Time is a performance work conceived by the Argentinian artist David Lamelas in 1970 and carried out by means of a series of instructions. At a pre-designated moment the participants – the total number of which can vary with each performance – stand side by side, facing the same direction, 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. The work is performed by invited members of the public and can be enacted without the presence of the artist once the participants have received their instructions. Lamelas has stated that the work can be performed on up to three occasions in any twenty-four-hour period, with the times of any enactments being clearly displayed in the area in which they will occur. The line is marked on the ground using tape, chalk or string, and although it can vary in length, it should stretch to at least eight metres – a length that Lamelas has stated would accommodate approximately twenty participants (see David Lamelas, ‘David Lamelas, Time 1970, Instructions for the Performance’, 1 April 2006, unpaginated, Tate Acquisition File, David Lamelas, PC10.1 A16718). The work can be performed indoors or outdoors, but if it is performed inside then the line must be arranged parallel to a wall or diagonally across the space, and when it is presented within an exhibition the line should be left on display throughout the show.
Time was originally conceived by Lamelas for a seminar at Les Arcs in the French Alps in 1970. During the first performance at Les Arcs, Lamelas photographed every moment at which the performers told each other the time (reproduced in Kunstverein München 1997, p.71). Along with instructions for performing the piece, Tate also acquired one photograph of the performance at Les Arcs: a silver gelatin print in a glazed, black wooden frame that shows the line of participants standing amid the snowy Alpine landscape (see Time 1970, Tate P79205).
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. Viewers were unable to see this work in its entirety, being required rather to seek out 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.
Lamelas explained in 2006 that Time is ‘about social issues. We may come from different cultures, be of different color or religion, but we all share the one single time of the present’ (Lamelas 2006, unpaginated). 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 the 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.