Ireland has a relatively long, if somewhat unacknowledged history of producing artists who excel at making time-based work, writes Cristín Leach.

Irish artist Alan Butler has been running a subtle piece of internet art in the form of a scheduled tweet for a year now. Whether or not it counts as a core part of his artistic output for 2016 isn’t clear, but for those who follow his feed, the repeat daily appearance of the line “How about that Donald Trump. What a crazy guy! Am I right?” has operated as a piece of temporal social media art since it started on 10 December 2015. “It works on the stopped clock is right twice a day principle," says Butler. As an action, it’s turned out to be uncannily prescient.

Butler makes work that comments on and often participates in the functioning of the internet. He is interested in the social and political implications of new media technology and he works in various mediums to produce installations, video, text and appropriated object works, drawings and gifs. Neh, Neh, Neh... I'm not Listening is an animated gif (Duration: infinite) featuring the face of Hillary Clinton, which he made in 2012.

Neh, Neh, Neh... I'm not Listening by Alan Butler 

Much of what Butler does counts as time-based art, in that the passing of time is one of the mediums involved. Ireland has a relatively long, if somewhat unacknowledged history of producing artists who excel at making time-based work.

Time-based art is essentially art that unfolds or evolves over time.

In his excellent book on the Rosc exhibitions, The Poetry of Vision, published in December, author Peter Shortt notes that the then relatively unknown British artist and temporal art pioneer John Latham exhibited at the first Dublin Rosc exhibition in 1967: “the concept of time-based art finds its source in his writings of the 1960s.” But it was another ten years before the wider Irish public got a real taste of time-based art, at Rosc ’77, when Irish artist James Coleman exhibited a piece in which he synchronised film projections with audio tape. The only other Irish-born artist in that show, Brian O’Doherty, also showed work in which the passage of time played a part. It was documentation of his 1972 Project Arts Centre performance, during which he adopted the name Patrick Ireland in response to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. That piece had an eventual duration of 36 years, and concluded when he reversed the decision at IMMA in 2008.

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Some of the most significant Irish artists making time-based art include Alice Maher, Duncan Campbell (at IMMA until 7 May 2017), Dorothy Cross, Clare Langan, Cecily Brennan, Richard Mosse, Aideen Barry, Willie Doherty, Frances Hegarty, Grace Weir, Connolly Cleary and Vera Klute, who makes animated and kinetic portraits that blink. Most of these artists use various combinations of film, video, digital animation and sound, as well as making other kinds of work ranging from photography to sculpture and performance to installation.

Performance art is inherently time-based, as in the work of Irish artist Amanda Coogan, whose remarkable mid-career RHA show is now running at the Limerick City Gallery of Art until 29 January 2017 and whose art always involves an essential element of ritual and endurance, frequently recorded and also presented in documentary form.

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Garrett Phelan has produced live radio broadcasts. Dublin-born Gerard Byrne, whose work featured in a major retrospective at IMMA in 2011, has been Professor of Time-based Art at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art, Copenhagen, since 2007. Jaki Irvine’s 1916 centenary commission, If the Ground Should Open, showing at IMMA until 15 January 2017, synchronises sound and television-screen visuals across a series of interconnected gallery spaces.

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Time-based art is essentially art that unfolds or evolves over time. Much of it is lens-made, taking the form of video or film, or that medium where much of it began in the 60's and 70's: slide-show art. But it can be other things too: a series of scheduled tweets, a malleable, deteriorating, growing or kinetic sculpture or installation, a durational performance. It’s not always gallery based. It can encompass audio art (in a gallery or on the radio), it can be found on television, at film festivals, in the theatre or in public space.

The element that connects this work is its ephemerality: its you-had-to-be-there quality. In other words, time is an indispensable medium through which this art works.