"Art making is a form of alchemy, in a way, because you are trying…to make gold from nothing. When it works very well is when you manage to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary."
From "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 2 (2003)
“Time” is always present in our interaction with works of art, whether we sit to contemplate a painting, stroll past a sculpture, or watch a video piece for its entire duration or cycle. Some works of art are time-based in that the viewer must experience them through the passage of time, as with music, while others refer to time through links or references to art history, our collective human history, or the timelessness of nature. Filmed on location in China; Japan; New York, New York; San Antonio, Texas; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Los Angeles, California.
“Tap-dancing is a way of articulating time, and it’s a long time since I did it,” says pioneering dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham in the introduction to the “Time” episodecreated by Charles Atlas. Cunningham speaks of his childhood dance teacher, an early influence, who made a strong impression with her tap-dancing, including a remarkable moment when “she did it on the side of her foot. I never forgot it.” Cunningham begins to tap while seated, allowing the syncopated rhythms of his dance to set the tone for the episode.
Martin Puryear’s respect for age-old techniques and his knowledge of woodworking, masonry and non-western crafts are essential to the archetypal forms he creates. “I’m really interested in vernacular cultures where people lived a little closer to the source of materials...” The artist tapped his carpentry skills to create "Ladder for Booker T. Washington," a sculptural country ladder reaching 36 feet into the air. The segment continues with Puryear on a visit to Northern California where he built a massive stone folly working with a team of masons, and to a stoneyard in China and a sculpture site in Japan, revealing the complex practical and artistic calculations that go into Puryear’s large-scale work.
Courtside at a San Antonio Spurs game, Paul Pfeiffer remarks “I’m really attracted to images of amazing spectacle." Both Pfeiffer’s sensibility and his technique are products of contemporary culture as he pulls video of sports events, pageants, and newscasts off television and then digitally manipulates the images to comment on the frenetic pace and dehumanizing qualities of a consumption-oriented, media-driven culture. “There is a kind of humiliation in that process of simply becoming objects of admiration or people simply becoming consumers,” he observes. In his "Long Count" pieces, Pfeiffer explains he worked meticulously, frame by frame, to erase the boxers from the ring until they are mere shadows.
Patiently working at her easel, Vija Celmins dabs tiny speaks of paint on a canvas. The object of her attention is a starry night sky, an image that she has been painstakingly creating by applying paint, rethinking, sanding it off, and adding more. “This is all part of the work,” she says, “in fact, I often now talk about building a painting.” A prolific artist with a long career, Celmins has created sculptures, paintings, drawings and prints that find a timeless authenticity in natural forms from stones to waves and spider webs. “It’s like something unconsciously seeps into the work,” Celmins explains, discussing her attitude to the labor-intensive process she is well known for.
Tim Hawkinson tinkers with everyday materials to build surprising mechanical art works. “I guess it comes from early on in childhood, a fascination with moving parts and sort of the magical,” he suggests. In his studio, Hawkinson explains how he used gears, switches, nozzles, buckets, and pie tins to build a drumming machine that captures random drips of rain, amplifies them, and organizes them into music. “It’s not even electronics. I don’t know what it is,” he admits. One of Hawkinson’s largest projects, "Überorgan," is an inflatable installation in a space the size of a football field. For a version of the artwork the artists created a score for the organ using old church hymns.