Schipper often uses modified industrial machinery to slowly move objects into each other at a glacial pace. In his piece The Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle, 2008, Schipper used large hydraulic cylinders to push two full-sized American muscle cars into a simulated 30 mph head-on collision that took a week to complete; each car moving towards the other at about 5 mm per hour. What is generally seen as a terrifying event (a car crash) was transformed into a reflective space holding complex questions. Viewers could, at their leisure, contemplate the forces of time and motion that were slowly bringing these solid objects towards their inevitable demise.
In the piece, Cubicle, Schipper built out a fully equipped office space at Rice Gallery; complete with computers, water cooler, and desks resplendent with family photos, staplers, and coffee cups. All the objects in the room were connected via thin cables to a large winch capable of pulling 45 tons. The winch pulled the objects slowly into a 150mm hole located at the far corner of the room, every minute of every hour of every day during the show. The monotonous pace of a workday was replaced with the slow physical movement of all the objects in the space. The objects moved at the rate of 1.6mm per hour towards the hole in the wall, eventually colliding with one another into a large destructive mass over the course of 3 months. “Compared to a destructive event like an explosion, it was achingly slow. Compared to geological change, it was happening at lightning speed. It was a reminder, though, that the only certainty is that things will change. A moment cannot be recovered.” Joshua Fischer
Schipper’s work is about the constant now, its relation to the narrative of the past, and a future that is ultimately subject to speculation, imagination, and superstition. In Slow Room, 2014 in State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Schipper drew upon the museum’s convention of the period room, wherefrom behind a barrier visitors could see a cozy-looking, old-fashioned American living room that over time became a chaotic clump of debris. In viewing Slow Room, the viewer sees only a slice of the entire event, the entire piece. They can imagine what events preceded the scene before they arrived and what might happen in the future, but the limited nature of our perception of time allows them to only see a fraction of the entire piece. They can only know the ultimate fate of the sculpture by returning at a later date.
Contemporary artwork attempts to subvert the movement of time, by placing ideas into durable objects, the artist imagines they will attain a level of immortality. Whereas Schipper’s work lies in opposition, centering on the concept that new ideas are formed constantly, and by embracing the chaotic we embrace what is most alive. At a molecular level, everything is in constant motion, leaving Jonathan’s work a reflection of the basic logic of structure and time.