Checking the Time if I Remember: meandering with art through Instances and Memory.

Posted: March 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

St. Augustine in the 4th century asks of himself what the precise nature of Time is and finds the answer succinctly:

“Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain to an enquirer, I do not know”

Aristotle had famously considered the notion of time (pdf) and thought the concept must necessarily be addressed within three categories, the first being if time has an actual physical existence, secondly how does time relate to change/in the world and the mind, and thirdly how is continuity expressed by the unfolding of time. Though time is manifest in change, for Aristotle, change and time are divisible entities though we attempt a measurement of time in the context of change.

“So time is either change or some aspect of change; and since it is not change, it must be some aspect of change   …not only we measure the movement by the time, but also the time by the movement, because they define each other”.


Avraham Eilat “Psychophysical Time (2004)

Isaac Newton, in his text which changed the texture of the world, “Philosophiae naturalis.principia mathmatica”, postulates time as a axiomatic principle which is constant, extended, existent, and eternal:

“Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equablywithout relation to anything external..“And though motion, matter, and the world may alter,„It may be that there is no thing as an equable motion, whereby time may be accurately measured. All motion may be accelerated and retarded, but the flow of absolute time is not liable to change.”

After Albert Einstein put forward his relativistic model of time in his special theory of relativity, Hermann Minkowski summarized his thought in the 1908 paper “Space and Time”

“The view of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth space itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”

Special Relativity explained by the BBC

Time is one of the seven physical characteristics or quantities (per the International Vocabulary of Metrology (pdf),  which is defined as a “property of a phenomenon, body, or substance, where the property has a magnitude that can be expressed as a number and a reference”),  which we currently utilize in the International System of Units and is employed to generate measured quantities of the world. Oddly enough the measurement of Time is used to define other quantities — see for instance, velocity —so Aristotle’s concerns about the explication of the ”qualities of time” causing a  reversion to Logical Circularity (see: circular definition, or circular argument) of the concept would appear to be born out (per his notion of “defining each other” in endless repetition).  To avoid the problem of the material of time while being able to use time as a measurement unit the common usage sees the definition of time as merely operational (see, operational definition). This method of measuring the temporal flow entails recording either a sequence of repetitious events (decay of an atom or swing of a pendulum) and assigning a standard time unit to the events cycle. In this way we get units of Seconds, Minutes, Hours, and the like, without having to elaborate what the medium of time entails or whether it has independent existence (apart from the observation of the unfolding event occurring within physical space).

A Walk through Time: The Evolution of Time Measurement through the Ages
(Click Through the above link to see NIST’s History of Time. Wonderous)

Time, in the operational sense, then, is a pure measuring system (see: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) , Time and Frequency Measurements) by which order can be assigned to a sequence of states and events without reverting to comment on the actualized nature of time (change, memories, or actions) nor its physical manifestations (Past, Present, Future, and (intentional, Projected)Thoughts and (Formed or Dynamic) History). Temporal Durations detail aspects of events, states, intervals and come to be used in Aristotle’s sense to quantify rates of change, movement, and alterations (beginnings and endings of objects).

Memory has been subjectively tied to the notion of Time as accesses to these mental states appear to be coupled to “past events” only.  This has been problematized by the idea of “intention” and visualizations which mental states can produce which conjoin “future events or states” to subjective consciousness.  Aristotle’s notions of Final Causation and Teleology fit this modeling and even denote a form of “causation” from future events.

Measures of Distance, Mona Hatoum (1988) 1 part

Measures of Distance, Mona Hatoum (1988) 2 part

Whether or not there is an existential support to time has divided philosophical concern into roughly two camps of thought. For one set of philosophical positions, time is seen as one of a multitude of physical and basic structures which inform the world and detail a fold in, or container around, existence which holds or supports all events. This existential view was postulated most notably by Sir Isaac Newton (often called: Newtonian time) and often attributed to John Locke due to his conception of Memory Unifying Subjectivity within ConstantTime. In this Realist View of Time sequences of the world unfold in a linear and continuous set of moments which create the moment, leave the past, and will eventually form the future.  In opposition to this Real Time are a bevy of thinkers who define the temporal flow as an interaction between human subjectivity and the events of the world. This Mental state of Time is a construct formed by the interactions of mind and the world and has no physical meaning beyond the creations of language (“The Unreality of Time”, John Ellis McTaggart) or the mechanisms of the mind (time as one of the categories of Immanuel Kant).

David Kareyan – No Return  (2010)

(Artists notes: The video contextually is composed of contrasting parts: industry and nature; present and memory; reality and illusion… In the middle of this contradiction is the man, who, as embodiment of nonconformity, does not see the future, and continuously turns to the past, by losing the present… Such is the character of the contemporary man, who is yet to emancipate from his fears… Often, fine arts, music, and literature, by addressing the same issue interweaving with each other, create a more complete, and encompassing image. A synthetic genre, such as this project, emerges as a result. Man, trying to reach accommodation and harmony with himself, may have destructive desires, and return to the roots by merging with nature… Often he seeks refuge in religion. Sometimes he even resigns from all human attributes, but still is unable to find what he is looking for. Figures dressed in religious robes accompany their ritualistic movements with primitive and rough rhythms, as if calling their ancestors… These are the rhythms, which awaken animal instincts… The other part of the music relates more to the present than the past, to new means of communication. Loud samples of electronic and industrial sounds presented in the form of techno-music are heard. On this background recitation of a verse is heard. One layer of this recitation is the text read backwards (from end to front), and the other layer is electronically reversed version of the same backwards read text. It conveys impression of a magical intonation. The only difference is that one usually does not comprehend the reversed text, but wisdom of this one comes through as general feeling of a beautiful poem. Thus, while magic text is compiled of comprehensible words, it is the magic of poetry which makes impression.)

The idea of Entropy is the only concept which is strongly entertained in the stock of scientific concepts (law, regulation) that indicates the uni-linear and precise direction to the movement of Time. Entropy, or the  second law of thermodynamics, specifies that as one moves “forward in time” the energy of the system (which must be enclosed or it can “steal” from another system) will become more and more disorganized (energy will decrease) and so the total entropy of the system will increase. Because of the strong measurable decreases in organization of the system, and the resultant diffusion of energy along a unidirectional pathway, the concept of entropy has be considered to be either the manifestation of the temporal or the actual ground of its substance.  Entropy is tied invariably to, or is even the fundamental substance of, the arrow of time.

‘Time Fades’ , Philipp Geist – (Berlin Kulturforum Berlin , 2008)

(Blub: Berlin-based artist Philipp Geist showed his video installation ‘time fades’ at the Kulturforum. In his installation Geist interprets the themes of space and time. He avoids using canvasses and projects directly on parts of the façade of the architecture and on transparent grounds like sheets of gauze and fog. The result is an interplay between the concrete, tangible wall and the transparent, dissolving ground of projection. This concept refers to the characteristics of history as experienced in a museum: history and the notion of it mainly develop subjectively in the mind of the onlooker. The representations of history are being animated in the moment of the visitor´s reflections. The dissolving projection ground symbolizes not only the fragmentary knowledge and understanding of the life in the past, which is to be completed, but also the memory which must be saved from disappearing and dissolving. Thus, Geist develops a dialogue with the location, his artistic work and the people who are entering and leaving the building. The visitor himself becomes part of the projected image at the threshold between the outside and inside.
Starting point of his video work were the collections of the museums, which Philipp Geis had filmed and photographed. The ancient art objects, as for example statues, sculptures, busts, paintings, gold decoration and mosaics in Rome and Berlin, were transformed with modern digital techniques (hard- and software) to manipulate the filmed images by abstracting, recolouring and overlaying them. Elements of the art pieces were separated from their context and arranged in new picture variants and artistic compositions. In the video installation, art pieces of the same and different epochs were combined. This conceptualisation emphasizes the simultaneous xistence of successive times and events in the visitor´s mind and the coexistence of different epochs in the historical knowledege of our time. The collections of the museums in Berlin are experienced from a contemporary perspective and interpreted in an artistic way.)

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