If you believe you have a soul, then likely you believe that Nature is a balm for all that ails it. But both are fictional constructs, drawing on ideas borrowed from religion, philosophy, poetry and the arts. Many of the works on view in the Hirshhorn Museum’s exhibition “Days of Endless Time” reflect the sadness and anxiety we feel when we face up to these facts dispassionately and honestly.
When the exhibition was announced, as part of the Hirshhorn’s 40th anniversary season, it sounded like an exercise in high-end art therapy. The works are drawn from top international video artists, including Douglas Gordon, David Claerbout, Robert Wilson and Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and are offered as responses to “the frantic, 24/7 flow of information and the ephemerality of digital media.” The show’s themes, according to the museum’s Web site, “include escape, solitude, enchantment, and the thrall of nature.”
Spend time with them, however, and it seems more like a show about the impossibility of escape, the disenchantment of solitude and the astonishing amount of work and self-discipline it takes to find ourselves truly in thrall to nature. The first work visitors see, Su-Mei Tse’s 2003 video “L’Echo,” shows a women in a red dress, sitting on a chair, playing the cello on a brilliant patch of green grass; beyond lies a world of precipitous alpine chasms and rugged mountains. Perhaps this recalls the 18th-century idea of the sublime —the over-awing power of boundless nature, yet nature that has no power over us. But the colors and the staging of the scene leave us uneasy. The green is too green and the placement of the human figure, upstage right, feels contrived.