The exhibition A New Refutation of Time is Argentinean artist David Lamelas’s (Buenos Aires, 1946) first retrospective in Europe. At Witte de With Lamelas is presenting an overview of his photographic series, films and media installations. Three early installations, including Situación de tiempo, have been specially reconstructed for this exhibition.

David Lamelas is one of the pioneers of the innovations in the sixties and seventies that redefined the status of art. Lamelas’s work from this period analyzes art as a means of communication, relating it to how information is conveyed by such media as the newspaper, radio and television. In light of the current discussion on the relationship between art and the entertainment industry, his critique of the passive role imposed on the public by the mass media is in particular once again topical.

Lamelas’s work is unfettered. His search for new ways of making and presenting art brought him from Argentina to Europe, where he has maintained close ties with such artists and Marcel Broodthaers and Daniel Buren, and finally to the United States, where he has made the film and television industry the theme and context of his work. In retrospect, one can see that it was Lamelas’s decision to work beyond the institutional system of the visual arts that primarily caused his work to disappear from the public eye.

With the exception of being included in the important retrospective Reconsidering the Object of Art 1965 – 1976 held by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1995, Lamelas’s work has hardly been shown since the seventies. A New Refutation of Time calls attention to Lamelas’s film and media installations at a moment in which they can again be meaningful. This work contrasts significantly with recent art, which frequently takes the mass media as a starting point. In the work of the younger generation of artists, which grew up with film and television, the critical distance with which Lamelas provided insight into the effects of the various media has given way to full acceptance of the media and their influence. The alienating effect that Lamelas realizes through his use of media is replaced in their work by a self-evident appropriation of television’s visual language. His work challenges us to again take distance and to question the role of such media as television and the new media.

About the work

Lamelas’s first works were paintings and “shaped canvasses” inspired by popular culture. He subsequently made “site-specific” sculptural installations that shattered the convention of the autonomous work of art. In these installations, rather than concentrating on the isolated art object, he stressed the artwork’s relationship with conventional exhibition architecture, thus bringing the supposed neutrality of the institutional framework into discussion. Lamelas further developed his critical practice of art by using the mass media and means of communication tools. For example, the installation Situación de tiempo (1967) consists of 17 television sets in a darkened space. The televisions are turned on but tuned to a non-existent channel; rather than conveying information as usual, they only transmit a bright light, thus becoming manifest as the carriers of information.

During the highly talked about Venice Biennial of 1968 Lamelas turned the Argentinean pavilion into a center for information on the most important news of the day: the Vietnam War. The latest news was received by telex and read aloud in several languages through a microphone. Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels: The Visual Image, Text and Audio confronted the art public with political rather than aesthetic information. The installation thus recalled the original political function of the national pavilions at the Venice Biennial. In such works as Cumulative Script (1971) and Film Script (Manipulation of Meaning) (1972), Lamelas transferred his analysis of information to the realm of fiction. Through photographic series and film installations he investigated how meaning is constructed and manipulated by the sequential structure of film. In The Desert People (1974) Lamelas first film intended for the cinema rather than museum he combined genres of documentary and road movie. Reportage fiction meet as well in video films which imitated such stereotypical t.v. talk show evening news, made these works Los Angeles an ironic commentary on American commercial television where difference between news entertainment blurs.

Realized in collaboration with the Kunstverein München, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona and the Fundação de Serralves in Porto, the exhibition has been generously supported by the Argentinean embassy in The Hague.