Over Time at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
26th October 2014
Click HERE for photographs and slides from the Museum
The final event for the Over Time art project took place with talks, performative lectures, performance and films at Royal Museums, Greenwich: The National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House, on Sunday 26th November, 2014. This event enabled the artists involved in the project to extend the work they had made for the foreshore and gallery spaces.
Particular thanks are due to: in particular David Waterworth from the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Louise Simpkiss from Royal Museums Greenwich and Arts Council England. The following is an extended version of the curator’s introduction:
Curator’s Introduction to Over Time:
Anne Robinson, artist and curator of the Over Time art project – my practice is multidisciplinary, often working with the moving image – I teach artists’ film at London Metropolitan University and I completed a PhD on time in painting and film in 2012. My work for some years has focused on temporality: the perception and politics of time passing including the symposium and show One More Time and recent film works such as Que Sera and Thrashing in the Static.
We have an exciting afternoon lined up with performance, talks and films and I hope very much, some opportunities for exchange and discussion about all aspects of this project that has looked at many aspects of temporality: embodied perception, visceral responses, historical resonance in the landscape, personal memory, altered consciousness, fixed clock measurements, time and value, and time in the context of rapid urban development.
Throughout the rest of the day, as you will see from your programmes, there is a range of art activities happening across the museum – Sailor Forbes is already weaving his way across the site, Ian’s sound piece is whirring away across in the Queen’s House where later on Katharine Fry, Rachel Gomme, Victoria Gray and Sarah Sparkes will be performing – including some participatory pieces.
At the museum, we continue with films from Gavin Maughfling and Jo David and perfomative lectures form Birgitta Hosea, The International Western, Sarah Sparkes and Claudia Firth. Later in the afternoon, all of the films in the project will be showing on a reel here in the lecture theatre.
Greenwich is of course the perfect place to think about time.
There is no ‘natural’ starting point for longitude, but clockmaker John Harrison of course solved the problem of longitude at sea with his marine chronometer in 1773 and the prime meridian was fixed at Greenwich in 1851 and internationally recognised in 1884. For most people, the idea of ‘fixed’ clock time arrived with the industrial revolution and the railways. Here is Ruth Belville – the Greenwich time lady who sold the time to clients in the city between 1892 and 1940, traveling up from Greenwich on a daily basis with a silver pocket chronometer which had been certified fully accurate at the Observatory here. Challenged by purveyors of telegraphic time in 1908, she won out and carried on until 1940 – selling accurate time.
The Greenwich Meridian cuts straight across the river-bend at the area of the Thames foreshore usually known as Enderby’s Wharf, the Over Time site – just a few hundred yards downriver from where we now sit.. downriver from ‘historic’ Greenwich and cross-river from the dazzling glass and concrete world of Canary Wharf. Until quite recently, this time-marked place felt like a shifting portal, a different world. Before 1800, the riverside here was mainly owned by charities like Morden Wharf and there wasn’t much built here until about 1800 – except wet land and dry water. Apart that is from a testing station for gunpowder – protested in a number of 18th c petitions to parliament from local residents appalled by:
…the extensive and scarce repairable Damage with which the Explosion of perhaps 6 or 8,000 barrels of powder must be attended, cannot but cause terrible apprehensions to all who seriously consider it. (1)
Today, some local residents still fear ‘scarce repairable damage’ as the area is transformed in double-quick time by developers, with glossy new apartments rising sharply from the post-industrial mud..regeneration.
So, how did I get here? Well, I wandered past the heritage, preservation ordered history, and through the scrap metal, corrugated iron and romantic decay of ruined urban modernity, out on to this stretch of foreshore, back then, finding skeleton boats – beached fragments of dreams with their magical shapes, crafted to slice through waves and cross time zones. I stopped to draw, daydream, travel in elastic time.
The wharf itself like Enderby’s land in Antarctica – is named after the Enderby Family – explorers who took on a rope making factory here in the early 1830s and then turned their attention to the telegraph – the newfangled telecommunications technology of the day that changed everything – allowing us to miraculously communicate across timezones and vast distance – the first successful transatlantic cables were manufactured at Enderby’s Wharf in the 1850s and cast a long, connecting shadow here.
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. ‘What hath God wrought?’ (2) – the first message sent by artist Samuel Morse inventor of the code. 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 like me, 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 soft, shadowy time, no more mudlark wanderings here.
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, drawing, 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. In this project, ‘clock’ time is fixed to enable exploration: arguably, a psychogeography of time rather than space (3). This artists’ time is elastic, multi-layered and collective.’
The project began in earnest with meetings of the artists and other interested academics in the ‘Brew’ series of round table discussions organised by The Facility Centre for Creative Practice at London Met University and the original propositions given to the artists were:
1. an understanding of temporality that 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
In this project, I was really interested in working with artists who were already thinking about time in diverse ways and the works that have emerged form a fascinating set of responses:
Victoria Gray works with strategies of stillness and slowness to question the politics of time and the production of subjectivity. Victoria’s ‘five hours’ were spent on a summer night during the hours of darkness sloping into dawn. For the Thames foreshore weekend of performances on13th and 14th September, she devised a sound work and participatory performance, Anti-Clockwise Circles With The Left Hand, in which passers by and visitors were invited to engage with the original walk as night passed into day via a mobile listening station where participants accompanied the artist on an audio walk in which two people pass through five time zones and become six voices. At Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich University, this work took the form of the sound piece available at a listening post, shown together with five book works entitled: Astral Body (Parts 1 – 5), These pocketbooks, (Black & White, Perfect Bound, Paperback) contained sections of the text to be read repetitively an the covers were photographs of the gradual change of night to day, colours recorded onsite in Greenwich. For the afternoon in the Queen’s House she further develops the work Anti-Clockwise Circles as a participatory performance in the ‘Queen’s Bedchamber’ at the Queen’s House, where the painted ceiling depicts symbols of peace and from astronomy and is also arguably a space for women to walk. In all of its formations and contexts, this very affecting piece really seemed to work in its own strange time zone.
Rachel Gomme also makes work about embodied time: exploring the time before the in and the out breath, recording silences and weaving time across the hours through many durational and participatory performances and conceptual works, including Mouth to Mouth and Hour (for Penelope). For the Over Time project, Rachel spent her time on the foreshore on a summer’s day and also connected with the space over a longer period, making almost daily pilgrimages to record and reflect and formed a focused, embodied attachment to the space itself. From this time, emerged Rachel’s very moving performance Flotsam, meticulously forming pebble lines referencing mooring ropes, the human spine and of course the meridian. At the gallery, Rachel showed her own five screen film piece recorded during her site visits Flotsam (Tideshift)with a soundtrack that encourages us to share her presence onsite. Jetsam, the sequel will be in the Orangery of the Queen’s House today working with found metal from the shore, in the artist’s words: ‘Washed up, washed away, abandoned and returned, material time pulling the past into the present.’I have been moved by Rachel’s way of inhabiting space within this landscape and how as well as changing one’s perception of time passing, this becomes a form of political resistance, continued here as the metal jetsam quietly invades Queen’s House with its rusty presence.
Katharine Fry’s previous works exploring an experience of time she calls ‘the constant instant’ have engaged with the strangeness of scientific time and circadian rhythms, challenging our perceptions of how time is usually marked. Following a summer day onsite in Greenwich, Katharine devised Tide Walk which was first performed on the foreshore on the Over Time weekend in September, along with Pulling Time Out of the Water which of course helped produce the canvas tide works in the Gallery: I tried to pull time out of the water, I and II (Thames tide and pencil drawing on unprimed canvas). Canvases laid out and weighted down in the water late at night to be marked by the tide and further marked through drawing. Katharine also made some small cards for the gallery: Site writing in Morse code. In the Queen’s House, Tide Walk, described by Katharine as: ‘A participatory performance using the shapes and rhythms of the water’s tide to lead a meditative human tide’ invades the geometric space of the Great Hall along with Body Clock ‘A participatory performance using individual and collective rhythms to mark time’. This is thoughtful and engaging work that question our temporal position.
In his own practice as well as his work with counterproductions and the Detours project, artist/curator Charlie Fox engages with the politics of space, place, ownership. Charlie’s five hours on site around Enderby’s Wharf were a journey through the traces of industrial and maritime histories of the site. On the Over Time September weekend, in the person of sailor Horatio Forbes, able seaman, bound from Gravesend on 26th February 1822. A sailor from another century, he dragged his rope work driftwood burden all the way form the Cutty Sark to Morden, leaving his painted messages behind in the landscape. in the performance work: Over Under Tide Time, Drag Rope Act/s and other signs. On the gallery, the paint and driftwood residue of the performance along with documentation made an appearance in the gallery show and visitors to the screening and talks on the 11th also encountered the preambulatory musings of AB Forbes, telling stories form the sailor’s canvas bag archive at the Old Royal Naval College. At the National Maritime Museum too, Sailor Forbes will reappear, engaging with maps, artefacts and visitors in: A Tailored Wharf & Weave as every object tells a story. The continues presence of Charlie’s signs onsite tell their own story and visitors to the museum will have learned more of capital, whaling and a sailor’s time in Greenwich.
Artist Claudia Firth has worked in her own practice and collectively on relations between art and activism and listening in contemporary culture. For Over Time, she spent her time on site reflecting on the value of time and bodies, the proposals for the site and the proximity of the marketplace across the river and produced two video works, installed in the gallery as an installation with random timing: installation: Data Stream: the Animal in the Machine, the Beast in the Market and Back and Fill. For the day of talks and films at Stephen Lawrence gallery on 11th October and in the museum setting on the 26th, Claudia delivers a performative lecture entitled: Fear of Unstructured Time, using slides, film and drawing that explores: ‘the technologies implicated in the Enderby’s Wharf’s transition from the telecommunications manufacturing industry to the leisure industry. Time, the Telegraph Caplette, labour, leisure computopia – tracking a path through the body and cultural service and financial labour.’ The odd timing of the videos is subtly affecting and these works offer a critical perspective which examines relations between the worker body and capital – telegraphic communication and nervous system entwined.
Sarah Sparkes, artist and curator of the GHost project, reminds us of the uncanny nature of time passing in her explorations of Ghostly traces, other realms and conceptual invocations of supernatural doorways. Onsite for five hours, she wandered outside clock time and identified ‘portals’ into potential futures – other times. In her performance for the foreshore in September, Sarah invited passers by to find portals into a different and unpredictable future through a ritualistic participatory work involving contemplation of portals in the vicinity and the selection of relevant texts. The piece inverts time in its title: worromot tuoba gnikgniht pots t’nod. At the gallery, there was a further invitation to engage in time travel and speculation about the future by engaging with the beautifully constructed infinity tunnels formed of apparently neverending spirals of light: Time You Need. This is also the title for a performative lecture at the maritime museum using film, sound and strange invocations. In the Queen’s House, Sarah revisits her participatory foreshore performance, using cards, text and discussion to enter strange time and invoke the future from the centre of the spiral formed by the allegedly haunted Tulip Staircase.
Ian Thompson is a musician and sound artist. For Over Time, he abandoned regular rhythms and timings and set out on an experimental five hours working onsite with specially adapted microphone technology, meticulously recording the river flow and tides, focusing on the area under the jetty Enderby’s Wharf. These experiments were built into a series of soundscapes experimenting with rhythm and frequency. A first version of Litus Expromo was played through speakers attached to the Wharf over the weekend of 13th and 14th September, stopping passers by in their track and making them question the veracity of sounds they were hearing. In the Saturday evening, Ian was joined at Enberby’s Wharf with members of the Hackney Secular Singers to perform the vocal work Fundamental 94 based on the resonant frequency onsite. Audience for the evening participated in the singing, making a very magical nighttime, riverside experience. At the gallery, all five phases of Litus Expromo, based on field and hydrophonic recordings at the Enderby’s Wharf foreshore, were available on a listening post: 1. Fundamental 94 (4’53”), 2. Tidal Liminal (4’02”), 3. Hammer 143 (5’57”), 4. Over Heard (4’58”), 5. Deep Breath (6’19”). These works are again played through speaker in the Kings Presence Chamber at Queen’s House. These experiment with natural and unnatural tide rhythms of the foreshore are a key strand in the composite picture made by the Over Time artists.
Birgitta Hosea is an artist who usually works both individually and collaboratively with drawing and experimental animation. For Over Time, drawings recordings and and observations onsite at Enderby’s led to an experiment with what ha come to be known as digital ‘glitch’ art: taking the mundane, commonplace found texts from the riverside site, which had been abandoned or placed there intentionally across an unspecified time period and left to be affected and altered by tides and weather and uses them as random interventions interrupting the digital video code to change our vision. The resulting work Time Channel was screened both outdoors on the Saturday evening of the foreshore weekend and at Stephen Lawrence Gallery. This work, based on random words garnered form coastguard notices, vodka bottles, grafitti and the like, is strikingly connected to more directly painterly works in the project in its alteration of form and particularly, the intense colours of the site. For the maritime museum, Birgitta presented a wonderful spoken word performance, in the persona of a medium ‘channeling’ the found text from Enderby Wharf which has been used to recode the accompanying video. Exploring the idea of haunted media so resonant in the time of the telegraph and connecting this with contemporary digital codes with beautiful cinematic results.
Painter Gavin Maughfling is interested in the temporality of communications and the mediation of images: the timelag in Skype or surveillance camera.s He also had memories of this specific are of the Thames foreshore from when he had lived in the area many years earlier and he allowed this personal timelag to affect his wanderings during the five hours onsite without a watch, during which time he also produced a sketchbook of work and used his painterly sensibility to inform his video record of the place. Later, both sources informed the large oil painting Summer Knights which was part of the gallery show. Eliot’s poetry also affected his film, Loitering, also shown at the gallery and in the National Maritime Museum. Gavin allowed both painting and film to emerge from the unregulated time spent on site and affected by memory: the painterly surface, recording reflected light and inner resonance, the hand eye canvas cycle and time layered and re-layered. As he describes: ‘Loitering was shot on a June day. The lushness of the liminal vegetation led to reflection on time lost and the sensual promises held in a city’s summer heat.’
Jo David’s fascination with science fiction time, interest in the Thames estuary. and psychogeography informed his unregulated time on the foreshore where his recording devices included a ‘go-pro here’ camera. In his onsite work Sightings, Jo took on the persona of the ‘expert’ lecturer and brought some pseudo- historical artefacts into the present day context of the Enderby site, inviting participant to see the world through his binoculars and examine a range of odd maritime related objects whilst he related interwoven facts and fictions about this stretch of foreshore. ‘Sightings’ included a strange creature which may not have been see for many years or ever glimpsed again, apparently living under the wharf. Research into the histories that formed the place was brought to bear on the formation of the final version of Jo’s film for the: Traveling Light, making subtle use of overlays and contrasts. Jo has described the film as: ‘the passage of time and the layering of place, a development and a reduction’ and is is also showing in the National Maritime Museum. The installation Traveling Light in the gallery brought the video together with several mixed media elements that bring the histories of Enderby’s into the gallery, including several made from hessian, referencing the history of rope making onsite along with an anchor, binoculars and brass maritime instruments.
My invitation to performance artist Ella Finer, whose recent work on the tangibility of voice and temporality of presence includes pieces such as Material Body in Pitch Black, to collaborate in the Over Time project extended at her request to all of The International Western collective, to include artists: Flora Pitrolo, Robert Jack and Joe Hales in an unexpected but very wonderful change to the Over Time plans. Having spent their five hours onsite, they worked collaboratively and conceptually with text, light and sound to produce the work Calling All, a performance of some 45minutes duration which was staged slightly downriver from Enderby’s, on Primrose Wharf on Saturday evening, 13th September at the furthest reach of the site defined for the project. Calling All is a complex piece, drawing on the telegraph history of the site and using texts to structure the work, including the last message sent in Morse by the French Navy in 1997: ‘Calling All. This is our last cry before our eternal silence’ and Roxy Music’s Dream Home, in a reference to this site’s future development. Witnessing the International Western’s Calling All, as the audience gathered on the pier at night with the towers of Canary Wharf glittering behind, the voices and presence of the artists in smart office drag and the hypnotic, flashing morse signals was a truly compelling and strangely occult experience. The International Western also produced a beautifully silkscreened wall-mounted Morse text for the gallery. The resonance of the work with the site and the collective nature of its production constitute a fascinating part of the wider collective mapping built up through the project as a whole.
One strand of my thinking in bringing these artists together was that, once underway, the proposition to pass this amount of clock time would inevitably, whatever ‘happened’ whatever the works that came out of it – drawings, films, writings or conceptual propositions – that a composite picture would be formed – with my curator head – potentially like the strange temporality emerging the diverse temporalities embedded in the luminous multilayered surface of a painting. And this has happened.. the experience of watching, listening to and being with the works on the foreshore was incredible.
The challenge was to stay in the space, consider temporal perception beyond the clock and respond in whatever was emerged.Much of the work here also constitutes the beginning of new projects for each artist. This is a composite, collectively formed temporal picture then – multilayered.. pulling focus to different moments, different geographical points. It moves at different rates across the field and together, all these works make a dissonant, complex picture of a place and time.. temporality working differently, having a different ‘affect’ in different media. Philosophers such as Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty and Zizeck emphasise the importance of time for the work of art – that is – the work that art does in provoking, unsettling, moving or affecting us. Considering ‘stratigraphic’ time Deleuze reminds us that: ‘…like sleep, art is beyond memory: it appeals to pure thought .. What art regains for us is time .. identical to eternity. … there is only the work of art which lets us regain time..’ (4) And Zizek suggests: ‘in the work of art.. it is time itself that we experience.. ‘ (5)
We need some sense of regularity in time to stay upright, stay in touch, live the world and yet, the juxtaposition of these distinct temporalities through different media can make us see differently, question everything – alter our consciousness or perhaps the frame rate we live by. The time outside of time experienced at Greenwich on the foreshore by our eleven artists in the project was operational at different rates, in different zones and has resulted in an interweaving of works to make up a picture of place through time.. over time.
The composite picture continues to develop as the project has also incorporated art workshops with Sarah Sparkes and Charlie Fox at Age Exchange where we have encouraged local residents, some resident by the river for many years to consider their memories and relationship to the foreshore. Also, on October 11th at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, we heard more from archaeologist Helen Johnson form the Discovery Project, local historian Mary Mills and Industrial heritage campaigner Allan Burkitt-Jones about riverside history and culture, the politics of urban development and the campaign to preserve local industrial history.
All of these ways of working, considered in relation to a site which is changing in the way that Enderby’s Wharf is changing become profoundly political. The Scottish poet Norman MacCaig once asked in a poem: ‘Who owns this landscape? Has owning anything to do with love?’ (6) He was writing about the Scottish highlands – when considering highland vistas of mountains and lochs, there is little dissent.. but what of the contemporary cityscape? he cityscape we inhabit – in our time-bound human bodies and how is our time valued? 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…‘ (7) and Oliver Wainwright recently warned in the Guardian:
The more we build, the more our cities are emptied, producing dead swathes of zombie town where the lights might never even be switched on. (8)
Here on the foreshore, where urban acceleration meets the natural rhythms of the tide, somehow in a passing instant we catch the ridiculousness of real estate, claims staked in the earth.. property development and investment the great divider of have and have not in this city as many others – exposed.. who can own these shifting sands, this marshy terrain? Well, historically, many people and even now, there is a tortuously complex jigsaw of boundaries along the shore.
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..’ (9 )and hope for a collective, co-operative expanded temporality in the future.
It has been an enormous pleasure and a privilege to work with all of the artists in the project – I really can’t thank them enough for engaging with the idea of Over Time in such an amazing way, and I would also like to take this opportunity to thank in particular David Waterworth from the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Louise Simpkiss from Royal Museums Greenwich and Arts Council England for making this project possible.
The website will continue to be updated with further documentation from the project including video footage.
Anne Robinson 2014
1. Petition of 1718, cited by Mary Mills in: Greenwich Marsh, the 300 Years Before the Dome, London, M. Wright, 1999.
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
Debord, G. (1997), Theory of the Dérive, London, Atlantic, p50.
Deleuze, G. (2000), Proust and Signs, trans. G. Braziller, London, Athlone, p46.
Žižek, S. (2012), Organs Without Bodies, London, Routledge, p 9.
McCaig, N. (1969) ‘A Man in Assynt’ in A Man in My Position, London, Chatto and Windus, pp48-55.
Vaneigem, R. (2004), ‘Comments Against Urbanism’, trans. J. Shepley, in:
T. McDonough (ed.) Guy Debord and the Situationist International, Cambs. Mass., MIT Press, p95.
Wainwright, O. ‘The truth about property developers: how they are exploiting planning authorities and ruining our cities’ in: The Guardian, Wednesday 17 September, 2014.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1994), What is Philosophy? trans. G. Burchell & H. Tomlinson, London: Verso p59.
There is a video with documentation of the whole project HERE