One of the challenges of my thesis (for which I have not posted an abstract), is that I bear the burden of proof in attempting to demonstrate that not only music, but all art, involves temporality; rhythm even. The philosophical justification for this assertion comes from Giorgio Agamben’s The Man without Content, where he quotes and expands on Holderlin in saying that
“Everything is rhythm, the entire destiny of man is one heavenly rhythm, just
as every work of art is one rhythm, and everything swings from the poetizing
lips of the god.”
My suspicion is that this assertion is also theologically significant. However, before I can unpack why and how this is the case, my challenge is to demonstrate in what sense Agamben’s assertion is in fact true of art in general. Thankfully, I am able to draw upon others who are more familiar with art history than I am. I owe the following analysis of Anish Kapoor’s sculpture, Marsyas to Judy Raines.
Tate Photography. Marsyas, 2002: Installation at Tate Modern. See www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/kapoor
Inspired by the massive Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern museum in London, Kapoor engineered a sculpture of colossal proportions to fill both the height and the length of the hall in 2003. As an artist, Kapoor believes form to have metaphysical memory, and so seeks to make art that moves the viewer past the material object itself through her interaction with it. Marsyas accomplishes this primarily through its size, leading the viewer to confront her limit. Made of a PVC membrane stretched taught over three steel rings, this sculpture is so enormous that it is impossible for the viewer to see its entirety from a single vantage point. It cannot be mastered. Rather, it can only be known through a series of encounters that require bodily strain and participation. Marsyas is so gigantic, that it feels as though it imposes itself into one’s own space. It cannot be ignored. It is absorbing, demanding and unnerving. It is an extremely tactile experience of how one can be absolutely confronted by the other. It is an unsafe object in the sense that it refuses to undergird the enormity of the viewer’s imagined self, but confronts her with her hubris. At the same time, however, it contains an element of safety. One of the three steel rings is positioned over a bridge such that the viewer can walk under the sculpture. This takes some trust in the engineering of the extremely heavy sculpture, especially given that it is engineered to give the illusion of floating in mid-air. However, what is remarkable is that one feels a certain enveloping safety under this ring. The same object that is unnerving and dangerous is also gentle and safe.
So far, so spatial. How does this help me? Well, there has been at least one viewer who has been confronted by Marsyas, not in terms of space, but time: the composer Arvo Part. Coming out of the Orthodox tradition in which the trumpets of judgement play a prominent theological role, Part was confronted, not by Marsyas’ size as such, but by the enormous red trumpets of eternity, signalling his judgement. He became immanently aware of passing time; that his time was ending. For Part, Marsyas was eternity breaking through time. The line between time and timelessness became blurred. Through this encounter, Part came to believe that the context in which it is appropriate for us to confront our time and our death is that of eternal time, or timelessness. We can only bring ourselves to look plainly at our limits in the context of that which is both overpowering and gentle; the unsafe God in whom we might find safety.
So this is perhaps one example of the way in which plastic art might exhibit a sort of rhythm. It is the manifestation of the eternal in the forms and materials of the temporal, such that temporal reality is in turn caught up into the eternal. We speak, for example, about the rhythms of the liturgical year, and week, in a similar way. It’s the movement back and forth between human limit and human participation in divine time. It is a part of what we mean when we call something ‘incarnational.’