BAR Magazine

Issue 02

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The Physicality of Time: Works and Representations

A Critical Perspective

by Jameson Johnson

8 November 2017

Marilyn Arsem at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. November, 2015.

I had a friend recently tell me that she “isn’t very good at conceptualizing time.” Fair enough. Nor am I. I’ll spare us the trouble of getting into a complex study of the space time continuum, time dilution theory, or even relativity because theorists/scientists on the internet can do a far better job than I ever will.

I will however, share with you some of my favorite depictions of the passage of time through art and experimentation.

Perhaps you’re interested in listening to Gustav Holst’s The Planet’s symphony while reading along?

Marilyn Arsem’s 100 Ways to Consider Time

From November 6th 2015 to February 9th 2016, 77 year old Marilyn Assam spent six hours a day for 100 days in a small room at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Here, the 64 year old performance artist, worked with the space, her audiences, and various props to create an ongoing narrative of the consideration of the relativity of time.

I visited Marilyn in mid November. She sat at table with about 30 or so small rocks in front of her. I watched carefully as she arranged the rocks without an apparent pattern or reason.

Slowly, other visitors entered the room. Together, we were quiet. Some giggled at the silence–seemingly uncomfortable at the position of being an onlooker. I too felt as though I was invading a sacred space. I struggled to make eye contact with Marilyn. She did not look up when someone entered or left the room, nor did she alter her movement when someone leaned in closer to observe her actions. Stoicism dressed in a long black dress. I cant deny the level of Marina Abromavic’s “The Artist is Present” that Marilyn is channeling here.

Her depiction of time varied over the course of the 100 days. On some afternoons she would pose a question and engage in conversation with her ever changing audience. Other days she would maneuver her body across the floor, calculating and meditating upon the time and distance she experienced through the movement.

I admired the time that was deliberately spent on the act of considering time. She showed us that time is not just seconds on a clock, but could be rocks on the floor, or breaths in an hour. For a far more detailed piece on engagement with Marilyn Arsem, this review from Big Red and Shiny should do the trick.

Marilyn Arsem at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. November, 2015.

Tomas Saraceno’s Space Time Continuum Playground

Okay guys here’s a big one. In case we ever wanted to hop inside Carl Sagan’s book “Cosmos,” Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno built it for us. In 1,200 square meters of suspended plastic, visitors crawled through representations of the relationship between time and space. The interactive structure was designed by Saraceno and a team of engineers at Hanger Bicocca in Milan—a space uniquely large enough to host such a structure.

The cube is often used by scientists to describe space, but time is harder to visualize or conceptualize because of supernatural factors, gravity, energy, curvature, etc. Here, in the membrane like structure, the people move through the layers of space and showcase how the concept of time and perceptions of reality change with the movement of bodies.

Marilyn Arsem at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. November, 2015.

Tomas gave a lecture at MIT where he got into the nooks and crannies of this whole spacetime thing. I highly highly highly recommend watching this.

The model that Saraceno puts forth asks us to consider if what we see and experience is really true. From below the membrane structure, it may appear as though a person is above or below another person, when in reality, the layers between them tell us otherwise. See below how people crawled through the structure, using gravity and movement to maneuver between layers.

Tomas Saraceno, On Space Time Foam (2012) Milan.

If you love this as much as I do, you’ll be pleased to know that this isn’t the only large scale exhibition that Tomas Saraceno has opened to the public. His Flying Garden debuted at the Met in 2012. In an interview, we was aptly asked if he “had a problem with gravity. “To which he responded, -Whoa, no idea. I think Cedric Price was once asked a similar question. Fortunately, we do not have problems, only opportunities. I like the idea that a problem can become an opportunity, a problem as the driving force behind developing something new. In your question there is half of the answer: gravity is a physical psycho-social relationships.”

Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”

For my Boston and LA friends, I hope by now you’ve gotten to experience the explosion of Big Ben at midnight from the comfort of the rows of IKEA couches. Although Christian Marclay can be an institutional prick, his creation of this 24 hour film is an impressive feat which took over 3 years, dozens of teams, and $100,000.

Tomas Saraceno, On Space Time Foam (2012) Milan.

It’s hard to settle into the film, and even harder to watch all 24 hours. With thousands of clips from television of movies with glimpses or clocks, timers, stopwatches, hourglasses, or other non-obvious mentions of time, one feels as though they are constantly reaching the climax but never seeing it come to fruition. The clock runs in sync with the time of day. As you watch Morgan Freeman tell you it is 4:03pm, it is truly 4:03pm wherever you may be (Boston, Los Angeles, Paris, etc.) The deeper you sink into the snapshots, searching for a story line or connection, the easier it becomes to lose track of the present.

In a somewhat unnerving interview, Marclay explains that The Clock is truly a push and pull between being sucked into fragments of narrative while being fully indulged in the present passage of time.

Darren Almond’s Tide and other works

If there’s anything like watching paint dry, it’s watching minutes turn on a clock. It happens, without cue, without permission, without stopping. Channeling the physical engagement with the passage of time, Darren Almond’s Tide (2008) alters the manner in which viewers engage with the passing of time. His installation is comprised of 600 working clocks which moved simultaneously along the expansion of a wall. Every 60 seconds, the flaps of the clock fold over themselves, creating an echoing boom throughout the room.

Tide by Darren Almond, 2008.

Viewers watch as the clocks flap and fold, as if something unexpected were to happen. Yet every moment the time still passes relentlessly, unwavering, a constant reminder of the futility of it all.

This video by Matthew Marks Gallery showcases more of Almond’s works which consider time. It’s a mediocre video. Maybe Darren Almond is a mediocre artist.

Date’s are time too. Here’s a plug for On Kawara who abandoned his classical training in painting to only utilize paint for these date paintings. Though identical in form and process, the nuances of his dates were dependent on location, mood, events, etc. Here’s a lovely Guggenheim video to show us more.

On Kawara from the Today series, 1994. Photo courtesy of Guggenheim.

Perhaps we forget the clocks. Perhaps they are the poorest representatives of time all together. A handy tool for avoiding tardiness, but a tool nonetheless. The passage of time, as we know, is far more subjective. To be considered through people, events, moments, letters, dinners, rocks on the floor, waves of sound, or waves of ocean.