The other Friday night, as I lay there on my couch reading Don Quixote, I was briefly interrupted by an unexpected text from a fellow BAPS writer. The message read: “Opening tonight: Time-Based Painting (a work to be viewed in silence for a period of at least 10 minutes) by Bruce McLean at Tanya Leighton Gallery – sounds like your cup of tea, you should check it out!”
Ah, my cup of painting indeed (they already knew me too well). But despite my initial jolt of interest, I couldn’t help but simultaneously feel hesitance with the questions arising from the premise of this exhibition: What will be different/unusual about these ten minutes in front of this particular painting compared to the other 925,603 minutes (educated guess) that I’ve spent looking at other paintings? Most audacious of all, why must I view it in silence? Is that even possible? Find me a place in Berlin where I can experience anything in silence and I’ll scream with surprise (paradox intended).
Now, was I supposed to take this seriously? Or was this a joke, a prank, or perhaps an elusive work of conceptual art? But more than a suggestion or guideline in parenthesis, I felt that what Bruce McLean was presenting here was ultimately a challenge. And as my master in all things, Don Quixote, would have done, I accepted the challenge gracefully. I mean, when was the last time you’ve experienced a work of art in silence for at least ten minutes?
Round One: Which Treats of the First Unfavorable Encounter by our BAPS Writer
I placed the book inside my backpack, put on my least squeaky shoes, and headed straight for Tanya Leighton Gallery to pursue this moment of silence. On the train ride there, I thought about the passengers that, like me, rode alone: the ones that entertained themselves poking the buttons of their cellular phones, the ones staring blankly at the empty spaces around them, and the others who anxiously turned the pages of books that would take their thoughts away from the awkward moment of sharing an enclosed space with a bunch of strangers. Were they having a moment of silence? Or were their thoughts as loud as mine? Was Bruce McLean referring to the silence of not speaking or the deeper silence where our thoughts cease to make noise? I presume his choice of words was intentionally vague—it’s safer and easier for an artist, I’ve discovered, to leave enough room for interpretation.