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Redefining Time at Kala Art Institute

Artists had to submit work on the theme of how we measure time, without turning to face the clock.

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For the past few hundred years, our understanding of time has largely conformed to the anatomy of the clock: divided into equal segments, one directional, circular, etc. For Keeping Time, Kala Art Institute invited artists to challenge this timepiece hegemony, open up other ways that we, in fact, measure time, and in so doing enrich our understanding of the experience of duration. Two main methods emerged.

First, there are the works that attempt to "capture" the flow of time through technology, principally photographs. Long, single-exposure shots, such as Gary Nakamoto's image of a drive-in movie lot webbed in head and tail light trails, aim to stretch the medium's capacity to freeze a moment. Kirkman Amyx pans out to capture a still longer duration — one year in fact, as seen through two distinct portions of sky, photographed every fifteen minutes for 365 days. The resulting diptych, consisting of two panels containing 35,040 tiny image cells each, yields hourglass patterns of day bordered by night, growing thinner and fatter as the daylight hours change with the season.

Second, there are the works that measure time in displays of quotidian or ritual repetition. Miriam Dym sewed a little dishrag every day she worked in her West Oakland studio, and the ultimate collection of 275 adorns a wall in the gallery. Leah Rosenberg did something similar with layers of acrylic paint, and Leslie Hirst has been saving her apple stems (an apple a day) since 2006. In an Apollonian feat, Robin Kandel passed 24 consecutive hours drawing straight lines of graphite.

As admirable as these efforts are, both approaches fail to reveal anything especially interesting about how we experience time. The former become wrapped up in measurement to the point of actually being meteorological. They are so lifeless as to make one wonder if it is only in the moments we forget time that feeling can exist. The latter are one-dimensional, their precious idiosyncrasies decimated by Lili Smith's chilling, nearby monolith, "Eat Drink Sleep." The sculpture metronomically blinks these words at exponentially increasing speed to a point of frenzy, then goes dark.

Alongside Smith's haunting sculpture, Keeping Time yields two other successes. Sonja Hinrichsen's "Snow Drawings" documents a performance in which the artist, clad in snowshoes, walked enormous, breathtakingly intricate patterns into pristine Colorado powder, spiraling around trees to envelop the landscape. Importantly, the work binds time to place, a crucial union in human experience that many of the works in the exhibition overlook.

Jenny Bloomfield, also rooted in place, presents 36 paintings inspired by repeated journeys from California to Marfa, Texas. The impressionistic, earth-tone works recall tarnished Polaroids of desert landscapes, but their status as paintings happily mires them in memory, a terrain between the real and the imagined. "If photographs can stop time," curator Lauren Davies suggests, "then perhaps paintings can apprehend it." In this exhibition, at least the latter proves true.

Keeping Time runs through November 22 at Kala Art Institute (2990 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). 510-841-7000, or Kala.org

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