Mary Sherman’s Artistic Intervention on the Idea of Space, Time and Becoming

 (I am interested in truths that can’t be explained but only felt; in visual structures (textures, rhythms, brushstrokes and the like) that tease the ear but we don’t hear; in sounds we can’t see but that physically move us – in the world behind what we perceive, but nonetheless affects us deeply. I am interested in exploring this world; in using today’s inescapable technology (computational devices, scientific data and other mentally constructed means) alongside the emotional, fraught materials of fine art media; in turning static installations into immersive, experiential performances (that compose the architecture in which they are installed – and then alter them); in creating works that take tickle our fancy; in short, delighting in the things that make us human, the things – despite all the news to the contrary – that we will never know, but can only sense.-Mary Sherman)

Time is not something extraneous to us. Nor is it non- transient. Our relationship with time is deeper than we fathom. We cannot imagine living in a world estranged from time. Sometimes nothing can be done with time or about time-it’s no longer ours.

Being and Time (German: Sein und Zeit) is a 1927 book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in which the author seeks to analyze the concept of Being and Time. He explained: “I think I myself know something about the fact that this book (Being and Time) has its flaws. It’s like climbing an unascended mountain. Because it is both steep and unknown, whoever travels here sometimes falls.” Heidegger’s Being and Timeis concerned with the question of the meaning of ‘being’-not in the sense of what it’s all about or why we are here or why there is something rather than nothing. His exposition is based on the philosophical implications of the temporal nature of human existence. For Heidegger Time should be grasped in and of itself as the unity of the three dimensions – what Heidegger calls “ecstases” – of future, past and present. This is what he calls “primordial” or “original” time and he insists that it is finite. It comes to an end in death. For Heidegger, we are time. Temporality is a process with three dimensions which form a unity. However, Heidegger fails to develop the theme of existential spatiality, and his philosophy is highly frowned upon by many critics as well as the Japanese moral philosopher and cultural historian Tetsuro Watsuji, who says in his work Fudo (1935), “I found myself intrigued by the attempt to treat the structure of man’s existence in terms of time, but I found it hard to see why when time had thus been made to play a part in the structure of subjective existence, at the same juncture space also was not postulated as part of the basic structure of existence.” Watsuji’s Fudo is a fascinating study of the spatial nature of human existence. The spatial aspects of human existence in relation to Time becomes a tangible lived experience in the works of Mary Sherman, whose artworks are a complete departure from conventional phenomenology.

I was so glad to be an invitee at the Ars Libri Ltd. Boston ( a specialized academic library that maintains a rare collection of books and documents) the day before yesterday where Mary and Mario Diacono had organized an opening reception for the Black Box. (Description: Black Box is a sensor activated, micro-processor driven, visual, aural and kinetic work. Its title is a literal description of the piece – both in terms of its appearance and in reference to the term “black box”, an opaque system whose inputs and outputs are clearly evident, but how those are achieved remain hidden. This is the essence of computers.  At the same time, removing the top of Black Box exposes its opposite, a white box, which is meant to conjure up such notions as white light and white noise (a white box is a system whose internal working mechanisms are known).All this is part of Sherman’s on-going exploration into the world of in between states, the slippage between various ways of accessing the world, and the frisson of contradictions. As such, Black Box combines an interest in technology and art, juxtaposes fine art practices with machine shop techniques, exploits digital aims for analog results and subverts logical thinking to sensual effect.)

Spatially, the Ars Libri ambience formed continual transitions as invitees walked in, around and by the Black Box-which is actually a white box with semblances of black as silhouettes. At first glimpse I was drawn towards just the spatial experience of people waiting to see the Box unfold its magic and the choreographic ephemerality that it formed with composer Mathieu Corajod’s musical composition Untitled, for a Box as its soundpiece which is not an added soundtrack but a real time performance of Corajod’s electronic music ‘broadcast’ by Black Box. I was slowly getting sucked into the almost personal communication of absence through presence that the Box was periodically mediating-leaving multiple frames of visual traces that mere photographic snapshots cannot recreate. Each time the Box turned on as a new visitor enabled its sound-light choreography, I was left to contemplate on the slow process of decline and decay as opposed to the awakening experience of regeneration, light and arresting hope. Later as I spoke to Mary, whose friendship I truly value, I shared my fascination with her variable depictions of the theme of “waiting.”  Each time the Box had operated for its duration of two minutes, the next visitor had to wait for its circuit to cool down till it decided to reanimate itself once activated by movement.

The result and duration of this waiting is the most profound aspect of this magnificent piece. In the constant state of flux and transition-questions of the present-the here and the now as opposed to the past and the reveries of the future viscerally engage with the senses. This unfolding relationship with time, of our being that is sometimes not satisfied with the description of things and the abstract world of dissociation and frozen time leads me back to Watsuji’s spatial perception of human existence. Much like Watsuji, Sherman’s work puts more emphasis on the presence of something that is not quite evident—helping us realize that part of our being that is spatially and experientially formed. The awareness of ourselves, our consciousness-in particular through our senses is integrated beautifully in this piece-offering an observable, reflective tactile environment that investigates deeply how we respond to absence in a fluid state of becoming who we sometimes are unaware of.

Mary Sherman’s Waiting for Yves references Yves Klein’s Le Vide (The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void) and creates a surround sound environment-the central concept being inspired by Samuel Beckett’s famous play “Waiting for Godot.” Three themes are called into play in her piece-silence and pause; Waiting and the theme of what do we do now? Vladimir’s round song in Beckett’s play indicates the recurrent shape in Godot-‘I am interested in the shape of ideas”-the words and actions come back to the starting place only to begin again. This leitmotif carries on in Sherman’s Waiting for Yves as well but with sensorial elements-thus evoking an experience that can be touched and heard so to speak.

Eri After Dark is an interlude from Benoit Granier’s opera Eri, After Dark which again is based on Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same title. The opera follows the life of Murakami’s fictional sisters Mari and Eri in Tokyo, where Eri is lost between two worlds – the real one which she is trying to escape and the fantasy one, where she is imprisoned within a television, waiting for her sister to retrieve her. Once again, Mary Sherman traces desire lines with an idyllic eye to create a disconsolate space that is laden with questions we need to ask ourselves.

From Desire to longing is her journey into her other piece-Nocturne. Her aesthetic approach reveals her unseen, untouched and mystical inner world-affirming the significance of the unconscious. Nocturne’s (sounds contributed by Belgian artist Yannick Franck) abstract choreography is reminiscent of moving hieroglyphs, reminding me of Derek Walcott’s Another Life: “I rendered the visible world that I saw, yet it hindered me, for in every surface I sought the paradoxical flash of an instant in which every facet was caught in a crystal of ambiguities…” The merging of the self with the landscape which is predominant in Walcott’s poem is amplified in Sherman’s Nocturne with its restless impressionability.

 The Fugue is an exploration of painting in the realm of time and space. This piece redefines how we look at, touch or sense life or respond to sounds, change and metamorphosis. German polymath and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz says of the sound of the sea —“Each soul knows the infinite-knows all-but confusedly. It is like walking on the seashore and hearing the great noise of the sea. I hear the particular noises of each wave, of which the whole noise is composed but without distinguishing them.”  Much like the Leibniz’s minute perceptions and awareness of the vibrations of sonic energy, Sherman’s Fugue reminds us that the tiny paintings’ movements in the work are meant to suggest a play between related characters who cannot quite escape their fate. Every sound and movement is actually a cacophony of silence that needs artistic intervention to turn our consciousness to the intensive dimensions of sound and the very stuff of perception.

(The Fugue consists of a black stage-like platform with an arrangement of aluminum channel on top. Accompanying all this is Benoit Granier’s multi-channeled composition Unmentioned, what it can become as though it were not…(Fugue), which is based on the acoustic artist Florian Grond’s sonification of her abstract painting used in the piece Delay.  Mary says, “In other words, Granier took the sounds derived from a painting and turned them into a fugue. Or, put yet another way, Granier took a painting’s typically inaudible voice (made audible for Delay) and set it to music, which in turn inspired the mechanical opera The Fugue.”)

Delay is a spare installation about impossible love.  Mary says, “It is meant to be a lure: to be seen, heard (thanks to my collaborator Florian Grond) and experienced; to delay people, as love does – which, in this case, stems from my love of painting and the goal to take it from its 20th century’s expansion into space (with three dimensional paintings) into the realm of time with sound. Delay, however, treats painting as an embodiment of process – that it is a frozen record of time.”

Delay in my eyes and perception is a temporal hallucination-that awakens the senses in a space beyond where I am-through embodied spatial experiences that play with time and assertive yet inaccessible desire. This piece is especially imbued with a meaning making sonic and visual language that wants to speak without mediation. It unfolds an urgent yet distant performance driven by time and sensation, the fleeing, the passing, stagnancy and separateness of the being connects the visualized piece with the play between simultaneity and delay becomes the focal point. The innumerable details of breaks and moves in Delay drives us to question the intensity of unpulsed time and the fine art of waiting.

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