Tic – tac, tic – tac, tic – tac…”: until not so long ago, this was the “re-presentation” of time we all had in mind. A rhythmic time, always regu­lar, inescapable. Yet, it was still something concrete, tangible, or, to be more exact, audible. Today, on the contrary, we are more and more used to looking for the exact time on a screen (on a PC, a TV, a mobile phone, etc.), and, in any case, we cannot stand anymore the idea of hearing time (noisy alarm clocks have been either thrown in the bin or shut in a drawer)… basically, time passes by, we try to catch it, to possess it, to take it back, but it is too late, we have lost hold of it – and another day-month-year has gone.

We are all some kind of exhausted White Rabbits, always running and incapable of enjoying a good cup of tea at the Mad Hatter’s party with the March Hare (or, as it is called in the Italian version of Walt Disney’s movie, the “Leap Year Hare”). Somehow, the Hare too has to do with the concept of time.

Time is our problem. Be it the concept of time imagined by Parmenides, Newton, Bergson, Heidegger, Einstein or by Prigogine, we can do nothing else but undergo it. We can obviously discuss about it, manage it or lose it… but we always find ourselves in a state of inferiority. It inevitably fol­lows its path, whether it is rectilinear or, as somebody argues, circular.
Anyhow, we must confront ourselves with the time “of today”, with a kind of time that does not depend on seasons or natural cycles, and not even by technical devices of scientific systems. This is a time, to use Debord’s words, “debased” and “to be saved”, since “the social image of the consumption of time […] is exclusively dominated by leisure time and vacations, moments portrayed, like all spectacular commodities, at a distance and as desirable by definition”. Therefore, time is sold to us, because we cannot make use of it. Just think, for instance, about “washed effect” or, worse, “worn effect” denims. We do not even have the chance to let our time leave its trace on our clothes. We simply purchase a denim item + time effect, without realising that we are also buying a pre-constituted time, so desirable as to be simulated, and we settle for a surrogate. As if it was something that has become extinct, and the taste of which we have forgotten. The same applies to tattoos fashion: it shows us how much the idea of “everlastingly” has lost its value. Well away from the old symbologies to which it was linked, tattoos often become an eternal now, without either a past or a future, thanks to a laser technology that has the same function of motorways when you decide to abandon a dog you had previ­ously – and with superficiality – bought.

Opposite to such a complete unawareness we can perhaps find the ex­treme lucidity of art, whose aim is not anymore to remind us of our mor­tality (like the memento mori of the past); rather, art tries to show us time for what it is, maybe through minimal interventions. Let’s think about the photographic self-portraits of Roman Opalka and his numbers tending to infinity and invisibility, or On Kawara’s Date painting (small monochrome paintings on which only the date they were painted appears, and stored in boxes lined with newspaper pages from that date), or Esther Ferrer’s self portraits (in which the Spanish artist combines the photographs of two halves of her face shot in different years) as well as several works by Christian Boltanski. In Italy, the artists who have best examined the concept of time are perhaps Alighiero Boetti and Gino De Dominicis. The former has worked on the principle of seriality (works that use the postal service, copies of magazines’ covers of a whole year, or Annual Watches in which the only element that appear on a watch is the year of produc­tion, etc) and on the principle of casuality (as in Annual Lamp, in which a lamp lights up at some point once a year, unpredictably); the latter has made of time and immortality the main subject of his works of art. In his famous Letter De Dominicis wrote: “Darling… I believe that things do not exist; In order to really exist, things would have to be eternal, immortal; only in this way would they be not merely the verification of certain pos­sibilities, but truly things…”; in nearly all of his works we can feel an angst for time that flows and deteriorates everything. Only art can reach immortality; so, while in 1970 he claimed he was not the famous French nobleman whom Voltaire met twice saying he was identical to the same men he had met fifty years before (I am not the Count of St. Germaine), in 1978 he repeated an identical exhibition after exactly one year – same day, same hour, same street, same place, identical invitations (Roma 14.01.1977-14.01.1978).

All we can do now is to be satisfied with counting up time, maybe by do­ing exactly what De Dominicis used to do with his Mirror Watch (1970): a watch that does not sign the flow of time through wheels and hands, but through the reflection of our face. We are in search of time gone by (that is, of exact time), and we can only find it on our face, identical and yet different from one instant ago, marked by wrinkles that, undetectably, become deeper and deeper… tic-tac, tic-tac!

Silvano Manganaro

Published on DROME 17 – the TIME issue