Professor Paul Hills
Report on the Frank Davis lectures, Autumn Term 2005
Viewing time: artists on art and temporality
In a departure from tradition, the Frank Davis lectures last autumn were given by artists rather than academics. The general title for the series, Viewing time: artists on art and temporality, was chosen to reflect the fact that today artistic practices engage time in a startling variety of modes. Five artists of international distinction, working in a variety of media, spoke about their own work and reflected on the ways in which art invites us to view time.
The first lecture was launched with musical mood-setting by the 2004 Turner Prize winner and Courtauld Institute graduate, Jeremy Deller. After opening with a slide of a Martyrdom by Caravaggio – and a tribute to his Courtauld tutor Jennifer Fletcher – he went on to show clips of his epic restaging of the Battle of Orgreave. Violence, memory and time were interwoven in an enthralling lecture. Jochen Gerz, the second speaker, eloquently explained why he distrusted the traditional role of sculpture as a medium that attempted to resist time and thereby deny the essential fact of the human condition that we all die. His celebrated ‘antimonuments’ were the focus of seminars run by colleagues in the Institute in the run-up to the lecture. The third speaker, Richard Wentworth, wittily showed how his sculptures and photographs may lead us to reappraise our perceptions of urban experience, objects and the traces of time. He was followed by Timothy Hyman, a champion of figurative painting, writer and exhibition curator. Taking a long perspective, Hyman discussed how his own pictorial narratives of the family and the London scene could be placed in a tradition going back to the Siena of Ambrogio Lorenzetti. We were fortunate that the series culminated with a talk by one of the most widely admired contemporary artists, Cornelia Parker. In her lecture, Parker stressed how her work stemmed from an essential acceptance of mortality. It was a moving conclusion to a series that enlarged our vision of the temporality of art.
The lectures drew capacity audiences from inside the Institute and from a wider community of artists and students, many of whom were attending a public lecture at the Courtauld for the first time. The series boosted the Institute as a venue for the discussion of contemporary art, and formed a fitting prelude to the launch of the East Wing collection a few months later.
Paul Hills, Convener