Today was a day of walking.
Led by the local artist collective Brave New Alps we spent the day under the hot sun exploring the greys and greens and occasional watery blues of the landscape surrounding Centrale Fies.
As we walked we tried, and initially at least failed, to shake off the urban rhythms we have all grown so accustomed to. Our walking wass unthinkingly quick and efficient. We moved through the landscape not with it, as if navigating busy streets not alpine hillsides.
This is city time. Industrial time. The time of schedules and deadlines. Of regimented working days. Of discipline and focus. We reflect later on the anxiety that such a time induces in us, even here. Bianca from Brave New Alps tells us the stress of her workload in the first year of university gave her a stomach ulcer and yet now such a volume of work has simply become for her the norm. Her body has been physically reshaped to accommodate the labour demands made upon her by the system within which she works. She has been re-rhythmed, wound up to the speed that capitalism expects.
As with the Alberta tar pits, time itself has been ravaged and exploited by the demands of the contemporary world. Made frantic and machine-like. Distorted into a shape that suits our human desires, squeezed into a perpetual present that commodifies the past and diminishes the future. It is only in this condition that the insatiable, unsustainable borrowing of capitalism, both financial and ecological, is at all bearable. Seize the day, we are told, and we have seized it. Suffocated the future out of it.
We walk deeper into the trees. Mottled sun breaks through the leaves. We spread out, partially by design and partially by accident. The conversation thins. The space between each of us begins to allow the landscape to break through. We bleed into the world around us.
An engagement with landscape is an engagement with deeper notions of time than those we are conventionally accustomed to. Brave New Alps tell us about the way in which local people in this valley would carefully tend the fruit trees and vines, not for their own benefit but for the benefit of their children and grandchildren. Care devoted to a future beyond your own lifetime. Things are grown that the grower will never see bear fruit. Maybe this is what it means to think like a tree thinks – to act in gestures that span generations.
Nature compels us to think in a different rhythm and art that employs nature as medium and collaborator can thus perhaps be a way of accessing this expanded time for people grown too unfamiliar with it. I’m reminded of Katie Paterson’s Future Library Project; a thousand trees growing in a forest outside Oslo to make an anthology of books in a hundred years’ time, books that are being written now but won’t be published until that point, long after the authors themselves have died.
We move from the trees and out onto a field of sharp boulders, the result of the rock avalanches that shaped this valley thousands of years ago. Time goes deeper still. Beyond generations. Beyond historical time. I place my hand into a dinosaur footprint left on a large flat rock face. ‘Remember’ someone says pointing to the top of the mountain ‘it would have been walking up there’. Tilman from Spielart tell us about a project in which an artist sought to grow stalactites in a gallery, about the contract he wanted to make lasting 500 years but which wasn’t possible as the maximum duration allowed for such a contract was 99 years. Human time can’t fathom such an excess of future, it can’t account for it.
As I walk I’m thinking about performance, our chosen artistic medium. I’m thinking about its celebration of a present that, here at least, feels compromised. Is there a way for performance to extend itself into this expanded time?
My first thought is of Abigail Conway’s new piece, An Evening With Primrose, which ironically I am missing to be here. It is a concert structured around the all-to-brief blooming of the primrose plant. The audience must wait for the primrose to decide when to bloom, and when the performance concludes it cannot happen again that year. Here is a manifestation of a fragile, beautiful present made not of that machine time but of something non-human. A rhythm beyond ourselves. A deeper time that we might all too briefly lose ourselves in.
We too are finally able to lose ourselves. The walk concludes at a lake, and we plunge in. It is cold and perfectly calm. The world stops and we tread water in this held moment. The sun moves across the clear blue sky imperceptibly.