The capitalist organisation of space is nothing but training in a space where you lose your shadow…1 Vaneigem
Crossriver, the emerald city shimmers. Financial wizards cast their dice and the sun glints off chimerical gelt that keeps us down to size. Wealth glistens, but not here, not just yet. Gamblers’ time is still held at bay, on the other side of time. Here on this bank, the clock’s fallen overboard and left the lost boys and girls on the spot, digging down through stratigraphic layers of time or practicing disorienteering as they wander beyond the chartered minutes of the day, on into the shadows of dusk.
The Greenwich Meridian cuts straight across the river-bend at Enderby’s Wharf, the Over Time site. Why did I come here in the first place? Wandering past heritage, preservation ordered history, past the scrap metal and corrugated iron with its patina of decayed industrial romance, the charming sabi of ruined urban modernity, I emerged on to the shore, Coming face to face with skeleton boats that pulled me back here to draw, to explore these beached fragments of dreams with their magical shapes, crafted to slice through waves and cross time zones. Drawing is a form of time travel, as light from the past hits objects and enables us to see in the full and constant present. We are always looking backwards, and projecting forwards, slipping into the future, playing out ‘the line’ like a whaler to stay on course.
The first successful transatlantic cables were manufactured at Enderby’s Wharf in the 1850s and cast a long, connecting shadow. Alcatel, the last telecommunications presence has only just left. In that 19th century London, the desire to halt the flow of time and tide, burrow through stratigraphic layers and contact the dear departed was a powerful force. Many believed the telegraph would actually allow psychic communications and also that: ‘…telegraphic technology would lead to nothing less than a utopian age. “The world, it has been said, will be made a great whispering gallery.”2 “What has God wrought?”3 Whispers from past industrial lives are audible in generations of soft wooden jetties and hard green metal on wet sand. This riverside place is old, shabby and corrupted: resonant with past endeavours and yet, renewed in the rhythm of the tide that changes everything, washing up whole new microcosmic worlds twice a day, waiting for nobody. Industrial decay is a magnet for daydreamers, stretching out the elastic present. Overshadowed now by future developments in the hard, angular shape of new apartment blocks, cordoned off gardens and, soon to arrive, the huge cruise- liner terminal that will all-but destroy the shoreline… no more mudlark wanderings here.
The shadowy, sundial way of looking: open to the sky and softly creeping longer with our own cast, will be lost. The relentless ticktock, clock-bound regulation of time arrived
with longitude, modern capitalism and the railways, creating new anxieties about being on time, defining the days of our cash-strapped lives and restricting all human life in its wake. Before: ‘Time died at its own pace, suiting its transit to its location.’ After: ‘… by decree, anywhere and everywhere had to come over, check in, attach themselves to the machine (heart) locked within the dome on Greenwich Hill.’4 And, in the mean- time: ‘The present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight only in its recollection.‘5 Work, worry, leave your dreams at the gate as time winds mortally down or you will find yourself cast adrift,vagrant and worth not so much as the time of day. Time, we all know instinctively is entirely elastic. If we stop watching the clock for even a moment, it will stretch out infinitessimally or race by in an altered state.
I have aspired no further than the clockwork of the soul 6
In Over Time, eleven artists are stranded on this stretch of the Thames foreshore with no temporal markers, save their embodied, perceptual selves, encountering time only through experimental practice: watching, listening, wandering, gathering, thinking, draw- ing, proposing, writing… as time goes by. In the initial discussions for Over Time, artists were asked to consider the fluidity, occult nature, politics, value and perception of time, including the proposition that traces remaining in the physical landscape enable us to cross boundaries and ‘travel’ in time. They are left to inhabit the space for an exact and fixed amount of ‘clock’ time: five hours: an inversion of the Situationist injunction for participants in the ‘derive’ to:
…abandon, for an undefined period of time, the motives generally admitted for action and movement, their relations, their labor and leisure activities,
In this project, ‘clock’ time is fixed to enable exploration: arguably, a psychogeography of time rather than space. The same time is found differently in this uncanny urban terrain through a different parallax view, shifting perspectives. The artists make time- pieces in ‘vertical’ time: reconstellating their perceptual pasts in the present. This artists’ time is elastic, multi-layered and collective. Like Bergson’s durée, 8 it is interior, fluid and nonlinear: stretching beyond successive cartesian frames. In the works, we en- counter a composite temporality: the variable rhythms of sound, paint, film and movement. Žižek suggests that: ‘in the work of art… it is time itself that we experience…’ 9
The Thames at Greenwich: the tidal river, industrial decay and the acceleration of property-capital. As the concrete takes over, I still hear lightermen, dockers, sailors, fisherman, factory hands and tidal flaneurs: watching, hearing, being with the movement of flotsam tides that carry old bones, claypipes, wood, rust and chains. In this jetsam of past days, I feel the stratigraphic, ‘…grandiose time of coexistence that does not exclude before and after but superimposes them..’ 10 and hope for a collective, co- operative expanded temporality in the future. Fifty years ago, the Situationists be- moaned a different level of encroaching urbanism: ‘..cemeteries in reinforced concrete are being built where great masses of the population are condemned to die of boredom…’ Now, as then, ‘We require adventure’ 11
Anne Robinson 2014
(essay from exhibition booklet. Image at top: from The International Western: Calling All, performance, September 13th, 2014 in Over Time)
1. Vaneigem, R. (2004), ‘Comments Against Urbanism’, trans. J. Shepley, in: T. McDonough (ed.) Guy Debord and the Situationist International, Cambs. Mass., MIT Press, p121
2. Sconce, J. (2000), Haunted Media, Durham, Duke University Press (also citing Ezra Gannet, Boston, 1858), p 22 3. First telegraph message, transmitted by Samuel Morse, 24 May 1844, Supreme Court, Washington DC
4. Sinclair, I. (2002), Downriver, London. Granta, p 171
5. Tarkovsky, A. (1989), Sculpting in Time, Austin, University of Texas Press, p 58
6. Artaud, A. (1976), ‘The Nerve Meter’, in: S. Sontag (ed.), Selected Writings, Berkeley, Univ. Cal. Press, p80
7. Debord, G. (1997), Theory of the Dérive, London, Atlantic, p50
8. Bergson, H. (2002), ‘Duration and Simultaneity,’ in: K. Ansell-Pearson and J. Mullarkey, eds., Key Writings, trans. M.
McMahon,London: Continuum, pp. 203-220
9. Žižek, S. (2012), Organs Without Bodies, London, Routledge, p 9
10. Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1994), What is Philosophy? trans. G. Burchell & H. Tomlinson, London: Verso p59
11. Vaneigem (2004), p 95
The Facility Practice as Research group: Brew discussions:
At two round-table discussions, artists involved the Over Time art project engaged in two round table discussions with other creative practitioners from The Facility at London Met.
Each artist was asked to bring a thought, a word, an object or an image for informal discussion in response to the following proposals:
1. an understanding of temporality which only deals with regulated clock time is limited: our lived experience of temporality is fluid, multidimensional, occult, expansive, and emotional
2. art can liberate us from conventional temporality – offer us an altered ‘time base’ a new ‘frame rate’ or a different ‘exposure’
3. time is political and the value of the meantime is a matter of life and death
4. we can listen with intent, concentrate and allow our habitual modes of embodied and psychic temporal perception to slip
5. traces remaining in the physical landscape enable us to cross boundaries and ‘travel’ in time
Further material form these discussions to follow soon.
Some further thoughts about time and art:
Time travel is probably impossible… We all live within the space-time continuum and know that though time is relative …moving forward, scientifically speaking, to go back would entail warp speed propulsion, impossible accelerations, faster than the speed of light.
But what about our embodied, perceptual experience of being alive? are all our encounters rational? scientifically coherent?
And what speed do we live by?
I would suggest that our extra-ordinary, super-normal, physical human experience of living in time is strange enough.. to remember, to imagine.. to be in our haunted flesh and bones. We look by looking backwards as time travels through us, propelling us into the future. As physical and metaphysical phenomenon, ‘seeing’ is strange, uncanny, magical..
Philosopher Merleau-Ponty tells us that artists practice ‘a magical theory of vision’:
‘..The painter lives in fascination… those gestures, those tracings … which will be revelations to others … seem to emanate from the things themselves, like figures emanating from constellations.’ *
Some ‘art’ that manifests when we mess with time looks ghostly, spectral, other worldly. These manifestations look like ghosts because they are ghosts: presences that have travelled here from another dimension: indexes of moments past, they retrace themselves in our consciousness in another register of temporality from the one we habitually live by in the tick tock buzz of everyday existence.
Photography, Film, Painting: all time-based… all strange.
Seeing is strange,
Artists practice sorcery because they ‘mess with time’ creating affective encounters with other times: intensifying awareness of the body rhythms and haunted selves: rhythms not habitually available as we navigate surface reality, first, second and third sight, time expanded like an altered state. Artists ‘messing with time’, add their bodies, draw their bodies, paint with, perform and film their bodies, offering a disorderly experience beyond the frames that scientifically persist in vision.. creating an index of presence, an index of movement that slips and slides and and emerges into consciousness
Exploring the elastic temporality raises questions about how we live in time, how we pass the precious hours and days of our life with ordered capitalist clock-time.
Time is strange, spiritual and ‘political’. Consider a recent statistic – the difference of at least, 9 years of life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas of London. That is 3,285 days of blue skies, good times, working or daydreaming… that just won’t be there.
The meantime then, is a matter of life or death.. as an artist I am haunted by the ghosts of those already passed over whose time was waste.. liberation is essential. Time travel is essential
Anne Robinson, curator of Over Time, 2014
*Merleau-Ponty, M. (2004a), ‘Eye and Mind’, trans. C. Dallery, in: T. Baldwin, ed., Maurice Merleau Ponty: Basic Writings, trans. London: Routledge, p 298