I first came across the above artwork in my first year at art school. I remember distinctly the joy it seemed to bring our very fashionable young lecturers and how weird, obscure or downright meaningless it seemed to most of the students.

Objectively, Tom Friedman’s 1000 Hours of Staring consists of a 32 1/2 x 32 1/2″ piece of white paper pinned to the wall – currently, a wall belonging to MOMA. Medium: Stare on paper. Yes, really, nothing but a sheet of paper, and apparently within that sheet of paper – a thousand hours of focused intention, spread out over five years. Thats about half an hour a day everyday for five years for perspective.

I can’t remember what I personally felt about this piece when I first encountered it. I don’t think I gave it much thought to be honest, being far more concerned at that stage of my life with doing – dreaming of possibility and investigating materials and techniques as far as they could help me to materialize these impassioned ideas as quickly as possible – always looking eagerly to the future.

Almost a decade later, and I am slowly learning a curiosity and reverence of time. To weave a textile by hand, laying down one thread after the next, is both an incredibly ancient and unbelievably time intensive occupation. In dedicating myself to such tedium, time has become a figure of reverence: In answer to a demand for absolute surrender to the time required to perform a task, the reward is a sense of timelessness in which hours pass entirely unnoticed; a loyalty to and alertness of presence is rewarded by an attention to detail which results in an otherwise unattainable quality, and a persistence to repetition is rewarded by a material archive of ones experience of time, the hours, the days, ones very life.

While staring at a sheet of paper does not create an apparent mark, the paper itself becomes in a way a mark. Through an engagement with a material over an extended period of time, that very material begins to serve as a marker, as a witness to an activity performed, a record of an engagement with time, an archive of a life spent. The result of an intentional manipulation of a material over time results in an object which serves not only as a record of its own existence, but the existence of the hands which shaped it and the environment in which it grew.

While the age old debate on definitions and values surrounding the distinction between craft and art rage on, my contemplative craft practice provides me with insights that I find humorously helpful in deciphering Conceptual Art which had been previously incomprehensible.

Tom Friedman1000 Hours of Staring (1992-97)

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