Visual Arts Programme
The Concourse Installation 2002
Daniel de Chenu The Captured Moment
What is time? Why does it seem so short these days? Can it run out? Why does time seem to slow down and speed up – depending on what you’re doing? Caught between frantic anticipation of the on-rushing future, and anxious nostalgia for the ever-receding past, how can we find space to consider the present? When exactly is ‘now’? And how many of us actually experience it in our constant preoccupation with what has just happened, and what is to come?
John Berger suggests that we exist within two times: the time of our physical lives, in which we move from birth to death; and the time of our consciousness. The first of these times is a relatively simple affair, as Berger says, it “understands itself.” It is the coexistence of the two times within man which gives rise to the philosophical duality between matter and mind, physical and spiritual which is at the heart of Daniel de Chenu’s The Captured Moment.
Constructed from wood, The Captured Moment presents the word ‘NOW’ in three three-dimensional, blue-painted letters, placed so that you are confronted with them as you enter the main building. Each letter is fifteen feet high, and the word itself fills the concourse space with its insistent presence. Moving around the letters, the word reveals itself, its size reminiscent of the gargantuan sculptures of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen which transform everyday objects (like a lipstick, a baseball bat, a spoon with a cherry on it…), and recontextualise them by presenting them at a massive scale. Here, the word then changes, until at an oblique angle it calls to mind more the curved forms of Robert Morris’ Primary Structures made at the beginnings of what would go on to become known as installation art.
The ‘NOW’ is on a monumental scale, putting the installation in context with other monuments. Yet other monuments are usually to what is past, and this is a monument to the present. The comparison is further undercut by the playful shape, the colour and the scale of the letters. At once pop art, they could also almost be gigantic fridge magnets. The ‘O’ is straight out of the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign. The colour blue is usually used in art to connote spirituality, but here the presence of these letters is so immediately physical. Again and again, The Captured Moment presents us with suggested meanings, only to overturn them again with paradoxes, absurdities and alternatives.
Daniel de Chenu’s artistic practice is based on his work as a photographer which began when the artist was in his teens. In photography, the image is often said to have ‘captured a moment’, to have frozen time. Christian Boltanski develops this idea further by suggesting that as the only way that the human experience of time is frozen or stopped is in death, photography actually kills its subject. de Chenu’s practice has taken him through photography and video to multi-media installation, to the point where it is the ideas behind the work which drive the material which will form their expression. In The Captured Moment, this multi-layered approach creates a work which is accessible on many levels, with many entry points for the viewer. Here the wood, which in previous installations has been used to create the space in which to focus on the video or film piece, now forms the substance of the piece itself. It is as if you are in the work, inhabiting the ‘now’.
Placed at each corner of the installation, bench seats invite longer contemplation. Each bench is also set up with headphones for listening to one of four accompanying audio works, all based on ideas around the flow of time. In one of these, a sample from the Eircom Speaking Clock is played over a relaxation tape; the inexorable counting down of time being placed in aural opposition to the calm call to relax, to stop and rest even as the seconds of your life tick away. In another, a little boy’s voice full of childish fear is played against soothing adult humming, fear and comfort coexisting.
These sound pieces provide ways into a fuller sense of the installation. What does ‘now’ mean to you? Is it the urgent demand for instant results, gratification and attention as time passes and seems to run out? Or what about its opposite meaning – the core of stillness in the flux of time; the focal moment where you pause to draw a centring breath? The conundrum of these paradoxical positions is the central question of The Captured Moment. How do you go about searching for meaning in the face of the inevitability of the captured moment that is death? And so, in many ways this intriguing installation can also be seen to represent the paradoxical conundrum of art making itself.