Notes on the 5th Inter-format Symposium on Time

at the Nida Art Colony, Lithuania

1. The first thing to be reckoned with: time taken vs. time given

Determining whether time has been taken or given relies entirely on subjective experience. It’s difficult, if not impossible to say when, or if a balance has been found when time is considered in terms of taking or giving, yet this seems to be the most usual way of assessing an experience of time.

2. The first calculation: my time = your time

One such calculation: I went to your presentation/lecture/performance, so I expect you to go to mine. This simple calculation neglects a number of factors such as the physical or emotional condition of the person expected to attend, the level of genuine interest in the event, any ulterior motives related to going or not going, professional interests, or the friendship credited, withdrawn, or untouched by going or not going. This calculation is based on one of the most primitive spatial representations of time we can access – time as a resource in the shape of a block, brick or chunk to be counted and saved like food or land.

‘My time vs. your time’ counts time as points or credits to be exchanged, and is unfortunately, a highly prevalent model. It also fails on many levels. Looking at art practices, and studying how the attention economy has developed, should make us even more critical of this rough calculation. Recall Gregory Sholette’s book “Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise” where he “appropriated a concept from theoretical astrophysicists who inform us that as much as ninety-five percent of the visible universe is allegedly made up of an unknown, unseen form of matter and energy,” and relates it to the way “that the gravity generated by this ‘dark matter’ stabilizes the five percent of the visible universe that we exist within.” He applies this concept to the contemporary art world, proposing “that the majority of artists are also like dark matter, a non-reflective but structurally necessary aggregate of creativity that while systematically underdeveloped secretly stabilizes the art world’s symbolic and financial economy by actively reproducing its exclusionary hierarchies.” The attention economy, which thrives because of a poorly conceived understanding of time, is a main actor in Sholette’s hypothesis.

3. The second calculation: free time ≠ structured time

Another calculation does away with the notion of my time versus yours and doesn’t burden anyone with expectations. This way takes into account the complexities of time together – that is, time shared – and takes into account the idea that time is neither yours nor mine. When we feel or think that we don’t have choices in what we do, anger, stress or annoyance arise from the feeling that our time belongs to someone else. A few participants of the symposium articulated the difference they noticed in the first day which was more structured (which made it feel like ‘your time’) and the second day which was mostly open (which felt to many people like ‘my time’), leading to a clear distinction in the way that time is perceived when it’s organized.

This second equation (mine + yours = ours) sounds attractive but is only a slight improvement on the first. Sure, it diminishes some of the anxiety and competition that come up when time feels limited (there’s more of it now since we share it, the logic would go), but the main problem persists – time is still limited. The closing remarks at the end of the symposium resound in my head: “We have a limited amount of time together.” I keep asking how this could be, and how we can we know this, when we don’t even know if our time ‘together’ has begun? With this calculation there can still never be enough time, so it is still possible to ‘waste’ time. In this calculation, time is still spatially visualized as having a limited supply, a bucket with a hole, or an iceberg melting. Is this a problem of imagination?

Are we are together here, or aren’t we? Aren’t we together again now, as you read this – a reader and a writer joined seamlessly across temporal bounds?

4. A trip to Kairos: When does the bus depart? The bus leaves when it’s full.

Touching on more pertinent issues, I’m still trying to find an uncompromising answer to the questions that came up during the symposium, “how to make an open program?” or, “how to make a program without a schedule?” We might get there by using a third, nearly ideal formula, inspired in part by the beautiful counting performances Fiona Reilly carried out during the symposium: Not yours, not mine, not ours.

It’s starts from the understanding that we don’t know how much time we have and doubt that it is ours to begin with, as individuals or as a collective. Knowing that, and departing from there (at least within the framework of a three-day symposium), we can make lesser demands on ourselves and on others. It could start by noticing what kind of time is already around, how it is conventionally used, and how it could be misused. Taking some examples from the symposium, this could mean: changing the expectation that the earliest artists will meet is at 10 am; making a coffee break sixty minutes; scheduling a coffee meeting for five minutes, at midnight; or making a celebratory toast on unremarkable occasions. To borrow more from a poetic experience of time means to stop scheduling people and plans into our lives and letting things move in another direction. Isn’t this also about imagination? Kristupas Sabolius talked about how to think about imagination as a transition of self, a moment of shift and duration within movement. As I understand it, in everyday terms that could mean that a meeting could start when we open our eyes to greet the world; it means that the meeting starts when it needs to start, when it calls to be started. Maris Grosbahs’ lovingly made fish soup was served when the soup was ready, not at 21:00 sharp.



Maris Grosbahs making fish soup on the first day

These are ways of escaping the reign of chronos (clock time, quantifiable time), and at the same time, ways of imagining and learning how to appreciate Kairos, the biblical time concept that originated with the Greeks, and was popularized by the psychotherapist Daniel Stern in “The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life”(2006). In Stern’s psychoanalytic practice, kairos, as a time concept, demands the authentic presence of both psychoanalyst and patient. Kairos is the opportune time, the right time, and takes contingency into account. A breakthrough cannot be scheduled, but with presence and attention, respecting Kairos (Caerus), the Greek god of opportunity, it could happen.


Opportunity calls

Caerus (Kairós, Opportunity). Marble relief, reproduced in LCL No. 256 from Arch. Zeit. XXXIII. Pl. I. 1



Caerus had a long lock of hair in the front of his head and was bald in the back so that opportunity could only catch him from as he approached it, which also made it impossible for him to be caught leaving.
Photo of remote collaborator DJ123 aka Ante, from Maria Kotlyachkova’s “Residencies as Perfect Sites for Post-Fordist Production (Karaoke)”.


On the way to Kairos, think about the time that we are bound to have, including time we’re asleep, time we are bored, time we are hungry, time we are dirty, hot, tired, heavy, afraid, lonely, light, reflective, calm, and in love. Instead of scheduling our meeting at 10:00, let’s meet when we, or you, or I, am lonely. Instead of an hour-long coffee date, let’s talk sincerely until we both feel bored. Or, alternatively let’s feel sincerely bored together until it’s time for coffee. It boils down to personal, specific and individual agreements, one-on-one negotiations of time and reformulations of it. With some luck, this should offer a less limited sense of time, and discourage us from hoarding it. As for group planning, we know we’ll sleep and eat at some point, so the time spent doing those things can become the bulk of what we share in the program. If it seems like an extravagant misuse of resources, all the better. And if organizers then want to know how to assess their kairic-leaning program, I would urge them to look at their own condition and that of the attendees – how did they look on the way back to chronos? Hungry? Tired? Tired, but blissful?


5. The truth in one (free) afternoon

Though I’m not completely satisfied with the third formula, it eases the proprietary grip on time a little. Freeing time from its masters exposes it to limitless and creative misuse. Chronos time calls to be abused, acted on or restructured, not taken, given or even shared, but trampled, folded and carried in the pocket as a reminder of the “right time”, and how it could be otherwise. Even in a flawed chronos world, we should still manage to socialize, eat, sleep, dream, move, love, and transform without the help of flawed calculations.

Marianna Maruyama

September, 2015