The perception of time of the external world has long been a subject of discussion throughout human history. In addition to the explorations of physics, classical philosophy has also given paradigmatic answers. In the eyes of Heraclitus (around 544–483 BC), an ancient Greek philosopher, “everything flows and nothing is permanent”. The eternity, composed of countless instants, is endless in the infinite variety. The same idea can also be seen in the thought of Su Shi (a great ancient Chinese poet) on the water and moon in his poetry The First Ode on the Red Cliff. “The river flows endlessly, day and night, but it seems motionless. The moon waxes and wanes, yet it never grows bigger or smaller.” In the lines of Su Shi, things fade like water and wax and wane like the moon. The water and the moon in nature change in every instant but also for eternity. The dialectical thought on the instant and eternity is just like the indivisible time and the endlessly changing extensions: we stay temporarily in a time period and cannot turn back from the path of time.
Also, in the history of art, “the instant and eternity” is a lasting theme. In the creation of classical artworks, the fragility of the materials has framed the works in the finiteness of the time. Nevertheless, they have brought about a spiritual force that breaks the barriers of time and space and resonates deeply in the heart of generations of viewers. Such classical works have often captured and presented the instants of the scenarios that left us with an emotional experience. They are either “decisive” or “irreplaceable spaces”, which integrate the creators with the dialectical thinking and feelings in the works, combining with the language, era, aesthetics, and so on to form a physical memory. It is a personal observation and collective memory in the slices of the times; it also reflects the changes of the times and the groups behind the individual images; and it conveys sincere feelings and awareness, giving rise to a sense of life that cannot be eroded by the time. It brings about a sudden impact on the soul that gives rise to the resonance of imagination and emotion that comes across time and space. The frozen instants in the works are thus born in every inch of the present but lead to an endless future as well.
For procedural art, the passing away of the instants in the time flow is the core value that the works themselves aim to convey. For such a transient process, the works cannot totally reproduce them, but the acute sense of concept and sense of belief can permanently stimulate the new practices.
With the development of society and technological advances, works based on digital art have built a new “space-time” platform. While the classical art that does not require self-evidence of uniqueness is in pursuit of permanence, in the digital time-space dimension, “finiteness” seems to be the only way to achieve “value eternity”. While classical artworks and procedural artworks inherently contain a dialectical relationship between the material instant and the spiritual eternity, art in the digital landscape contains new thinking about the value of time and space.
This section attempts to respond to the theme in the three dimensions of “instant”, “process” and “digitalization” by presenting the classic works of contemporary art produced from home and abroad as examples. Meanwhile, the relationship between the finite nature of the exhibition and the permanence that the works keep pursuing is as much a dialectical relation between the instant and eternity. With the glory of permanence in the instants, let eternity be collected and treasured.