‘The shapes of time are the prey we want to capture. The time of history is too coarse and brief to be an evenly granular duration as the physicists suppose for nature time; it is more like a sea occupied by innumerable forms or a finite number of types.’
Time is a concept embedded in everyday experience. Within the fields of philosophy, science and phenomenology, it has long been analysed as a rational construct, a mechanistic means of spatial measurement, as well as an abstract idea of indivisibly flowing movement dependant on consciousness.
Exploring both the objective characteristics of time - the spatial means of measurement such as the clock, arrow, pendulum - and the subjective experience of time, which philosopher Henri Bergson described through the concept of durée (duration) - the works in this exhibition examine different ways artists have interrogated the theory of time.
The procession of time - cyclical, condensed, elongated, repeated - is addressed in a number of works, as well as the role of perception, memory and intuition in attempting to shape our understanding of what ultimately remains an elusive hypothesis.
'About Time' is curated by Susan May, Global Artistic Director, White Cube.
Artists: Darren Almond | Hanne Darboven | Olafur Eliasson | Cerith Wyn Evans | Mona Hatoum | On Kawara | Christian Marclay | Agnes Martin | Josiah McElheny | Tatsuo Miyajima | Roman Opalka | Park Seo-Bo | Haim Steinbach.
Metrics and Measures
Time can be measured, in terms of space, through the seconds, minutes, hours and days it takes the earth to revolve around the sun, a series of discrete moments or spatial markers. It can also be a lived experience, where duration involves flux and flow, where the past and present coexist in a continuous process of becoming.
Noli Timere, 2018
In Darren Almond’s Noli Timere (2018), the words that lend the work its title are embossed on a train plate. Translated from Latin to mean ‘Do not be afraid’, these were the last words to be communicated by the poet Seamus Heaney - a sentiment that had a profound effect on Almond. Here, individual highly polished letters emerge to spell ‘No Time’, offering a sense that while time itself continues, our individual experience of it is finite.
MAY 26, 1994, 1994
Marking temporal existence equally preoccupied On Kawara. The ‘Today’ series are paintings executed on canvas in a uniform landscape format and rendered in white against a monochrome background, each featuring the letter and numbers of the date on which the work was made. Over the course of his life, Kawara created almost 3,000 date paintings, the majority of which were accompanied by a hand-made box, lined with a clipping of the day’s newspaper from the city in which the painting was made. A headline from The New York Times on the date of the painting MAY 26, 1994 reads, ‘Space Telescope Confirms Theory of Black Holes’. While different dates may hold resonance for each individual, collectively the series addresses universal themes of history, mortality and time.
Bi-Counter No.2, 1988
In the work of Tatsuo Miyajima, time is the object rather than subject. Using small light emitting diodes (LEDs) that count repeatedly from one to nine, his sculptures and installations all follow the self-proclaimed principles that guide his art: ‘1) keep changing; 2) continue forever; 3) connect with everything’. Miyajima studied Buddhist philosophy, the tenets of which are reflected in the circular repetition of the counting numbers as a signal for the concept of death and rebirth, while zero, which represents an end, is never used.
Perfect Time (3 x 2), 2013
Quantifying time through an enforced structure crossing multiple cultures and languages is further examined in Darren Almond's sculpture Perfect Time (3 x 2) (2013). Consisting of a grid of six flip clocks which are syncopated to digital time, the display numbers have been rearranged so it is impossible to ascertain the actual time. The work points to the paradox that time is both constant and variable, abstract yet vital.
Pendulum (2019) by Almond depicts fragmented numbers that are abstract in form and with their meaning equivocal. The surface of the painting is built up using layers of different kinds of metal leaf, such as copper and silver, which absorb and reflect light in equal measure, allowing the discrete figures to emerge and disappear.
‘A thought line through space. The resulting landscapes of time or the light of time.’
Ecriture No. 37-73, 1973
Metaphysical considerations abound in the work of Park Seo-Bo and Agnes Martin, and both use seriality and repetition in their process driven works. In Park's painting Ecriture No 37-73 (1973), repetitive pencil lines inscribed onto a monochrome surface make manifest a quest for the concept of emptiness and the infinite.
Experience, Flow, Duration
In 1889, philosopher Henri Bergson wrote Time and Free Will in which he argued that time is a psychological concept dependent on consciousness. By imposing spatial constructs such as temporal coordinates, he contended that time itself then becomes a distortion of the real thing: ‘[…] the idea of a homogenised measurable time is shown to be an artificial concept, formed by the intrusion of the idea of space into the realm of pure duration.’ Attempting to measure time by counting separate fixed moments disrupts the experience of the passage of time, which has a durational quality and is a permeation of past, present and future.
Bergson was one of the first to give philosophical expression to the concept of moving images and cinema. If we regard time as a series of discrete spatial measurements, what we may think we are seeing as a continuous flow of movement is, in fact, a succession of fixed frames or still images.
Cotton buds, 2016
Lids and Straws (One Minute), 2016
In Christian Marclay's stop-motion animations Look (2016-19), Cotton buds and Lids and Straws (One Minute) (both 2016), photographs taken by the artist at different times of the day during his daily walks through London form a flickering collage of urban life. The oscillating images give the impression of an object remaining constant against a continually changing backdrop, recalling early cinema and animated devices of the 19th century such as the zoetrope.
‘[…] when we speak of time, we generally think of a homogenous medium in which our conscious states are ranged alongside one another as in space, so as to form a discrete multiplicity. Would not time, thus understood, be to multiplicity of our psychic states which intensity is to certain of them – a sign, a symbol, absolutely distinct from true duration.’
YOU ARE STILL HERE, 2013
Associations of time and place arise in YOU ARE STILL HERE (2013) by Mona Hatoum. The title, etched onto the surface of a wall mirror, marks a boundary between the viewer and their reflection and in doing so, presents a visual correspondence between the inside and outside of the mirror. The phrase is an affirmation of one's presence and location, while the inclusion of the word 'still' points to a continuum of existence.
Cerith Wyn Evans’ Neon Forms (after Noh XI) (2018-19) is part of a group of ‘neon drawings’. Inspired by the expression of Japanese Noh theatre, the works illustrate movement over time through space. Here, that movement echoes the mathematical symbol denoting the concept of infinity, mirrored and upended.
‘If curves are more graceful than broken lines, the reason is that, while a curved line changes its direction at every moment, every new direction is indicated in the preceding one. Thus the perception of ease in motion passes over into the pleasure of mastering the flow of time and of holding the future in the present.’
Island Universe, 2005-2008
Price upon request
Scientific theories on the origins of time and the universe shape the work of Josiah McElheny. His film Island Universe (2005-08) focuses on the Lobmeyr-designed chandeliers at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Divided into five sections, each part of the film features a diagram on the structure of a hypothetical universe, formulated by McElheny with the cosmologist David Weinberg.
Frozen Structure, 2008
This collaboration led to a larger installation featuring five models of the theory of the multiverse, which included Frozen Structure (2008).
‘In the potential infinity of time and space of 21st century astronomical cosmology, the world consists of something close to infinite individuality and uniqueness, without hierarchy.’
Crystal Landscape Painting (Sentinels), 2017
Taking the form of faceted wall reliefs with illuminated glass mirror interior chambers containing crystalline, abstract reflective objects, Crystal Landscape Painting (Sentinels) (2017) by McElheny channels the notion of the infinity mirror, with forms receding into endless space.
Time here becomes space, Space here becomes time (2014) is an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans intended to occupy two spaces in proximity but separate, so that the sentences are not viewed at the same time. It points to Evans' interest in the material presence of language as a form of 'call and response'.
Cerith Wyn Evans
340.29m/s (The Speed of Sound [approx.] at Sea Level), 2013
Evans’ exploration of language, light and sound are combined in 340.29m/s (The Speed of Sound [approx.] at Sea Level) (2013). Literally describing the speed at which sound travels through the air, the work brings together complex ideas around temporality in a single form.
Cerith Wyn Evans
Mobius Strip, 2006
‘[…] there are two kinds of multiplicity; that of material objects, to which the conception of number is immediately applicable; and the multiplicity of states of consciousness, which cannot be regarded as numerical without the help of some symbolical representation, in which a necessary element is space.’ Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will, 1889
Haim Steinbach's work going going gone (1999) is part of a series of installations using text appropriated from various sources, and applied directly to the wall. Steinbach's exploration of language, culture and context challenges the viewer to pause and consider what words and phrases actually mean. The text here could suggest time slipping away, like sand in an hourglass, until it runs out.
‘Rhythm and pace mark time and cadence and bring change’.
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