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Infinite Instances: Studies and Images of Time

by Olga Ast
Mark Batty Publisher, Brooklyn, NY, 2011
240 pp.  Trade, $50.00
ISBN: 978-1-9356132-1-3.

Reviewed by Jack Ox

Time is a subject under ubiquitous discussion today.  Certainly it has a long history of philosophical ruminations and scientific hypotheses, but time is now of particular interest.  John Langone wrote in The mystery of time: Humanity’s quest for order and measure:

Of all the scientific intangibles that shape our lives, time is arguably the most elusive╶─ and the most powerful.  As formless as space and being, those unseen realms of abstraction on which we are helplessly dependent, it is nonetheless affects all material things…Without it we could barely measure change, for most things that change on this Earth and in the universe happen in time and are governed by it.  Stealthy, imperceptible, time makes its presence known by transforming our sense of it into sensation.  For though we cannot see, touch, or her time, we observe the regularity of what appears to be its passage in our seasons, in the orchestrated shift from dawn to dusk to dark, and in the aging of our bodies.  We feel its pulsing beat in our hearts and hear its silence released in the precise ticking of a clock.”

We are also a period where some artists and scientists are attempting to come together, creating collaborations that will merge attitudes of research and experimentation into emergent, deep insights.  That is the background for this beautifully designed book, which is an artwork in itself.  In 2009 the author, Olga Ast, called together a gathering of the contributors in a conference called the “ArchTime,” where artists, scientists, writers, philosophers, and filmmakers debated and tried to create collaboration.  Infinite Instances: Studies and Images of Time is the result of this effort.

There are some interesting sections, by scientists, philosophers, and artists; however, the whole does not measure up to being a compendium of this moment of time.  I expected to see interactions between people on the long list of contributors to the book.  In fact, Ast states the intent of collaboration between participants.  However, each artist, writer, filmmaker, or scientist works and presents alone.  Also present are wonderful materials from the different represented disciplines, such as the photographer Elliott Kaufman with grids of architecture or waterscape changing from cell to cell and revealing a sequence of time; or historian Daniel Rosenberg’s time cartographies essay on Chronographics.  In fact, Rosenberg has an in depth book on this subject (Rosenberg & Grafton, 2010).  Irina Danilova creates photographs of dust patterns showing accumulation of time.  It is easier for the artists to speak in this volume with few pages allotted to each of a large number of participants.  George Musser tries and succeeds in writing for a more general audience than the physics world.  I find myself wanting more access to their thoughts and knowledge; it is frustrating to only have a taste of their thoughts.

I am unable to decipher whether Ast intended this volume to be a handsome book with some great ideas, or an index that leads one to more research through the inclusion of an index.  I find myself wishing vehemently for such scholarly tools.  Neuroscientists like Daniel Levitin (Levitin, 2007), Oliver Sacks (Sacks, 2007), and V.S. Ramachandran (Ramachandran, 2011) are writing books on deep scientific topics in laymen’s terms, but they always have excellent reference sections so that an interested reader can find the original published scientific papers.

The first showing of Christian Marclay’s film, The Clock, at the Paula Cooper Gallery, took place in February 2011.  It is probable that this New York City performance was after the publication deadline of Infinite Instances, but the video installation is an important example of what should be included in a contemporary index on Time.  The time-mapped 24 hour movie is an extraordinary example of an artistic and scientific conceptual blend that becomes an emergent hybrid.  Marclay synchronized movie fragments containing images of time on a watch, or mentioned in the film’s dialogue to occur at precisely the actual time inside the theater  (providing that film is played at a precise time).  The clock crosses the interdisciplinary boundary still existing between art and science.

Finally, even with scholarly participants, this is another art book that reflects too superficially very important philosophical issues.  This criticism is fair for many art world adventures in the now fashionable area of Art/Science; the book could have been so much more.

References:

Langone, John. (2000). The Mystery of Time: Humanity's Quest for Order and Measure. Wash D.C.: Natl Geographic Society.

Levitin, Daniel J. (2007). This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Plume (Penguin).

Ramachandran, V.S. (2011). The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human. NY/London: W.W. Norton & C.

Rosenberg, Daniel, & Grafton, Anthony. (2010). Cartographies of Time. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Sacks, Oliver. (2007). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York, NY: Alfred Knopf.


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