Dominic Wilton: Time After Time and Artistic Conflict

English student Dominic Wilton creates an interesting dialogue between conflict in Science and Art after his experience at the Time After Time Exhibition at John Hansard Gallery.

Art, at its core, should revolve around conflict. It should pit two – or more – opposing ideas against each other within the gallery walls and let them battle it out. To view art is to watch the sparks fly. Artistic conflict means the difference between that which is merely visible, and that which is seen. To see is to be an active, cognitive participant in the event which the piece creates. It’s impossible to remain a passive bystander when you are standing in the heat and the cannon-smoke.

Time After Time offers up some perfect, crystal-clear examples of this phenomenon. What else would you expect from a 24-year retrospective of John Hansard Gallery’s  most important works? The new space in the centre of the city breathes new life into the five returning installations and effectively realises Walter van Rijn’s new piece reflecting the past efforts of the Gallery and giving hope for a new, exciting era for art in Southampton.

Let us focus on the old. We go back to 1992 when the John Hansard commissioned Hamad Butt to create an installation based on the halogens: chlorine, bromine and iodine. In the centre – commanding of the room – is a giant Newton’s cradle (appropriately titled Cradle). Suspended from the ceiling on long wires, 18 glass jars, each filled with chlorine and arranged in three groups of six, sit motionless, and yet somehow precariously, inches above the ground. Each jar is, for the moment, perfectly safe. They are almost beautiful in their uniformity. However, in the back of your mind you know that should the glass jars break or leak, a gas responsible for the deaths of thousands during World War One will be released into the room. All that keeps us in that room is faith. Faith that the manufacturer of those jars, and the science behind the creation of the installation, is sound. Therein lies the conflict: science has the potential to advance our culture, to create beautiful objects, and yet, the sickly yellow-green gas in front of you is a stark reminder of its destructive power when abused.

Some say that science and reason have, for some, become a religion. Observe how the jars are arranged in groups of three – the Holy Trinity. However, in each group of three, there are six jars. This piece is not just a comment on the internal moral conflict within science, but also how it interacts with other worldviews. To some, there is a spiritual purity, but to others, there is something satanic. An inherent strain of evil and corruption running through it. That’s at least four different ideas vying for attention, but I’m sure there’s more to be gleaned from it if seen through another lens. All from 18 jars of chlorine.

However, that’s just one piece from one installation. Take Charlotte Posenenske’s Vierkantrohre Serie DW (1967-2010) on the floor above as a further example. Within this series of industrial looking modular cardboard tubes are comments on the transient nature of consumer culture – how industry and the worker are in a constant state of conflict as they adapt to suit the needs of a fickle society. There’s something unsettling about this mock ventilation system. Something which suggests an underlying instability or, better yet, an insecurity in the superstructure of modern society.

So, you leave the pitched battles in the gallery with their planned and fixed positions, but the smell of the gunpowder follows you home. The days go past, but you can still hear the sound of new ideas, different perspectives, clattering against older, entrenched thoughts. Sometimes they harmonise and merge. They influence how you think about life day-to-day. There’s an old Greek view of art and its place in society. It says that viewing art – really seeing inside it – is a form of education: it teaches us how to deal with life outside the gallery. Time After Time does nothing less.


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