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* Published in Cluster - Atlas of suburbia. Sternberg Press. Berlin.

Time is all-pervasive; it defines our experience of things, our perception, and our world. It is “time” as a general concept that allows us to order and comprehend our activity in the present and unfolding future. Equally it is our means of organising meaning retrospectively as history. In this respect time serves as a framework to structure the very particular relationship between art and community; a relationship within which time can be “wasted” just as it can be filled with meaning.

Each community - and particularly communities within deprived neighbourhoods - has institutions and support structures in place. These include community centres, welfare professionals, community police, and so forth. Each has their own relatively clear measure of responsibility and authority in relation to community members: jurisdiction, type of activity, and communication protocol etc. Consequently, a very precise structure for daily activity is established along with the expectation of the provision of specific services. The significance of each institution or structure’s activities is the result of their constant presence in the neighbourhood and the clearly defined relationship they establish with the community. It is this consistency that justifies their existence in relation to the community. Also, in most places these institutions maintain very hectic and intense activities. 

The emergence and presence of an art institution within a particular neighbourhood and its subsequent artistic activity introduces possibilities for new relationships with communities. Art institutions are different by definition. In contrast to other, more typical institutions and structures, these arrive in a neighbourhood with no clear role or regulated activity. Equally the communities often have no prescribed sense of what form their relationship to such institutions could take or how they might be utilised. In such a context art can serve as a field for experimentation and a means to develop new modes of interactions that are not pre-determined. Art allows for, and even encourages the, “waste” of time; the possibility for activity without pre-determined goals. With that comes the possibility for unexpected encounters and the chance for new connections. In contrast to the various institutions and structures that justify their presence within a community by filling time with sequential, repeated tasks, art allows time to be played with and tested. It has a way of stretching time, manipulating it, and establishing its use in relation to the community. It can also introduce new pathways within the community and between residents and institutions.

Art institutions have another, very important capacity to participate in the ongoing story of particular community. The “bad name” of many neighbourhoods can impact pervasively on a community’s self-image and daily life. With that comes an almost complete lack of continuing narrative recording community existence; a story that begins with its past, exists in its present, and carries on into its future. Bad reputations have an internal and external power for the community, and it has an enduring strength that dictates the life situations of its members. One could say that, in the profoundest sense, “bad” neighbourhoods have a reputation but no history. Therefore, one potential art has within such communities is essentially archival. The gathering and analysis of information; the amassing of stories, photographs and documents; the generation of new material, the establishment of new narratives and memory; the processing of this gathered information to create new knowledge in collaboration with the community, can build an archive and museum that documents a community through artistic means. What art can offer within specific communities is the opportunity to rehabilitate and create local histories along with the possibility for a new local perception of time; past, present and future.

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