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Timekeeper, Timemaker: The Art of Julia Feyrer

Back in 2005, the Vancouver artist Julia Feyrer was keeping time as a drummer for the short-lived but internationally popular rock band They Shoot Horses Don’t They? In March of 2012, with her debut solo exhibition of clock-based sculptures and looping 16-mm films, “Alternatives and Opportunities” at Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Feyrer stopped time. In the seven years between the rock show and the art show, representations of time became a recurring theme in Feyrer’s art. It’s a broad subject, and Feyrer’s treatment of this theme is also open-ended–she makes sculptures, films, and installations that all deal in different ways with our perception of time. The work she is perhaps best known for is the Poodle** Dog Ornamental Bar, 2009, a time travelling speakeasy she constructed in the backyard of a rented house as a working recreation of a local saloon that last served drinks in the 1890s.

We think of time as a system of measurement, but it is almost entirely a construct of memory and imagination. Measure velocities in space with time, measure the regression of time with history; time is both linear and circular, a perplexing fact of consciousness. Despite the apparent empiricism of clocks and calendars, for centuries people have pulled their chins over the question of whether or not time even exists at all, except as a figment of our imaginations. Martin Heidegger said we are time and time is us and is inseparable from our conscious minds, an illusion of necessity full of deep-seated paradoxes, not all that different from money. Henri Bergson sought to define duration as relative to time, and then Einstein observed that time itself was relative, a fourth dimension. The dimension of memory, hallucination, dream and boredom. And to that end, Julia Feyrer’s artwork seems often to ask this fundamental question: Does our socialized notion of time do an accurate job of representing how we experience life?

At the entrance to “Alternatives and Oppor-tunities,” Feyrer presented a piece called Little pitchers have big ears, 2012–a familiar-looking row of headphones and museum audio-guide clickers, and a bust which was a man’s somnolent head. The plaster skull was filled with mugwort, an herb known to promote intense and lucid dreams, even purportedly effective on your consciousness just being in the same room. To enter this dream, you put on the headphones. The audio you would hear was Feyrer’s two-channel re-recording of the soundtracks inside the rooms of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC. (The museum’s expertly designed audio experiences are intended to amplify the sense of verisimilitude for the surrounding wildlife and human history dioramas.) Feyrer’s binaural recording imports the nature sounds along with the spatiality of the museum into her own exhibition cube, so that all the echoes of the interior of the museum sound as if they are bouncing off the white space of the gallery. With the headphones on, the sound of sea lions and wild birds and cattle runs and train sounds and Chinatown seem intended for the context of Feyrer’s show.

A short 16-mm film, Artist’s Studio, 2012, relates to daguerreotypes of still lifes the proto-photographer Louis Daguerre arranged in his studio in the 1830s. Feyrer has made her own versions of these objects, the lentil-shaped canteen, Daguerre’s stone relief made out of cardboard, lots of foil for curtains. The film shows these items being blown from the left by an electric fan.

To read the rest of the article pick up a copy of Issue No. 123, or subscribe here.

Volume 31, Number 3: Dreams and the Spaces In Between

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #123, published August 2012.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.