Artivation #2 : Happy New/Old Year
While in Tenna, Grisons, in the Swiss Alps, shortly before midnight of the year 2022, Com&Com made a video call via WhatsApp. The artists spoke with the artist Dharmendra Prasad and the curator Shazeb Sheikh, with whom they had just opened a joint exhibition.* Because at the time of their conversation, both Shazeb and Dharmendra were in India, they were already several hours into the year 2023. India was in the future. This inconspicuous event (of a WhatsApp conversation) lent itself to another iteration, and they thus decided to reenact it exactly the same way shortly after midnight—having arrived in the meantime in the year 2023—by sending a text message in the other direction to the curator Nora Hauswirth in Manaus, Brazil. The message was sent to the past.
What Com&Com engaged with was a Fluxus event score In One Year and Out the Other written by Ken Friedman in 1975. The score reads “On New Year’s Eve, make a telephone call from one time zone to another to conduct a conversation between people located in different years.”
Today known as an artist, author, educator and design researcher, Ken Friedman (*1949) was the youngest member of Fluxus, when he joined the group on Maciunas’ invitation in 1966. During the heyday of Fluxus, Friedman worked closely with other Fluxus artists and composers such as George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, and Nam June Paik, as well as collaborated with John Cage and Joseph Beuys. He was also the general manager of Dick Higgins’s Something Else Press in the early 1970s.
Friedman’s In One Year and Out the Other was first performed on New Year’s Eve in 1975, when Friedmann—based at that time in Springfield, Ohio—first phoned ahead to Dick Higgins, Nam June Paik, Peter Frank, Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York, who were already in the year 1976. Then, after midnight, he called back from 1976 to Tom Garver, Natasha Nicholson, and Abraham Friedman in California.
The spirit of Ken Friedman’s score is alive and well today, although it has mutated since to take alternative forms. Television broadcasts, social media posts, texting and email are just some of the adaptations that fit within the most straight forward parameters of Friedman’s idea: to connect individuals and communicate between times and temporal zones.
The work, like many Fluxus works, at the first glimpse straight forward and easy-to-enage-with, asks significant questions about how we understand time and space, and what it means to measure time with mechanical means. Dennis Oppenheim pointed to the absurdity of marking time as territory and political boundaries in his Time Line (1968). What do such artificial, political and temporal zones and distances mean in a world connected via digital media, where everything seems to be just a mouse click away? How does the “new year” feel like as an anticipation or as an accomplished fact? Can we manipulate, rewind, and recover time?
*«Gras Geschichten / Stories of Grass» by Dharmendra Prasad. An exhibition curated by Shazeb Sheikh und Johannes M. Hedinger at the Institute for Land and Environment Art ILEA in Tenna, Safiental (December 31, 2022–October 29, 2023).