Attempt to form squares instead of circles around a stone falling into water
Panel proposal for the ‘Fragments of Time’ conference,
by Andrea Rossi, PhD Candidate, Lancaster University
Confirmed speakers: Prof. Michael Dillon, Dr. Arthur Bradley, Prof. Charlie Gere.
[Note: We are currently looking for a fourth speaker, a PhD student or junior academic, please do get in touch if you’re interested.]
The 1’55’’action, we are led to believe, is a fragment of an otherwise infinite performance. Whilst it would be tempting to read into it a comment on the infinite circularity of time and the purposelessness of human action, the artist appears to suggest something quite different: his ‘attempt’ is not unending because hopeless, but precisely because it is driven by a genuine faith in its possible accomplishment. If this was not the case, after all, the performance would be a mere divertissement; a hollow pastime. Experience can undo physics – and so can art, De Dominicis glossed, when celebrating the overcoming of the second law of thermodynamics.
His ‘attempt,’ I would suggest, does not gesture at the elliptic nature of time. At stake, here, is a somehow contrary operation, one that seeks to stretch the calculable pace of time to infinity. One needs to have an eternity in one’s sight in order to ‘attempt’ the absurd; one has to become untimely – ‘immortal’ – if one is to imagine the as-yet-impossible . How could man ever create, were he to abide to the laws of (his) time? How could he set the pace of his world, if he was chained to the logic of re-production?
Action is the indefinite longing for a time to come. Creation must disrupt the reassuring teleology of an age: it must be dreadful, out-of-time, disproportionate – “I am not very much interested in modern art or in the ancient one. I prefer the antediluvian one” (De Dominicis).
Starting from these reflections, I wonder how to characterize the tempo of politics and resistance today, in as much as they too are forms of creation. If, as is often claimed, politics can no longer play out ‘grand narratives’, what would its proper time be – a time that has not yet been, nor can be deduced from the laws of the present? Who is to persuade us that now – right now? – it is time to ‘square the circle’? On what ground are we to imagine a future whose pace would be irreducible to today’s? That is to say, following De Dominicis, how to envisage an ‘eternity’ before ourselves?
The panelists will be asked to deliver short presentations (10 min) engaging these questions, possibly with reference to other art or literary works. Ideally, the papers will be followed by a fairly long discussion/ Q&A session (30 min).
Plate 1. Attempt to fly (1969)
 While talking of his work ‘Attempt to fly’ (1969; a 2’ video where the artist is shown while repetitively trying to take off from a hill and fly), De Dominicis said: “I have decided to learn to fly. I have repeated this exercise for the past three years. Probably I will never be able to fly, but if I will make my children and their children and grandchildren repeat this exercise, one day one of my descendants will suddenly discover to be able to fly.” (see plate 1)
 On 18th December 1972 De Dominicis gave a ‘cocktail party to celebrate the overcoming of the second principle of thermodynamics’ at Palazzo Taverna, Rome. The following text was shown at the party: “If all men could imagine and desire their own salvation, the conservation of their body for eternity would mean that, finally, there would have been no dispersion, no mental entropy. Therefore, the second principle of thermodynamics would no longer be valid because it would be contradicted by the behaviour of an organism that can plan, without any distraction, its own eternal condition as an isolated system” (see plate 2)
 The theme of immortality is central to all of De Deminicis oeuvre. So much so that in 2010, the MAXXI (National Museum for XXI Century Art, Rome) dedicated to the artist a retrospective exhibition titled “Gino de Dominicis. The Immortal”