Where the thinking stops…

Starting with Walter Benjamin’s comments on Paul Klee’s ‘Angelus Novus’, this essay looks at the present as a place between past and future, a place where past actions and future intentions meet. From Rut Blees Luxembourg, Katherine Yass and Uta Barth, to Tacita Dean, Jane and Louise Wilson and Victor Burgin, contemporary artists working in photography and video, seem obsessed with capturing the present as a frozen moment, often in relation to permanently or temporarily abandoned buildings. These images are suggestive. These places have not always been and will not always be empty. Their very emptiness in the present passing moment allows us to project all kinds of alternative scenarios onto them – past and future. Like detectives we search for clues, traces of past occupations; like script writers, we set up props for future activities. A similar kind of interest can be found in the work of artists intervening in abandoned spaces, such as Ann Hamilton; dealing with material expressions of absence and presence, such as Rachel Whiteread; or exploring decay and transience, such as Anya Gallaccio.

This chapter was published as Jane Rendell, ‘Where the Thinking Stops’, Malcolm Miles and Tim Hall (ed.), Urban Futures, (London: Routledge, 2002).

Images: Jane Rendell
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