This work is a black and white photograph by the Argentinian artist David Lamelas that documents the first enactment of a performance by Lamelas entitled Time 1970 (Tate T12208). The image shows eighteen people standing in a long row amid a snowy landscape. The figures appear in the foreground and a white, snow-covered hill slopes upwards behind them, towards an area across the top of the picture that is mostly densely filled with dark trees. In the centre-right of the photograph are a house, a telegraph pole and three more people, but aside from this, the group of eighteen in the foreground appear to be alone in the landscape. These figures are pictured from a distance and so cannot be seen in detail, but they mostly appear to be wearing dark clothes and their bodies are all facing the camera or each other, in some cases turning or gesturing towards one another. The photograph is a silver gelatin print in a glazed, black wooden frame and was acquired by Tate along with the performance in 2006.
The performance work Time was first conceived by Lamelas in 1970. It involves a group of participants standing side by side along one side of a line that is marked on the floor. The performance begins with an individual at one end of the line telling the time to the performer adjacent to them; this second participant then waits for sixty seconds before telling the time to the performer on their other side. The process continues until it reaches the person on the far end of the line, and the performance ends with this participant announcing the time in a language of their choice.
This photograph was taken during the first performance of Time at a seminar at Les Arcs in the French Alps in 1970. Lamelas originally conceived of the work for this event and during this first enactment he photographed every moment at which the performers told each other the time (reproduced in Kunstverein München 1997, p.71). It is not clear from this photograph which, if any, of the participants are communicating the time to their neighbour, and so it is possible that the picture may have been taken before the performance started or after it finished. The picture can be displayed along performances of Time, but the artist has not stated this as a requirement.
In 1997, discussing his practice of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lamelas stated that his work ‘had always functioned in relationship to time’ (Lamelas in John Roberts, ‘Interview with David Lamelas’, in The Impossible Document: Photography and Conceptual Art in Britain, 1966–76, London 1997, p.137). He cited as an early example his 1966 installation Connection of Three Spaces, which was spread over three areas of the Di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires. To see all of this work, viewers were required to locate its different sections sequentially, and according to Lamelas this emphasised the fact that aesthetic experience is not instantaneous (Lamelas in Roberts 1997, p.137). Time points to the durational nature of performance art, as well as of visual experience in general, by taking chronological time and the process of marking it as its central subject. In capturing every exchange during the original enactment in Les Arcs in photographic form, Lamelas also highlighted the difference between live events and static records. This distinction becomes particularly evident when viewing this photograph because the ambiguity surrounding which precise point in the performance it captures highlights the fact that an organic and protracted sequence of exchanges has been broken down into a still image, thus questioning the reliability of documentation relating to performance art.
When he conceived Time in 1970 Lamelas was living and working in London, away from his native Argentina, and the curator Inés Katzenstein has argued that works he made after emigrating in 1968 were inspired by his experiences of geographical displacement and ‘becoming international’ (Inés Katzenstein, ‘David Lamelas: A Situational Aesthetics’, in Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo 2006, p.76). In 2009 Lamelas acknowledged that during the late 1960s and early 1970s he had made works using ‘ideas’ rather than physical materials because he often travelled and was therefore ‘always trying to make work that was easy to move with’ (Lamelas in Nicolson 2009, accessed 24 February 2015). This is reflected in the form of Time – a work that exists as a set of instructions that can be enacted anywhere, as well as a group of photographic documents, which are also portable.
David Lamelas – A New Refutation of Time, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein München, Munich 1997, pp.70–1, reproduced p.71.
David Lamelas: Extranjero, Foreigner, Etranger, Auslander, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo, Buenos Aires 2006.
Fay Nicolson, ‘Outside the Frame: An Interview with David Lamelas’, Nottingham Visual Arts, 8 July 2009, http://www.nottinghamvisualarts.net/articles/200907/outside-frame-interview-david-lamelas, accessed 24 February 2015.
Supported by Christie’s.