At the Rubin Museum, the Future Has Arrived. And It’s Fluid. : The New York Times

Posted On: Tuesday, June 25th, 2019 | by project88pressadmin

By Holland Cotter
Aug. 9, 2018

From the exhibition “A Lost Future,” a digital collage “Santiniketan Studies (A Century Before Us II): Infinite Study” (2018), by The Otolith Group. Credit: The Otolith Group, Rubin Museum.

From the exhibition “A Lost Future,” a digital collage “Santiniketan Studies (A Century Before Us II): Infinite Study” (2018), by The Otolith Group. Credit: The Otolith Group, Rubin Museum.

It flies and flows and creeps. You measure it, spend it, waste it. It’s on your side, or it’s not. We’re talking about time, and so is the Rubin Museum of Art, one of the biggest-thinking small museums in Manhattan. The Rubin is devoting its entire 2018 season and all six floors of galleries in Chelsea to time as a theme, with an accent on the future, a future which is making some of us nervous these days

If you’re a Buddhist — and much of the historical art at the Rubin is Buddhist, from the Himalayas — time is an especially complex subject because it’s not linear. It’s layered and cyclical, with past, present and future snarled up together. And that’s the way the Rubin presents it. So where to begin?

This era-leaping dynamic is operative in all parts of the Rubin’s multifloor thematic installation. And it’s brought closer to our own time in a contemporary show called “A Lost Future” on the fifth floor.

The centerpiece here is a dreamy film by the two-person London-based Otolith Group (Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun). Titled “O Horizon,” it might be described as a species of creative nonfiction, an interpretive documentary. It was shot at Santiniketan, in rural West Bengal, India, where the poet Rabindranath Tagore established a utopian school in 1921. It gave equal weight to the arts and sciences and promoted the notion that all learning should take place outdoors, in parklike settings.

In the century since, Tagore’s “tree-schooling” project, intended as a departure from British colonial education, has been criticized as elitist and nationalist, a retreat from progressive political action in India. Although the school continues to be a training ground for traditional art, music and dance, it functions, some say, strictly as a museum.

The filmmakers don’t say that. They suspend judgment. They find beauty and let it be.

The confluence of past and present is detailed clearly in a spinoff series of digital prints that overlay color photographs of the present-day school with black-and-white images from a century ago. But the single most gripping demonstration of the school’s continuing relevance is in the film, which opens with a hellish explosion of fire and smoke generated by trucks working near the campus. The clamor subsides but later returns to punctuate scenes of dancing, singing and teaching under the trees.

Santiniketan is about 100 miles north of Kolkata. It can take a while to get there and that was part of Tagore’s plan, to simultaneously slow down and stimulate travelers as they approach what they know will be a life-altering place. Relax and excite: This is how pilgrimage works, and it has a timeless history in India. To Buddhists, the subcontinent is a geographic mandala defined by sacred sites. To visit them is to clock up frequent flier points for a final trip to the afterlife.

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