Time’s Trial

september 2nd, 2009

Dieter Roelstraete 
Time’s Trial
On the Geological Imaginary in Contemporary Art

Sometime in the early nineties, the lights went out in modern and contemporary art museums around the world – some would say, paraphrasing Sir Edward Grey, the 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, not to be switched back on in our lifetime. This darkening of the countless white cubes of museums and galleries alike was meant to accommodate the entry of film into the hallowed space of art; although there had of course been film and video art before (think of Andy Warhol’s Empire or Sleep and Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen respectively), it was really artists like Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Matthew Barney, Stan Douglas, Douglas Gordon, Bill Viola and Gillian Wearing who ushered in the canonization of Hollywood-inflected film art (mostly conceived as spatial installations), and oversaw its subsequent transformation into what was probably the dominant, defining art form of the first half of the decade. Fifteen years on, it is worth remembering that quite a few of these artworks were in essence based on the simple tactic of slowing down, of deceleration; certainly some of the period’s most emblematic pieces (Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho immediately comes to mind, but so do Viola’s films) revolved around the aesthetics of slow motion and the freeze (here we could cite Jeff Wall’s cinematic photographs as a programmatic example). There are many reasons why so many artists active at the very forefront of art’s habitual appropriation of cutting-edge technology (digital in this case) chose to slow down rather than – perhaps the more logical instinct, given that it had become technologically possible – speed up, but the advent of globalization as an everyday economic reality obviously played a major part in this, for the new world order of the electronic global village came with a new scopic regime in which the ceaseless acceleration, accumulation and proliferation of (digital) imagery gave new depth of meaning to the old situationist catchphrase of the “society of the spectacle”. Deceleration (and occasional paralysis) in moving-image-based art came to signal a critical stance not unlike that of the Luddites in early nineteenth-century, Industrial Revolution-era England, and pushing the pause button on the video camera (or in an early version of Final Cut Pro) could easily be constructed as symptomatic of a broader social or cultural demand for what the Dutch so poetically (hence untranslatably) call “onthaasting”: the conscious decision to lead a slower life of well-being.
In more recent times, art’s anxiety-ridden, traumatic relationship with the onslaught of time – always going forward, never going back; always going faster, never slowing down – has taken on a very different form, that of a “historiographic turn in art”: an obsession with the (recent) past and retrospective glance, excessive modulations of melancholy and nostalgia (the preferred tone of much ‘serious’ art produced in the last eight years or so), a compulsive desire for all that is anachronistic, archival and obsolete – all conspiring to produce that which Friedrich Nietzsche damningly called “the malady of history.” I have written elsewhere (and extensively so) about this chronomaniacal complex, focusing on one modality of the historiographic turn in contemporary art in particular – that of the archeological: artists collecting, digging, dusting off; revealing, uncovering, unveiling; excavating and lovingly inventorying the dumbstruck traces, shards and fragments of a distant, uncharted history (1).  An important factor in motivating this widespread artistic interest in archeology, as one particular form of historiography, concerns the paradigmatic character of the archeological enterprise as an episteme, i.e. as a truth procedure and site of the production of knowledge: archeology is (by its very definition, namely that of the scientific study of history’s material sources) bound to a materialist view of culture, history and society, and it is always also a science of origins – “archè” being the ancient Greek word for “beginning” or “first principle”. Dig and ye shall find – and seeing as the earth, and the many mute materials that it hesitatingly hands over to the industrious digger, cannot lie, the process of excavation ultimately functions as a promise of revelation, of the unveiling of a hidden truth. And ahistorical truth, of course, is the stable rock of comfort and assurance we’re after in these hectic, disorienting times of the ceaseless acceleration and proliferation of data (connective, visual and otherwise), the silent, stone-faced permanence of the ruin or the excavation site offering refuge from the teeming culture of speed that permeates our daily lives to such dizzying, and ultimately petrifying effect.

The rock, the ruin and all that is solid and made of stone: here we seamlessly slip into the adjacent realm of geology, where time is measured on a scale that makes even the archeological seem jittery with continuous shifts and changes – where the building, completion and subsequent erosion of the pyramids is not very different, as a ‘historical’ process, from subatomic motion: geology, as the scientific study of the earth’s crust and physical properties, has revealed that our miniscule heavenly body is not that much younger, relatively speaking, than the universe as a whole (4,5 billion years as opposed to the cosmos’ estimated 13,5 billion years). Geology as the realm of stasis then, of what seems, to the untrained human eye, absolute motionlessness – the imperious eternal Same: no wonder that geology has been an (admittedly strange) source of philosophical comfort in its own right, and has made occasional allegorical inroads into the world of art, especially since the so-called “chronophobic” Sixties, when artists first started to tap into the rich reservoir of the geological (as well as astronomical, biological, botanical, ecological) imagination (2).  Any consideration of the meeting of art and geology must of course pass by (or rather, depart from) Robert Smithson’s pioneering work in the Land or Earth Art movement, as well as his prolific activity as a critic and renegade art theorist. A lengthy quote from his widely-read essay “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects” (1968) reminds us of Smithson’s keen awareness of art’s folding into an experience or philosophy of time that is aligned with the geological rather than the merely historical (or archeological): “The earth’s surface and the figments of the mind have a way of disintegrating into discrete regions of art. Various agents, both fictional and real, somehow trade places with each other – one cannot avoid muddy thinking when it comes to earth projects, or what I will call “abstract geology.” One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries. This slow flowage makes one conscious of the turbidity of thinking. Slump, debris slides, avalanches all take place within the cracking limits of the brain. The entire body is pulled into the cerebral sediment, where particles and fragments make themselves known as solid consciousness. A bleached and fractured world surrounds the artist. To organize this mess of corrosion into patterns, grids, and subdivisions is an aesthetic process that has hardly been touched (3).”  Smithson is best known today, of course, for his giant, megalomaniacal ‘interventions’ in the American natural landscape, most notably his Spiral Jetty (which, despite its monumental size, appears to be notoriously hard to find). Amid today’s incessantly expanding body of Smithson literature, the exegesis of Spiral Jetty in particular bears many markings of hagiographic hero worship (Matta-Clark is another favorite), yet there has been relatively little discussion of the relationship between geology and art’s epochal claim of “timelessness” (an important factor in all sainthood and sacrality): wasn’t Spiral Jetty geological – and no longer archeological, as was the case in the work of, say, Michael Heizer – in both scale and temporal conception because this best expressed the artist’s desire to move beyond time, to stand outside time’s merciless constraints – to ensure the kind of permanence and timelessness more commonly associated with the earth than with man’s cultivation of it? In the aforementioned essay, Smithson advises the artist to become the proprietor of art’s perceived timelessness, of the artwork as that which is a product of “no time at all”: “the deeper an artist sinks into the time stream the more it becomes oblivion; because of this, he must remain close to the temporal surfaces. Many would like to forget time altogether, because it conceals the “death principle.” Floating in this temporal river are the remnants of art history, yet the “present” cannot support the cultures of Europe, or even the archaic or primitive civilizations; it must instead explore the pre- and post-historic mind; it must go into the places where remote futures meet remote pasts (4)”  – into the spaces of geological time, such as lifeless deserts (in his exemplary case) untouched by man’s corrupting presence. For deserts, as the domains of death (or at least of a deep-seated hostility towards life), are zones “out of time” par excellence, their forbidding, morbid silence the wind-swept ‘proof’ of the alignment of geology with the a- or anti-historical – this timelessness the dream, precisely, of many a land art project.

As one may have gathered from these few sentences, I am no great lover of the desert, of which it is said somewhere, in Tuareg wisdom, that silence is its prayer – indeed, could the great nay-saying Monotheistic religions ever have emerged anywhere else? It is no coincidence that one of the worst touristic experiences of my life [details omitted] happened on the very edge of the Sahara, south of the Moroccan city of Zagora. That said, however, one of the finest artistic experiences of my life, in a strictly touristic sense, also involved a trip to desert – this one under the knowing guidance, it should be added, of the Los Angeles-based ‘artist’ collective Center for Land Use Interpretation, who organize bus trips into the Mojave desert, including such memorable highlights as a visit to the mining town of Boron (home to the largest borax mine in the world) and the ultra-atmospheric Mojave airplane boneyard along the California State Route 14. Perhaps this was such a memorable experience precisely because the Center for Land Use Interpretation, as a bunch of time bandits, pull off that which so many others like (and unlike) them do not (mainly because of the programmatic immodesty and ultimate humorlessness of the latter’s many attempts), and this clearly has something to do with the risky business of trying to marry art and science (geology in this case), art and information, art and pedagogy – and entertainingly, parodically so to boot. But the success of their venture (and relatively high profile in a contemporary art world that is justifiably averse to positivist, lab coat-clad posing) is ultimately also linked to the object of their loving, slightly mocking faux-geological scrutiny: the city of Los Angeles and its built-up surrounds, a city whose short history was chronicled by Mike Davis in a book that promised to “excavate the future of L.A.” Can a future be excavated at all? Can the geological clock be wound (fast) forward, and art dream about tomorrow for a change? Exactly because of Los Angeles’ perceived lack of (natural) history – another prominent chronicler of L.A. culture and lore, Norman Klein, dubbed it the capital of forgetting (5)  – and both its relative youth as well as its cultural obsession with youth, its historiography must be conducted in a spirit of slight irreverence, and there is perhaps no better way to do so than by reconstructing this history as a geological field trip along a string of imaginary excavation sites (such as a mining town): the geological fixation of many art practices, after all, always serves to signal art’s unease – in this case endemic to Angeleno culture – with the ruthlessness of the passage of time. And much more to the point of the present (that is to say, Maarten Vanden Eynde’s) curatorial undertaking, CLUI’s geo-archeological field trips do not concern natural wonders (the conventional destinations of such specialized tourism), but rather those naturalized ‘wonders’ left behind, in the haste typical of the Gold Rush’ provisional living, by man: theirs is not a geology of the natural, but one of the cultural world, proving that the daily practice of history (i.e. archeology) is a “quintessential tool for denaturalizing the social” indeed (6).  A geology, not so much of the earth, then, but of the patterns of scars laboriously carved into its surface, rendered legible as a document of man’s restless passing across even the world’s remotest expanses.
A geo-logy of the cultural world rather than the earth upon which it rests: a paradox this may seem perhaps, but isn’t ‘paradox’ the very logic of all art?

(1) See, among others, my “The Way of The Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Contemporary Art,” published in e-flux journal #4, March 2009 (to which the subtitle of the present essay refers); “After the Historiographic Turn: Current Findings,” published in e-flux journal #5, May 2009; “Whose ‘End of History’?”, published in Yilmaz Dziewior (ed.), Jahresring 56: Wessen Geschichte? Whose History?, Berlin: Kulturstiftung des Bundes & Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2009 (forthcoming); and “Listen to the Stones: Mariana Castillo Deball Among the Ruins”, published in Mousse Magazine #21, September 2009.
(2) The reference here is to Pamela M. Lee’s book-length study Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s. In it, Lee links 1960s art’s anxious examination of the issue of time (history, progress, speed) to the “emergence of the Information Age in postwar culture. The accompanying rapid technological transformations, including the advent of computers and automation processes, produced for many an acute sense of historical unknowing; the seemingly accelerated pace of life began to outstrip any attempts to make sense of the present. Lee sees the attitude of 1960s art to time as a historical prelude to our current fixation on time and speed within digital culture.” [From the MIT Press website, ed.]
(3) Quoted in: Robert Smithson, Collected Writings, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996, p. 100.
(4) Ibid., p. 112.
(5) Norman Klein, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, London & New York: Verso, 2008.
(6) “History represents the quintessential tool for denaturalizing the social; as a result, it goes hand in hand with critique,” in: Luc Boltanski & Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, London & New York: Verso, 2003, p. 8.

Digging up the Future: On the Imaginary Archaeology in Art and other Sciences.

mei 9th, 2009

[a reaction to Dieter Roelstraete’s  The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art /e-flux journal] by Maarten Vanden Eynde, April 2009

The present returns the past to the future’ – Jorge Luis Borges

Besides prediction models based upon recovered data from the past and the present, there is nothing but imagination at hand to envision the future.

The specific interest or intent of art and all existing sciences seems to flock together whenever a distinctive humanistic evolution is inevitable, creating an épistème of knowledge (1) . In the Middle Ages we struggled to find similarities and resemblances between micro and macro, humans and god, earth and heaven. – We are all alike, mirrored by the image of God – was the prevailing dictum. It took until the 17th century before we started to look for differences, classifying species in separate models (taxonomy, Linnaeus) and paving the way for individual existence. In the 19th century Darwin and Lamarck opened the door to the past and instigated the origin of history.  We discovered where we came from and started to reconstruct the string of our evolution. Marx introduced the theory of historical materialism and added why to the questions of when, where and how. Photography was invented and gave us the first artificial tool to catch a moment. Slowly but destined we became grounded in the reality of the present.
These new certainties, knowing where we come from and the ability to define the distinctiveness of being a homo sapiens sapiens, created an outburst of self-confidence during the 20th century in art and all the other sciences, opening up endless possibilities to act within the present. The result was there, immediately visible and the responsibility was all ours. This conviction in own abilities stimulated the industrial evolution, which changed the world beyond recognition and gave way to the largest population explosion in human history. We learned to genetically manipulate life, we unravelled the mysteries of most DNA strings (including our own), we figured out a way to recreate almost anything out of almost nothing by using nanotechnology, and found ways to be everywhere at the same time (radio, television, internet). We mastered the épistème of the present, leaving but the future to be destined.
The notion of consequence is the first manifestation of futurism; concern slowly replaced the initial euphoria about endless growth and infinite possibilities. The speed of new inventions and subsequently growing knowledge is accelerating just like the expansion of the universe and might bring us to what is currently known as the Singularity (2).  At that moment, predicted to occur around 2035, knowledge is doubled every minute, making it impossible to comprehend for ‘normal’ humans.

Andy Warhol
Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

Andy Warhol Campbell soup Andy Warhol Campbell soup

The Club of Rome was the first to use computer models to predict the future (3).  Some predictions proved to be farfetched since evolutions in general behave more chaotic than anticipated, but many future scenarios became reality by now. Their first report Limits of Growth of 1972 caused a permanent interest in what is to come and it is still the best selling environmental book in world history. The second report from 1974 revised the predictions and gave a more optimistic prognosis for the future of the environment, noting that many of the factors were within human control and therefore that environmental and economic catastrophe were preventable or avoidable.
This notion of self-control in relation to making history by interfering in the present became the most important theorem of the 20th century. Also in the art world this feeling of being able to transcendent your own existence by imagining what might, what could and what should became predominant. Although a great deal of artists working with history are digging up old stories, forgotten facts and undisclosed objects of the past to reinvent and reinterpret history, a much bigger number of artists is involved in writing current history, looking at what might be relevant for future generations to remember us by. Preluded by Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol was probably the first artist to fully realize the potential of freezing and claiming history by randomly choosing an insignificant object like a can of Campbell soup or a box of Brillo soap and lifting it above oblivion. This self-proclaimed Deus Ex Machina or act of vanguardism was copied by many other artists, like Heim Steinbach, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, who, with changing luck, tried through object fetishization to declare or even force history to happen.
A similar strategy is the combination of elements from the past with the present, already cashing the idea that the present is also the future past and that future historians could unwillingly mingle both and by doing so creating a stimulus for an altered state of remembering or stronger; to rewrite history all together. These combined traces of different pasts create an endless chain of possible futures, visualised by artists like Simon Starling, Ai Wei Wei, Wim Delvoye and Brian Jungen.

Ai Wei Wei
Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo
, 1994

Ai Weiwei

To many critics and curators focus on the past to make sense of or give value to archives, artistic research or current art production in general. By doing so, they enforce a self-fulfilling prophecy upon the work and don’t do right to the imagination and sheer curiosity of the creator towards representation of the present in the future. What will remain? What is our heritage for the future? Even artists like Gerard Richter, Roy Arden, Peter Pillar, Batia Suter and Lois Jacobs who on a first glimps seem to work with the past are rather formulating different answers to what could or should remain of the present.
Roy Arden’s Versace for instance is not looking at the past in the historical sense but merely imagining how we might look back at the past in the future. It questions the relevance or value of anything present in our contemporary society to represent that same society in the future. Many other artists like Cornelia Parker, Mark Dion, Damien Hirst and Guillaume Bijl are doing the same thing; they lay the foundation of future history. They are telling a story, our story. Cornelia Parker uses remnants of (self) destroyed parts of reality and tries to put it back together again. Mark Dion is showing the left over’s of our society in a more ‘classic’ archaeological context and Damien Hirst and Guillaume Bijl subtract a certain object or entire space out of our present world, like a slice of cake, and preserve it directly for future generations. Although using different modes of working they all work with possible remnants of our current civilisation, imagining different pieces of the puzzle that could be used in the future to puzzle back together again the history we are currently creating. They work within the future, not the past.

Roy Arden
Versace, 2006

Roy Arden Versace

This interest, or calling upon, is visible not only in the current art world but across most branches of the science tree. In the field of Biology animals are duplicated, cloned, crossbred and pimped in all imaginable ways to become stronger, smaller, longer lasting, fluorescent (4), faster running,… in general better equipped for eternity. Humans haven’t only discovered how to eradicate life, destroying, willingly or not, several entire species and ecosystems in the past, by now we also know how to manipulate and maintain life. The promise of being able to cure almost any disease in the near future by using nanobots to do the dirty work, caused a real run for life extension programs like Alcor, the world leader in Cryonics (5). More than one hundred people have been cryopreserved since the first case in 1967. More than one thousand people have made legal and financial arrangements for cryonics with one of several organizations, usually by means of affordable life insurance. The majority chose to only preserve their head, assuming that the body could be regenerated very easily in the future, using the same technique as lizards do to grow back a limb.
The current emphasis on preservation seems also in Archaeology, a science that is traditionally grounded in the past, to overrule the act of excavation. Prophesising on an eminent crisis or apocalyptic disaster inspired us to bury time capsules deep underground containing samples of current societies including their historical highlights. In 2008 the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened its doors for all the 1,300 gene banks throughout the world. The Seed Vault functions like a safety deposit box in a bank. The Government of Norway owns the facility and the depositing gene banks own the seeds they send. The vault now contains over 20 million seeds, samples from one-third of the world’s most important food crop varieties. In 1974 Ant Farm constructed Cadillac Ranch, ten Cadillac’s, ranging from a 1949 Club Coupe to a 1963 Sedan, buried fin-up in a wheat field in Texas. Much later, in 2006, during a performance work called Burial, Paul McCarthy and Raivo Puusemp buried one of McCarty’s own sculptures in the garden of Naturalis, the National History Museum of Leiden in The Netherlands. The buried sculpture resides underground as an artefact for future discovery.

Ant Farm
Cadillac Ranch, 1974

Ant Farm

Ant Farm

Currently, four time capsules are “buried” in space. The two Pioneer Plaques and the two Voyager Golden Records have been attached to a spacecraft for the possible benefit of space farers in the distant future. A fifth time capsule, the KEO satellite, will be launched around 2010, carrying individual messages from Earth’s inhabitants addressed to earthlings around the year 52,000, when KEO will return to Earth (6). In Cosmology as well the focus is on the future. Experiments are conducted to create black holes, possible portals to travel through time. Terraforming attempts might create an atmosphere around a distant planet or moon creating a possible escape for human kind if planet earth is not viable anymore.
In 1971 the first artwork was placed on the moon. Fallen Astronaut, created by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, is an aluminium sculpture of 8,5 cm representing a sexless abstraction of a human. It was left on the moon by the Apollo 15 crew next to a memorial plaque stating all the names of astronauts that died on their way to the moon. In 2003 a work of art by Damien Hirst consisting of 16 multi-coloured spots on a 5cm by 5cm aluminium plate was send to Mars. The colours would be used to adjust the camera while a special composed song of the British pop-band Blur would be played to check the sound and accompany the arrival of the Mars Lander, the Beagle 2. The sequel of Darwin’s exploration vessel was last seen heading for the red planet after separating from its European Space Agency mother ship Mars Express on December 19 2003. Part of a mission estimated to cost $85 million, the probe was supposed to land on Mars a few days later on Christmas Day and search for signs of life, but vanished without trace…

Damien Hirst Beagle2

Closer to earth itself many artists have made works that can be seen from outer space. The biggest one, Reflections from Earth is made by Tom Van Sant in 1980: a series of mirrors over a 1.5 mile stretch of the Mojave Desert in the shape of an eye. In 1989 Pierre Comte did something similar with Signature Terre: sixteen squares of black plastic fabric with sides measuring 60m creating the “Planet Earth” symbol. Two noble attempts to leave a trace and write history but as a work of art not surpassing the early Land Art by Robert Smithson (Asphalt Rundown, 1969 and Spiral Jetty, 1970) or even smaller interventions by Richard Long (A line made by walking, 1967) or Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Surrounded Islands of 1980-83. No single work of art however can compete with the collaborative global effort to create a new geological layer over the earth, consisting of asphalt, concrete and plastic, contemporary materials representing our current civilisation. No matter what happens, we will all be remembered, that is for sure. We just don’t know how. ‘Will we arrive at a moment of sufficient self-alienation where we can contemplate on our own destruction as in a static spectacle’? (7). I don’t think so. We will be to busy with self-preservation, looking back to figure out what lays ahead. Like the speakers of Aymara, an Indian language of the high Andes, who think of time differently than just about everyone else in the world, we should also position the future behind us, because you can not see it and the past ahead of us, since that is the only thing we can see. This is precisely what so many artists are doing today; looking backwards to discover the future. Whatever lies in front of you and can be seen is used as inspiration source to imagine the unknown.

(1) Michel Foucault used the term épistème in his work The Order of Things (Les Mots et les choses. Une archéologie des sciences humaines, 1966) to mean the historical a priori that grounds knowledge and its discourses and thus represents the condition of their possibility within a particular epoch.
‘I would define the episteme retrospectively as the strategic apparatus which permits of separating out from among all the statements which are possible those that will be acceptable within, I won’t say a scientific theory, but a field of scientificity, and which it is possible to say are true or false. The episteme is the ‘apparatus’ which makes possible the separation, not of the true from the false, but of what may from what may not be characterised as scientific’.
(2) Ray Kurzweil, The Law of Accelerating Returns, 2001
An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘intuitive linear’ view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The ‘returns,’ such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to the Singularity—technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.
(3) The Club of Rome is a global think tank that deals with a variety of international political issues. It was founded in April 1968 and raised considerable public attention in 1972 with its report Limits to Growth. In 1993, it published followup called The First Global Revolution. According to this book, “It would seem that humans need a common motivation, namely a common adversary, to organize and act together in the vacuum; such a motivation must be found to bring the divided nations together to face an outside enemy, either a real one or else one invented for the purpose….The common enemy of humanity is man….democracy is no longer well suited for the tasks ahead.”, and “In searching for a new enemy to unite us we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill.” This statement makes it clear that the current common adversary is the future itself.
(4) Alba, the first green fluorescent bunny made by artist Eduardo Kac in 2000, is an albino rabbit. This means that, since she has no skin pigment, under ordinary environmental conditions she is completely white with pink eyes. Alba is not green all the time. She only glows when illuminated with the correct light. When (and only when) illuminated with blue light (maximum excitation at 488 nm), she glows with a bright green light (maximum emission at 509 nm). She was created with EGFP, an enhanced version (i.e., a synthetic mutation) of the original wild-type green fluorescent gene found in the jellyfish Aequorea Victoria. EGFP gives about two orders of magnitude greater fluorescence in mammalian cells (including human cells) than the original jellyfish gene.
(5) Cryonics is the speculative practice of using cold to preserve the life of a person who can no longer be supported by ordinary medicine. The goal is to carry the person forward through time, for however many decades or centuries might be necessary, until the preservation process can be reversed, and the person restored to full health. While cryonics sounds like science fiction, there is a basis for it in real science. (www.alcor.org)
(6) ‘KEO, The satellite that carries the hopes of the world. What reflections, what revelations do your future great grandchildren evoke in you? What would you wish to tell them about your life, your expectations, your doubts, your desires, your values, your emotions, your dreams’? (www.keo.org)
(7) Walter Benjamin (Technocalyps – Frank Theys, 2006)

Present the Present

mei 4th, 2009

‘Are you present in the present to present the present?’ – Jamila Adeli, artistic director of BodhiBerlin asking independant curator Manray Hsu during a dialogue called: Can The Same Exhibition Happen Everywhere? in the framework of Rotterdam Dialogues: The Curators, March 7th 2009, Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Félix Gonzàlez-Torres
Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 1991

Felix Gonzales Torres


november 6th, 2008

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Mon(NU)mentum, 2008 AD
(450 x 60 cm)

Maarten Vanden Eynde Monumentum

Maarten Vanden Eynde Monumentum

Time is a philosophical dimension, a basic substance which we breath in and out constantly. Just like space it is always there. Time experience however seems to be working on many different levels in an ever changing and more personalized speed (sometimes a minute can last forever and your life can fly by in a fraction). Time is not static, it is always on the move. The impossibility to stop time is mirrored by the impossibility to live in the present. ‘Now’ is an elusive point between the past and the future. Like the gardener on his way to Ispahaan, the present is on his way to an unavoidable destiny: the past. There is no escape. When you read THIS word, it became history already. The future is catching up instantly. What is the force that powers the engine of time? Is the present being pulled towards the future?

The Universal Law of Gravitation has several important features. First, it is an inverse square law, meaning that the strength of the force between two massive objects decreases in proportion to the square of the distance between them as they move farther apart. Second, the direction in which the force acts is always along the line (or vector) connecting the two gravitating objects.
In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton first published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) which was a radical treatment of mechanics, establishing the concepts which were to dominate physics for the next two hundred years. Among the book’s most important new concepts was Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation. Newton managed to take Kepler’s Laws governing the motion of the planets and Galileo’s ideas about kinematics and projectile motion and synthesize them into a law which governed both motion on earth and motion in the heavens. This was an achievement of enormous importance for physics; Newton’s discoveries meant that the universe was a rational place in which the same principles of nature applied to all objects.
Could it also work for Time?

Between two objects, let’s say A and B, there is a point where the gravitation of both objects is working with equal force (L1 point, named after Lagrange ). This point is balancing between the two attracting masses. If it is slightly bending towards A or B is will be attracted more by either one of them. It can only move from it’s frozen position, without loosing it’s equal balance, if A and B change mass simultaneously. The mass A is loosing, B has to gain. If time would be a linear experience, and A would be the past and B the future, than the point (C) hanging in the middle would be the present.
Presuming the past is getting longer and longer (or bigger and bigger), in order for C to be equally drawn to both A and B, it needs to be moving towards the future. The past is getting bigger and the future is getting smaller. And on top of that the speed of this process seems to be accelerating. With the population growth as exemplary model and driving fuel, evolution takes place at an unprecedented speed. New inventions and discoveries changing the world beyond recognition are constantly coming closer after each other. Just like the birth of matter during the big bang, time was created at the same moment and moves equally with the expanding universe; faster and faster to it’s final destiny.

The installation ‘Mo(NU)mentum’ is made up of several layers of history, creating a massive pillar. The drill core is like a sample of time, taken from the earth in the future to understand how the world evolved. Starting with a massive block of stone (in which the different geological layers are visible) the drill core contains samples of wood, copper, metal, bricks, concrete, asphalt, tar and plastic. The layers are getting thinner and thinner the closer they get to the present = the plastic layer. So far the materials created a foundation for the next, but the plastic layer is so thin and vulnerable that it is impossible to continue from there. It is a final moment in present evolution.

Maarten Vanden Eynde Monumentum

Mo(NU)mentum is a monument for the future, visualizing the impossibility to continue the current evolution. It is a permanent memory and trace of Generali Groups Executive Forum on Time: Business Opportunity and Strategic Timing. The best Champagne was served in plastic Champagne glasses. The empty glasses were collected and melted on top of the installation, thereby physically contributing the last layer.

Time Travel – Shaping the Future

februari 28th, 2006

by Neil Johnson

The idea of travelling forward into the future or back into the past has always fascinated science fiction writers. The ‘grandfather paradox’ is the argument many people use to suggest that time travel is impossible. What if you went back in time and prevented your grandfather from meeting your grandmother so that your mother was never born? Then you would never have been born… and so on. Until very recently such arguments led most scientists to believe that time travel could never exist outside science fiction. But amazingly, some interpretations of the weirdness of the quantum world now suggest that time travel is possible – at least in theory.

Gravity and black holes
Einstein’s theory of relativity brought space and time together in a single, four-dimensional arrangement that he called spacetime. We know that we can travel forwards, backwards and sideways in space, so why not forwards and backwards in time?

Four dimensions are difficult to imagine, so physicists usually suggest you think of spacetime as a rubber sheet stretched out flat. If there are no large masses around, the sheet stays flat, and so any object placed on it will move around in straight lines. But a large mass, such as the Sun, makes a dip in the sheet because it actually warps spacetime. Now any other object with smaller mass, like our Earth, moving about in spacetime rolls into the dip as it comes past the Sun. It appears ‘attracted’ to the large mass. This effect of warping spacetime is what gives rise to gravity.
The Universe is full of heavy objects exerting gravitational effects and the net result is that spacetime is not flat at all but curved. Everything, including light, has to follow curved paths in spacetime. We know Einstein was right about this because astronomers can sometimes see distant stars that ought to be masked by nearer objects such as the Sun. Instead of travelling in straight lines and hence being blocked, the light from the stars bends round the obstruction.

When a star reaches the end of its life it may collapse inwards under the influence of its own gravity to such an extent that all its matter becomes concentrated into an extremely dense object a fraction of its original size. This is a black hole. Black holes have such a huge gravitational pull that nothing can escape from them, not even light. We cannot see them but we have good evidence that they exist. We can see stars behaving in ways which suggest that they are being pulled about by a nearby invisible object with enormous mass.
What does a black hole do to spacetime? Relativity predicts that at the centre of a black hole is an infinitely dense point, called a singularity, within which all the normal laws of physics no longer apply. Time, space, matter and energy no longer have any well-defined meaning. Einstein’s equations show that such a singularity doesn’t just make a dip in the imaginary rubber sheet of spacetime, it makes a tunnel that goes right through and momentarily opens out on the other side.
Where is ‘the other side’? It could be somewhere else in spacetime, either in the future or in the past, or it could even be in another Universe! If you could take a spaceship through such a tunnel, or wormhole, you would have discovered the secret of time travel. This is of course impossible with today’s technology. But in the future, who knows?

Mini wormholes
Einstein’s equations describe a spacetime that is perfectly smooth, like the rubber sheet. His theory of relativity only deals with the physics of what happens on big scales. It cannot deal with what happens at the centre of a black hole, or what happened during the moment of the Big Bang at the birth of the Universe when spacetime itself was infinitesimally small. That takes us back into the world of quantum physics.
If you could look at spacetime with a magnifying glass so powerful that it reached down to the quantum scale, you would not see the smooth, continuous sheet of Einstein’s spacetime. Just as a foam rubber ball looks smooth from a distance but rough and ragged close up. In this picture of spacetime it is quite likely that tiny holes could open up, entrances to little tunnels between now and other times, or between here and other universes. Another option for future time travellers would be somehow to harness these tiny wormholes and expand them.

Many worlds, many futures?
To return to the question that has puzzled thinkers since Newton’s day, is the future preordained? Or are there an infinite number of futures? One way of looking at the quantum world suggests that not only are there an infinite number of futures, but they are realised in an infinite number of universes.
Photons and electrons sometimes behave as waves and sometimes as particles, but never both at the same time. So far, the argument for interference between one universe and another applies only to events occurring at the quantum level.
But the idea of parallel universes provides a possible resolution to the ‘grandfather paradox’ that might otherwise cause problems for time travellers. If we travel back in time and change history, we launch ourselves into a new future in a parallel universe – but we have no effect on the present one from which we started out.

Scientists of the future may well pursue a new form of futuristic technology based on quantum effects. Such applications could include quantum teleportation, by which a quantum particle can be teleported from one point in space to another; and quantum computation, where calculations can be carried out which would take many years on a conventional computer. Although we now know how to measure time very accurately, have we come any nearer to answering the basic question ‘What is time?’.

Neil Johnson is a Physics lecturer at Oxford University where he heads his own research group.

Gravitation of Time

februari 10th, 2006

The Universal Law of Gravitation has several important features. First, it is an inverse square law, meaning that the strength of the force between two massive objects decreases in proportion to the square of the distance between them as they move farther apart. Second, the direction in which the force acts is always along the line (or vector) connecting the two gravitating objects.
In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton first published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) which was a radical treatment of mechanics, establishing the concepts which were to dominate physics for the next two hundred years. Among the book’s most important new concepts was Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation. Newton managed to take Kepler’s Laws governing the motion of the planets and Galileo’s ideas about kinematics and projectile motion and synthesize them into a law which governed both motion on earth and motion in the heavens. This was an achievement of enormous importance for physics; Newton’s discoveries meant that the universe was a rational place in which the same principles of nature applied to all objects.

Maarten Vanden Eynde

‘Between two objects, let’s say A and B, there is a point where the gravitation of both objects is working with equal force (L1 point, named after Lagrange). This point is balancing between the two attracting masses. If it is slightly bending towards A or B is will be attracted more by either one of them. It can only move from it’s frozen position, without loosing it’s equal balance, if A and B change mass simultaneously. The mass A is loosing, B has to gain.

Time is always moving. When you read this word, it became history already. The future is catching up instantly. The present is an untouchable point always on the move.
If time would be a linear experience, and A would be the past and B the future, than the point hanging in the middle would be the present. The past is getting longer and longer (or bigger and bigger) so in order for this point to be equally drawn to both A and B, it needs to be moving towards the future. The past is getting bigger and the future is getting smaller. And on top of that the speed of this process is accelerating. Just like the birth of matter during the big bang, time was created at the same time and moves equally with the expanding universe; faster and faster to it’s final destiny. Will this be the end or a new beginning?’


The Lagrangian points (also Lagrange point, L-point, or libration point), are the five positions in interplanetary space where a small object affected only by gravity can theoretically be stationary relative to two larger objects (such as a satellite with respect to the Earth and Moon). They are analogous to geosynchronous orbits in that they allow an object to be in a “fixed” position in space rather than an orbit in which its relative position changes continuously.

Lagrangian points

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