Historically, landscape art has reinforced a sense of human power over nature, but in these twenty lyric essays Cole Swensen addresses a range of artists, from Agnes Varda to Robert Smithson to David Hockney, whose works recognize nature, not as the “other,” not as something out there, but as an intimate and active engagement, encouraging an increased sense of participation in, and reciprocal relationship with, the earth.
Such artists of earlier eras suggested, intentionally or not, that we might enlarge our viewpoint beyond the personal, maybe even beyond the human. But it fell to twentieth-century art movements—abstraction, Cubism, postmodernism—to consciously undo the Enlightenment paradigm. As a contemporary poet, Swensen wields a language capable of channeling this history.
Eschewing the overt didacticism of many environmentally engaged projects, Art in Time guides by example. Most significantly, Swensen’s exploration of the temporal, relational nature of art-making recognizes the deep interconnectedness of all that share this world. The essays attend to the primary importance of diversity to the project of developing non-destructive relationships to our planet — biodiversity, identity diversity, diversity of medium, and expression — all of which unfold via unique temporal registers.
Art in Time is a brilliant foray into twenty-one artists’ films, paintings, photographs, and art installations—and the lives out of which the work grows. Critical and poetic, sensitive and probing, Swensen reminds us of the community, the labor, and the commitment a life in art both requires and creates.
Swensen’s essay-poems possess a dance-like quality as they move into and around artworks; there is a sense of a peripatetic intelligence unwilling to rest on a predictable vantage. Her hybrid method itself offers an experiential lesson in how we can come to art with a willingness to see and see again.
Art in Time is a book that resists the idea of it ever becoming a “timeless work of art.” For poet,
translator, and academic Cole Swensen, the very notion of a “timeless work of art” not only implies a refusal to engage with the present moment, but also exposes a fundamental problem in our viewership: our tendency of looking at rather than from within.
Changing subjectivities; relations accumulating and multiplying among land, people, animals, trees, weather; the hand reaching toward—the thrall of the collection is impressively constructed. Reader and author and artist and art collaborate in that “space . . . perfectly exactly filled out to its edges with the larger presence of breath,” “a wash of the thriving.” I stamp my foot in applause, write notes on the pages, distribute my thoughts; Swensen makes of “viewing” a muscular verb.
Art In Time is made up of twenty sequences of lyric prose composed as essay-poems, each of which examines a particular artist’s work… Her essay-poems exist as a blend of research, commentary and critique around a field or fields of movement by her chosen artist, and on their chosen work or works… As Swensen describes through her introduction, the pieces in Art In Time exist as an extended essay on depictions of and approaches toward landscape through visual art, layered through individual “chapters” around individual artists.
In the past, landscape art was often used to install and consolidate power over nature. According to Swensen, the artists in Art in Time, on the other hand, call for a mutual relationship and understanding between man and nature and a better awareness of possible participation and interaction.
Click here to read a poem from the book in Poetry Daily!
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