Sara Giannini text on “What is Contemporary?”, 2012

“What is Contemporary?”

A literal Re-Enactment

Sara Giannini, Isidora Ficovic, Sedimented wisdom

The proceeding of my fingertips on the keyboard renders the imperceptible flowing of time a discrete, partitioned rhythm. The clicks of typing, which gradually gather the letters into words, phrases and paragraphs, echo the rhythm of the clock, temple of time measure and life planning. Though the irregular, syncopated tic-tac of my word-clock discloses the paradox I am getting into: speculating on, hence crystallizing, the “now”. The linear continuum of a sentence mirrors the alphabetic and abstract rationality that manifests itself through sequential facts and thoughts. Yet the residual of the linear narrative is the only glimmer through which we can grasp the existence of a now-moment. By the time I had written this passage and you, my all-eyes and imagination counterpart had followed the textual extension, we left behind temporary worlds to embrace a new, perpetual state of time. By writing we seed signs of back-nows into the constant procession of presences (J. Derrida, 1977). Derrida spoke of the trace as an always-already absent present, as a sign carrying in itself the mark of otherness  (1967). The perennial a-contextual traces render the now past yet always re-enactable in the future, in one word, our word contemporary. They are inscriptions susceptible of being produced and re-actualized over the non-chronological figure of contemporary time.

The contemporary is the one who, dividing and interpolating time, is capable of transforming it and putting it in relation with other times. He is able to read history in unforeseen ways, to cite it according to a necessity. (G. Agamben 2009)

The aporia of being present of the absent melts in the contemporary dimension, where histories converge temporarily yet forever. For the contemporary, in its intimate essence, is a place of encounters, a place of heterotopias and polyphonic dialogues. Cum-Tempora, “with time”: where past, present, and future meet and fuse in an ever-lasting duration.

The after-meetings between different now-moments, caught dancing in asynchronous stills of contemporaneity, find themselves re-proposed in Isidora Ficovic’s practice. What is Contemporary? (2006 – 2008 – 2010) is an ongoing dialogical investigation on the contemporary. It takes the form of interviews, where the artist asks “what is contemporary?” to artists, curators, art lovers and other professionals of the so-called contemporary art world. The first of the series, What is Contemporary? (2006), involves the Istanbul art community and has been produced over a residency at Platform Contemporary Art Center. The video has been then followed by an epistolary exchange where the same participants have been asked to answer the same question two years later in What is Contemporary? (2008). Finally, the video What is Contemporary? (2010) addresses the same enquire to the Belgrade art population.


The artist traps the floating of time into a series of time-based objects, which bear specific dates in history. Although belonging to a past chronology, they reiterate and provoke renewed “experiences of now”. The sense of What is Contemporary? should be framed within a meta-critical perspective, since the films’ contents are performed by the repetition in time of the artist-viewer’s inter-related agencies and experiences.
Isidora Ficovic’s work on the contemporary makes the encounter the explicit and fundamental cell subsuming and linking the contemporary to the now-experience(s) of art The dialogue is the first medium she employs in order to incorporate the encounter, which once recorded and replayed, recreates original moments of confrontation with the viewer at successive stages.

Repetition unveils the universality of the singular. As a conduct and as a point of view it concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities. (G. Deleuze, 1968). At each recurrence repetition states difference and not similarity because it is part of the order of time, rather than space. One of the characteristics of repetition lies in giving access to a different temporality in such a way that things are defined but without destiny.

“Endings are suspended by repetitions!”  In Greek mythology we can find one of the greatest things man are striving for: the eternity, how to accomplish the eternity… “Art objects can never be properly used, because they exist forever, and forever is always after us.”
The video repeating in a loop is thus a “fountain of life” through time travel, like reading and re-reading a text. In its recursive process, the video is a trace inscribed to emanate difference and in this respect it obeys to the coherence paradox. Through different encounters in different timeframes it changes the other and itself. The observer finds himself actor of a relationship, which reproduces (and not represent) the original one.

Repetitions do not add a second and a third time to the first, but carry the first time to the ’nth’ power. (G. Deleuze, 1968)

The experience of contemporary collisions of temporalities and subjectivities can be repeated and experienced also in this very moment, as you meet the text and the temporality of the writer HERE AND NOW:

The future-orientation of the past in the always-contemporary encounter led us eventually to a poking sense of lack, a silence full of lost memories, of past presence, of oblivion and impossibility. The experience of pure time.

“What is Contemporary?” shows aspects of the un-known and therefore offers what we don’t know that we are, who we aren’t, including the notion of the world outside  us.

Bibliography
Giorgio Agamben, 2008, Che Cos’è il Contemporaneo?, Roma: Nottetempo. Trans. D. Kishik, S. Pedatella, 2009, “What Is The Contemporary?” in What is Apparatus and Other Essays, Stanford: Stanford, p. 53.
Gilles Deleuze, 1968, Différence et répétition, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Trans. Patton, P., 1994, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, p. 1-2;
Jacques Derrida, 1972, Marges de la philosophie, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit,  p. 377;
Jacques Derrida, 1967, De la grammatologie, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1967;

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