Musings of a Solitary Walker
pausing (or parting) thoughts—via paintings, pictures & prose—in three vignettes
Part I: On Time
We go about our lives, perpetually aware of time in a periphery way and yet never stopping to give it our complete focus. In the brilliant poem "Burnt Norton" (Four Quartets, 1943), one of my favorite poets T.S. Eliot wrote:
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
For his latest work, entitled The Clock, artist Christian Marclay has taken on the robust topic of time in an epic 24-hour film. Splicing together short clips from more than 3,000 movies, Marclay has created a disrupted narrative exploring the paradox of time by making it center stage -- the moment on the clock in the film corresponds with the precise moment in actual time (i.e. if your watch says 11:52am the time in the film is 11:52am). Time is simultaneously the star and an extra, protagonist and antagonist, the crescendo and the anti-climax, the narrative and an abstraction, the subject and the subtext - it's tangible and yet allusive.
A film about time sounds insufferably dull, but it's quite the opposite. For The Clock's inaugural screening, White Cube Mason's Yard opened its doors for 24 hours straight to allow visitors the opportunity to experience the entire film - or any "hours" of their choosing. A cinema was fashioned on the lower level of the gallery - replete with plush sofas situated before a gargantuan screen in a dark cavernous space.
Taking a seat, a clock appeared on the screen, 11:15am. A "doubting Thomas,' I checked my phone. And so it was, 11:15am. Enrapture set in immediately. I watched as the film rapidly transitioned from clip to clip, each reflecting the passage of time. 11:16 am ... 11:17 am ... 11:33 am ... 11:47 am. In the blink of an eye it was 12:15pm and the Titanic sailed to America with Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaping aboard. Overwhelmed, I leaned over to my friend
and said, "This is brilliant." "'Absolutely brilliant," she agreed. At nearly the same moment, we both realized that an hour had passed and we were due to be somewhere. It seemed impossible -- how could we have spent the last hour literally fixated on time, and yet somehow lost track of time? Marclay had managed to capture the irreconcilable paradox of time, how painstakingly slow each second ticks by and yet the rapidity with which an hour, a day or a year has passed by. A few days later in an unrelated circumstance, artist Jeffrey Vallance unwittingly explained the phenomena I'd experienced, asserting "time is nonlinear. It is eternal and over in a millisecond."
The experience of the film stayed with me throughout the day, and I returned that night for the 8 o'clock hour, again in the early morning for the 2 o'clock hour, and yet again the following evening for the 5 o'clock hour. All told, I spent more than four hours in the basement of White Cube during those 24 hours, utterly transfixed by time. For the next several days, as I went about my daily life, I noticed clocks all around me that I, pardon the pun, scarcely gave the time of day before. I now looked at these with a renewed curiosity and interest, as one who has just returned from a long journey looks upon the mundane objects of their home. The film had altered my perception of time—it was no longer a confine to describe my presence in a particular circumstance, but a continuum woven together by the spectacular moments of life.
Time past and time future / What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present. —T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton", The Four Quartets, 1943
The above text has been excerpted from ‘Christian Marclay Conquers Time’ penned by Rebecca Taylor for The Huffington Post in 210 (Original article in full HERE)
Part II: On Death
I have a longing for life, and I go on living in spite of logic…And yet I know that I am only going to a graveyard, but it's a most precious graveyard, that's what it is! Precious are the dead that lie there, every stone over them speaks of such burning life in the past, of such passionate faith in their work, their truth, their struggle and their science, that I know I shall fall on the ground and kiss those stones and weep over them; though I'm convinced in my heart that it's long been nothing but a graveyard.” —Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
All photos were taken by Rebecca Taylor in Paris, August 2022.
“When we return to our breathing, we return to the present moment, our true home. There’s no need for us to struggle to arrive somewhere else. We know our final destination is the cemetery. Why are we in a hurry to get there? Why not step in the direction of life, which is in the present moment?” —Thích Nhất Hạnh, How to Walk
Part III: On Being (Presence)
Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, 2012. Photo by Elizabeth Felicella.
In the early days of this experiment in collaborative meaning-making, we explored the topic of ‘recalibration’ (February 2022), and I introduced my ritualized practice of using an artwork (repeatedly over time) as a mirror for the self. As I shared in ‘You Are What You See’ (link below) the repeated engagement with the same work— a practice I call re-presencing—allows me to use aesthetic experience for directed reflection about the past, assessment of impact and growth, and inquiry about the future.
I’ve ‘re-presenced’ using works of art for much of my adult life—though it was only in more recent years that I began to understand its profound impact and began to formalize and employ it more systematically. Interestingly, it wasn’t until aJAR that I had the occasion and impetus to (1) externalize and communicate the practice in writing (via this very blog) and (2) engage in my ritual with greater consistency (monthly) at Yale University Art Gallery, when we would gather to record the aJAR podcast.
Over the course of our 10-month collaboration (we began meeting in New Haven in November 2021), I have had almost as many 15-20 minute ‘dates’ with Rothko—each time approaching the work with the same earnest inquiry. Without fail, close looking yielded deep listening and earnest reflection. Time horizons expanded and collapsed as I noted internal changes from when I had last stood in that same spot, but also since that first meeting in November.
As I write this, I truly don’t know whether this pause is temporary and we’ll resume aJAR in the new year or if this will be my last post, but regardless, my life has been profoundly and indelibly marked by this collaboration. For 10 months, aJAR has provided a loose but steadfast infrastructure for dedicating time—arguably our scarcest and most valuable of resources given the longevity constraints of the human condition—to that which I hold most dear: aesthetic experience, self-reflection and-interrogation, creative expression (writing) and, perhaps most unique to this collaboration, deep relationship and thoughtful exchange of ideas with people who both challenge and strengthen me (as iron sharpens iron). Whatever aJAR does or doesn’t become, I will forever consider these past 10 months well spent.
“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” —Epictetus
I don't miss the distraction of Clubhouse. I do miss the joy and wisdom of Rebecca, Joan and A.M. May our paths cross again at some point in this limitless universe of infinite possibilities. Lots of love! Lisa