our pasts, and the history we
are building as we live. Contemporary art has the power to journey into both the past and
the future, to alter and outline them. This capacity appears to bypass universalist pursuits,
official narratives, canons and evolutions; it emerges with an involvement in micro-histories,
in the narrative of those defeated or historically displaced, in specific cultural identities. But
then one day this virus comes along and sits down to argue about time.
Today the danger to which humanity is exposed makes the traditional exercise of thinking
about history and the future even more problematic: there was nothing like it looking back,
and looking ahead nothing is clear. For some the future is open, full of possibility; for
Earlater , 2010
Color y sonido
6 min., 3 sec.
others it is broken, with no common hope. We ask ourselves then: will contemporary art be
an oasis, a mesa or a swamp? Should contemporary art respond to this emergency by
applying the brakes to the heated debate about time, by slowing down and pausing for
thought? Should art contribute strategies for designing new ways of life, new sensibilities
towards time? Should it become even more militant when we come to think about the best
possible solutions to what’s happening, the best possible worlds? Or should it pursue its
own processes without forcing a thing, confident in the knowledge it will be a witness to
the current state of the world?
about history and the Like the jellyfish Fabio Kacero’s Earlater condenses and expands
time. The title plays on the English words ‘early’ and ‘later’, which form part of one and the
same concept. It is an excess of time trapped within a non-historical pattern. There is no
tradition or future. There is no de facto hierarchy as a single body outside time that can be
sensibly perceived and whimsically pierced by art.