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Modernity appears, in accounts dating as early as the 19th century, as the escalating “annihilation of space by time.” Following technology’s increased efficiency, the circulation of capital, objects, and people seemed to transcend the once unshakeable limitations of distance, gravity, and even materiality itself. From our contemporary vantage point of rapid-fire communication, there is a stunning prescience to this idea that time—which lacks visual form—might overtake the physical world by means of its very invisibility. In a suite of new works, Robin Cameron tests the flipside to this assertion. Far from a simple reversal, she investigates the historical desire, also symptomatic of modernity, to render time spatial by fitting it with measurable form and image—to create of it something lasting to “have.” In the video, slide projections, and sculptures that comprise this exhibition, Cameron suggests the irony inherent to grasping at something that can be measured only by tracking its flight, of picturing that which points elegiacally always to its own passing.
Near Future Recent Past (2016) is a split-screen video juxtaposing archival film on the left with new sequences shot by Cameron and stock footage on the right. The clips appear in rapid succession, following the cadence of a spoken script interspersing Cameron’s words with excerpts from writers including Richard Brautigan, Joe Brainard, and Rebecca Solnit. The footage ranges in content with almost encyclopedic ambition, but returns frequently to certain symbols: hourglasses, newspapers, calendars, sundials, a watch. A doubling occurs. Cameron offers “signs” of time using time as her medium, the fixity of the former undercut by the ephemerality of the latter as the seconds of the video tick by.
In When is it? (2017), seven slide projectors arranged in a circle take turns presenting found snapshots, memories once personal but now anonymous. Grouped thematically (“Animals,” “People,” “Flowers,” etc.), they cycle past not unlike the hands of a clock. An archival impulse takes on present tense: fragments of the past are cast out into space before again retreating, a potential mnemonic for memory itself. In another form of “casting,” a series of silk cyanotypes are emblazoned with a modernist idiom of abstracted numbers that in fact read the length of their exposure (18:57, 10:19). Here, Cameron embeds the time of production into the work’s very fabric.
Cameron—a Canadian artist based in New York—tends to work in a wide range of media, however the photographic image forms the common denominator of the exhibited works, as the building block of the cyanotype, slide carousel, and film clip. There is art historical precedent for the desire to stay time’s passing—the portrait, memorial statuary, or vanitas—but photography’s 19th-century debut codified this urge to trace time as image: think, for example, of Eadweard Muybridge’s Horse in Motion (1886). Just as modernity’s early observers were noting time’s acceleration and concurrent uncoupling from the tangible realm, photography surfaced to pin it back down, however Sisyphean the task. Cameron mines this twinned history, asking viewers to consider the impossibility of ever returning to a single moment. She asks, in effect, whether it may or may not be possible to step into the same river twice.
— Josephine Graf