The only stable thing

Everything moves continuously. Immobility does not exist. […] Forget hours, seconds, and minutes. Accept instability. Live in Time. Be static – with movement. […] Stop “painting” time. Live in the present.

Live once more in time and by Time – for a wonderful and absolute reality!

(Jean Tinguely, Für Statik, 1959)

The exhibition The Only Stable Thing investigates one of the most interesting art codes today: kinetic and time-based art, in which movement and time are employed both as formal and conceptual aspects, generating a research whose philosophical meaning is shaping the contemporary artistic discourse.
Through deployment of kinesis in its manifold forms and significances, the exhibition aligns with crucial debates related to transformation, such as climate and social changes, the role of technology, the understanding of time and the study of natural forces.

Jean Tinguely said: “the only stable thing is movement”. The critical path disclosed in this project draws from this statement, for what it embodies is a new vision of the relationship between man, time and art, in which the work is no longer just a vehicle for representing time, but rather an experience of it, through technology.
Technology: the reason and the means through which man has changed his relationship with time and the perception of it.

“Accept instability” stated Tinguely’s 1959 manifesto: an invitation to understand that immobility does not exist, and that the only constant is the movement of change, disintegration and continuous renewal. That manifesto was screaming at a time that was accelerating, and it has been accelerating to the present day. Today technology is shaping new visual and emotional codes, sculpting our consciousness and our abstract thinking. Man and technology are renegotiating their roles in understanding time, meant both as a physical dimension and historical age.

On a conceptual level, the time-based arts address time in this duality. The artistic practices and discourses related to science, technology, engineering and robotics are therefore essential tools in order to explore the present, because they are the codes of the quotidian. Many artists seem to have responded to the call of the pioneer of kinetic art, thus opening, with their investigation, a wealth of cogent reflections on the contemporaneity.

A rock tests the strength of the glass supporting it. This balance will not last forever: the micro-movement caused by pressure will eventually lead to a break; a matter of time. (Public Morality, 2019). Arcangelo Sassolino‘s sculptures compress time within an emotional space made of suspense. Both the structure and the observer are put in a state of tension. Something irreversible is about to happen, but we must forsake the claim of predicting with what movement and at what time. Public Morality is the epitome of Tinguely’s speech: the only stable thing is movement, change, and the instability of the state of things. The time invoked by Sassolino has a deadline, and it often governs liminary and uncontrollable forces: pressure, explosion, fracture. He manipulates it and scans it in phases of waiting and surprise, forcing us to face its uncontrollable nature.

“Be static – with movement”: it is the indispensable paradox for every condition of life. A seed suspended by a breath of air provides a further level of paradox and reflection (Paul Leitner, The Traveler, 2012). The life cycle is interrupted: replaced with an artificial condition of “permanent nomadism”. The perpetual movement thus turn a natural life process into an aseptic – and poetic – experiment.

The fascination for mechanics and technology originates a further tie between man, science and time.
Kinetic and time-based arts represent also a place where to examine the acceleration of modernity through scientific progress: technology is not only a medium, but also a subject of inquiry.

A pneumatic organ self-maintains in order to keep alive its mechanical expansion and compression (Sassolino, Macroscopico e Domestico, 2009). It seems endless. That apparatus is actually as far away from vital autonomy: at some point it will run out, like a living being, a technology or a planet. It is a battery that needs to be charged. An ordinary heartbeat, a bulky and majestic breath, which will never be infinite.

In the artistic exercise the machine is involved not only in order to celebrate a technological aesthetics: its intelligence and its role are also questioned. The robotic and electromagnetic installations by Carolin Liebl & Nikolas Schmid- Pfähler show a type of motion that calls into question the machine as an entity subject to man. A body of coils twists (They 5, 2018) and a metal powder comes to life like an animal (Object C, 2017). Their movements place them in an emotional – and no longer functional and technical – relationship with the human being.

Movement is in fact perceived within the sphere of emotions and feelings. We are viscerally intrigued by movement, whether it comes from living or inanimate beings. The fascination with kinesis in art originates also from this hunch. Robotics is going in this direction, taking advantage of the human impulse to associate movement with life.
Fifty years ago Armstrong took the first moonwalk and hundreds of millions people saw him taking that step.

What humanity observed was not a static image; it was a movement. That was the real, extraordinary evidence, of human life on the moon.
Motion is a proof of life – where there is movement, there is life. Edith Kollath‘s practice consists in giving life to objects through movement. In Thinking I’d last forever (2008 – 2018) mechanical motion reactivates the time of the past enclosed in the pages of ancient books.

How does our relationship with technology change, when we use it to bring abstract concepts closer to us? Andreas Lutz uses movement as a language, in order to adapt the codes of the digital world to our human faculties. He translates phenomena belonging to abstract contexts – such as visual noise (Simplex, 2018), or the hermeneutics – into visual expressions. Soft Takeover (2019) shows movements on a white canvas: they represent a number of interpretative sequences starting from a matrix originated by a computer. Despite the familiar form, the content appears inscrutable, thus questioning the reliability of messages and actions of artificial intelligence.

The Sixties saw the rise of kinetic art: it was an expression of the desire to explore a changing consciousness towards time – and the present Time. Today the artists continue to express this urgency. Time is movement and transformation. Yet the word transformation can take on different meanings. The landscape of Carla Chan discloses a sense of emergency and irreversibility (Between Happening, 2017): the iron dust with which it is painted is moving slowly, thus the possible scenarios constantly change. As it moves, the dust leaves permanent traces on the paper, such as that of man on the environment.

The dialogue between time and human being is disclosed also on an epistemological level: the man addresses time as a cosmic dimension. McLuhan recalled how the cultural debate had negatively pointed to the consequences of the regulation of time: many argued that its exact coding – through the clock – led human experience to deviate from nature. The deconstruction of these theories by McLuhan is still relevant: the new technological era has led back man to a primitive awareness, precisely because the possibilities of understanding the universe are now amplified. Time today is no longer that dimension marked by the mechanical clock: it is malleable, plural, stretched, instantaneous, frozen, or accelerated. It reveals itself in every possible dimension and meaning. The (poetic) abstract reasoning on the concept of time therefore leads the humanity to a closer approach to nature and the universe.

Felix Kiessling‘s work originates from the perpetual human exercise of gleaning dimensions – time and space, the way we tumble through them and the issue of measurability itself. The artist, however, neither seeks to depict time, as an artist would do, nor chases an exact measurement of it, as a scientist would. He is resolved to capture time. This device doesn’t depict time: it embodies it (Zeitzeichnung n.26, 2019), thus placing itself out of the current human-scaled debate.

It welcomes inexactness, inviting us to accept that things are ultimately out of our control.

The use of movement in time-based art turn time into a tangible experience. Pe Lang‘s installations embody time as a quantified measure: a system of engines creates a choreography of changing patterns (random | no 1, 2019). The exact control of mechanical forces gives rise to an orchestration of order and chaos, unpredictability and seriality. Motion is also explored as a motor. In modular | no 3 (2019, in collaboration with Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri) the sound of the speakers is caused by the movement of their membranes. This movement, however, is not electrically induced, but mechanically. It is not a sound “from” the speakers: it is the sound “of” the speakers.

Time is a state of movement, and it is the only stable thing, because it is change.
Time-based arts thus emerge among the most effective and significant cultural tools for the investigation and representation of this truth. These works are an invitation to approach time from different angles, to engage with it as evolution, duration, measure and progress, but also as mystery and chaos.