The lecture-performance Timeliness by Raqs Media Collective, ZKM_Media Theater, Photo: Felix Gruenschloss, © ZKM
Interview by Sara Giannini
“Timeliness” is a lecture-performance by Raqs Media Collective (RMC) that Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta performed at the ZKM as part of the event “Curating in Asia” on December 9, 2011. Speculating on the concept of “time”, Raqs Media Collective intertwines financial and political matters related to capitalism with ontological issues related to ephemerality and permanence. In an untimely, Internet time-based discussion, I interrogated them on the meaning and implications of simultaneity in the “global contemporary.”
Sara Giannini (SG): The lecture-performance Timeliness was first conceived in the frame of the “time/bank platform”, an e-flux project “where groups and individuals can pool and trade time and skills.” Would you tell us more about the idea of employing time as a currency?
RMC: The idea of deploying time in terms of monetary value is not a new one, and is central to the ideas of ‘interest’ in finance and the debates around usury. Perhaps the ‘time is money’ analogy stems from the notional scarcity of time in human life. Two different ideas of currency can emanate from our considerations of the value of time, depending on whether we think of time as scarce, or as abundant. The time as scarce gives rise to a currency of time that is similar to money as we know it. And this leads to the notions of ‘saving’, ‘hoarding’, ‘wasting’ and ‘spending’ time. This notion emphasizes the value of a unit of time as an abstract entity, regardless of what the time is spent on. On the other hand, if we think of time as abundant, our focus shifts from the quantity to the quality of time, and we can transact and exchange units of time that are not necessarily identical in quantity, even though we may bring them into relations of equivalence with each other.
SG: There is an intimate connection between “Timeliness” and “Escapement”, the work on show in “The Global Contemporary.” In both pieces imagination is meant as a way out from the tyranny of “this” time. How do you see the role of imagination after the much-proclaimed end of history?
RMC: As long as human beings are around to witness a succession of events, and as long as these events feature the push and pull of contrary forces and different desires, it is pointless to talk of an ‘end’ to history. Curiously, the thesis of ‘end of history’ leaves no room for imagination as a motive force in human affairs. It presumes, that with things coming to a static resolution in human affairs, there is no more any need for people to imagine different outcomes to the processes that mark their lives. Imagination is a motor of change and as we know, time is an index of it. In ”Escapement”, a discerning viewer will notice that three of the 27 clocks run ‘mirror time’. These three clocks are tagged with labels of three imaginary cities, while the 24 other clocks describe the time you would find in 24 actually existing cities. It is as if the mirror time of the three imaginary cities offers an ‘escape’ from a seeming eternity of the present. The imagination, by freeing us to inhabit the past, the future, or an alternative present, always incapacitates the vanity of the idea of the ‘end of history’.
SG: In modern times human sciences asserted that the multiplicities of human cultures were simultaneously living on different historical stages of development. What is the peculiarity of being contemporary in this world today?
RMC: Being contemporary today means giving up the claim that there is any validity to a developmental telos (cfr. end or purpose that was meant to be the goal of human progress and civilization.) that consigns some experiences in the present to what ‘has been exhausted’ and the elevation of others to ‘things that we should all aspire towards’. The hierarchy of experiences can no longer be made subject to a fiction of chronological order. This does not mean that we do not inhabit different temporal registers; it is just that the contemporary condition takes us away from ranking these registers along a developmental axis. That modernist vanity is now behind us. The contemporary condition involves a more modest and at the same time more realistic assessment of our place(s) in time.