In 1529 Albrecht Altdorfer completed his Battle of Issos for Wilhelm IV of Bavaria: a fresco of just over one and a half square metres seething with several thousand soldiers. For this meticulous recreation of Alexander the Great’s last battle in 333 BC – a decisive event for the Western world – the artist drew heavily on the advice of the court historiographer. The standards carried by those of the combatants shown still living bear a detailed accounting of the participants, the prisoners and the dead. Moreover, the Persians confronting Alexander bear a strange resemblance to the Turks who, in 1529, were besieging Vienna. So to what time frame do we assign this work, painted simultaneously in the present, future and past tenses?
As the snapshot was succeeded by edited movie image and then by the real time of the computer, the temporal context of the work of art became harder and harder to pin down, to believe in, even as its reality level seemed to rise. What is this context today? This is the issue raised by the 2005 Lyon Biennale. Speed, acceleration, slowdown, pause: art now seems a call to the construction of a new reality.
As the representation of history gradually cuts free of the notion of progress, and even of any prospect of change, artists are turning to the shaping of temporality: rewind – pause – fast forward. Painting is a lesson in slowness, while real time outstrips media hyper-rapidity. At the Lyon Biennale real time and simultaneity will generate a network of Europe’s art centres: in synergy with the Biennale, Leipzig, Stockholm, Vienna, Ghent and other cities will invite artists, put on shows and create multi-chapter works – for simultaneous viewingt.