Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time

Books & reading, Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection


Lecture Notes

  • What is time? Linear time is wrong. As you go further, time loses its structure. Quantum gravity is at the bottom of what we know and things get complicated! Time is a sequence of moments that is ordered. We intuitively assume it has a direction. The past is known as we can remember it – history. There are traces to evidence it happened. We have memories. The future has nothing, we can measure it with clocks, we have no concrete evidence it will happen. Time is a good concept for our daily lives but it stops working when we look ahead. When we look ahead, the properties don’t work. Time is layered.
  • How do we measure time? Clocks measure time, but they don’t all measure the same. If one goes higher, it measures different. Atomic clocks with precision can measure this error. Your head is older than your feet!
  • General Relativity Einstein predicted and showed that mass slows down time. This means closer to masses like the Earth, time is slower. Hence why our feet age slower than our heads. In our experience, the difference is not noticeable but we can measure it and on an astronomical scale it becomes more important. There is no single time in the universe.
  • What does now mean? We always see things in the past, there is no meaning of now outside small distances because of the speed of light. It takes light time to travel so when we look at an object we are seeing how it looked in the past. Again, significant for astronomical distances. There is no meaning of now outside of the bubble. We are told what is real is now, but how can it be?
  • Thermodynamics and Entropy The past is different from the future. Only one equation in the whole of physics shows this. The 2nd law of thermodynamics with the concept of Entropy (S). Entropy fundamentally is a statistical measure of disorder. Entropy always flows from ordered to less ordered. So it distinguishes past from future. The order is in the eye of who is looking; the order depends on what you are categorising e.g. colour, size. The past looks ordered only because of how we observe it. So, why was the universe ordered in the past? It looks ordered to us as we are the ones categorising it. To someone else with a different set of organised criteria, it may not look it. So, does it really relate to time?
  • Models of Time On the quantum level, it is probability only. Time is the counting of change. We can see this back in Aristotle. Newton introduced the idea of time passing but we now go back to a more Aristotelian model.
  • The brain and time The brain works by anticipating the future and remembering the past. It is a time machine. Does this make time a truly human construct? St Augustine wrote on this back in his Confessions. For example, we only ever hear one musical note at a time but our brain acts as a memory store for the ones we have just heard to piece it together in a phrase. We cannot think without time. In Search of Lost Time – Proust covers some of these themes. Time is always emotionally charged. The Buddhists describe this as the sense of suffering due to impermanence. Time is the root of our suffering as we never beat it.

Book Notes

Perhaps Time is the Greatest Mystery

Perhaps Time is the Greatest Mystery. The universe unfolds into the future, dragged by time, and exists according to the order of time.

In those same books, I also discovered that we still don’t know how time actually works. The nature of time is perhaps the greatest remaining mystery.

Why do we remember the past and not the future? Do we exist in time, or does time exist in us? What does it really mean to say that time ‘ passes ’? What ties time to our nature as persons, to our subjectivity? What am I listening to when I listen to the passing of time?

What we call ‘ time ’ is a complex collection of structures, of two layers

Because the mystery of time is ultimately, perhaps, more about ourselves than about the cosmos.

I believe our knowledge of time has reached: up to the brink of that vast nocturnal and star-studded ocean of all that we still don’t know.

Let’s begin with a simple fact: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level.

Time passes more slowly in some places, more rapidly in others

This modification of the structure of time influences, in turn, the movement of bodies, causing them to ‘ fall ’ towards each other

The Earth is a large mass and slows downtime in its vicinity

If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, in interplanetary space, things do not fall. They float, without falling

time passes more slowly for your feet than it does for your head.

Things are transformed one into another according to necessity and render justice to one another according to the order of time

the whole of our physics, and science in general, is about how things develop ‘ according to the order of time ’.

The equations tell us how things change as the time measured by a clock passes.

times that change relative to each other. Neither is truer than the other.

Times are legion: a different one for every point in space.

Einstein has given us the equations that describe how proper times develop relative to each other.

Time has lost its first aspect or layer: its unity.

If the world is upheld by the dancing Shiva, there must be ten thousand such dancing Shivas, like the dancing figures painted by Matisse …H

Past and future are different from each other. Cause precedes effect. Pain comes after a wound, not before it.

We cannot change the past; we can have regrets, remorse, memories. The future instead is uncertainty, desire, anxiety, open space, destiny

Time is not a line with two equal directions: it is an arrow with different extremities.

Rebellion is perhaps among the deepest roots of science: the refusal to accept the present order of things.

All of the sons of Adam are part of one single body, They are of the same essence. When time afflicts us with pain In one part of that body All the other parts feel it too. If you fail to feel the pain of others You do not deserve the name of man.

poetry is another of science’s deepest roots: the capacity to see beyond the visible.

Rudolf Clausius. It is he who grasps the fundamental issue at stake, formulating a law that was destined to become famous: if nothing else around it changes

heat cannot pass from a cold body to a hot one.

This is the only basic law of physics that distinguishes the past from the future.

one of these equations distinguishes the past from the future.

In the elementary equations of the world, 5 the arrow of time appears only where there is heat.fn1 The link between time and heat is therefore fundamental: every time a difference is manifested between the past and the future, heat is involved. In every sequence of events that becomes absurd if projected backwards, there is something that is heating up

Only where there is heat is there a distinction between past and future.

‘ the second principle of thermodynamics ’

heat passes only from hot bodies to cold, never the other way round.

heat passes from hot to cold, and not vice versa: by shuffling, by the natural disordering of everything. The growth of entropy is nothing other than the ubiquitous and familiar natural increase of disorder.

If we think about it carefully, every configuration is particular, every configuration is singular, if we look at all of its details, since every configuration always has something about it that characterizes it uniquely. Just as, for its mother, every child is particular and unique

Yes. If I observe the microscopic state of things, then the difference between past and future vanishes.

In a microscopic description, there can be no sense in which the past is different from the future.

the difference between the past and the future refers only to our own blurred vision of the world.

there is nothing intrinsic about the flowing of time. That it is only the blurred reflection of a mysterious improbability of the universe at a point in the past.

The consequence of this discovery for our basic intuitive perception of time is the most devastating of all.

Time passes more slowly for the one who keeps moving

For everything that moves, time passes more slowly.

Nobody had imagined previously that time could be different for a stationary watch and one that was being moved.

Not only is there no single time for different places – there is not even a single time for any particular place

‘ Now ’ Means Nothing

The light takes time to reach you, let’s say a few nanoseconds – a tiny fraction of a second – therefore, you are not quite seeing what she is doing now but what she was doing a few nanoseconds ago.

The truth of the matter is that we need to give up asking the question

The notion of ‘ the present ’ refers to things that are close to us, not to anything that is far away

Our ‘ present ’ does not extend throughout the universe. It is like a bubble around us

As humans, we distinguish tenths of a second only with great difficulty; we can easily consider our entire planet to be like a single bubble where we can speak of the present as if it were an instant shared by us all.

The idea that a well-defined now exists throughout the universe is an illusion, an illegitimate extrapolation of our own experience

there is no such thing as “ the same moment ” definable in the universe

A partial order establishes a relation of before and after between certain elements, but not between any two of them.

The temporal structure of the universe is very similar to this one. It is also made of cones.

defines an order between the events of the universe that is partial, not complete.

The expanded present is the set of events that are neither past nor future

Every event has its past, its future and a part of the universe that is neither past nor future, just as every person has forebears, descendants and others who are neither forebears nor descendants.

Light travels along the oblique lines that delimit these cones. This is why we call them ‘ light cones

This is the structure of spacetime that Einstein understood when he was twenty-five years old

When a gravitational wave passes, for example, the small light cones oscillate together from right to left, like ears of wheat blown by the wind.

In this way, a continuous trajectory towards the future returns to the originating event, to where it began.

This is because the mass of the black hole slows time to such a degree that, at its border ( called the ‘ horizon ’ ), time stands still

So, to exit from a black hole, you would need to move ( like the trajectory marked in black in the following diagram ) towards the present rather than towards the future!

More than a hundred years have passed since we learned that the ‘ present of the universe ’ does not exist. And yet this continues to confound us and still seems difficult to conceptualize

If the present has no meaning, then what ‘ exists ’ in the universe? Is not what ‘ exists ’ precisely what is here ‘ in the present ’?

‘ How long is forever ? ’ asks Alice. ‘ Sometimes, just one second, ’ replies the White Rabbit.

Time is elastic in our personal experience of it.

On the one hand, time is structured by the liturgical calendar

For centuries, we have divided time into days. The word ‘ time ’ derives from an Indo – European root – di or dai – meaning ‘ to divide ’.

Sundials, hourglasses and water clocks already existed in the ancient world

It is only in the fourteenth century in Europe that people’s lives start to be regulated by mechanical clocks.

Gradually, time slips from the hands of the angels and into those of the mathematicians

For centuries, as long as travel was on horseback, on foot or in carriages, there was no reason to synchronize clocks between one place and another.

It is in the United States that the first attempt is made to standardize time.

In 1883 a compromise is reached with the idea of dividing the world into time zones

Einstein worked in the Swiss Patent Office, dealing specifically with patents relating to the synchronization of clocks at railway stations.

The rhythm of the day followed by night also regulates the lives of plants and animals.

Diurnal rhythms are ubiquitous in the natural world. They are essential to life,

Living organisms are full of clocks of various kinds – molecular, neuronal, chemical, hormonal – each of them more or less in tune with the others

The diurnal rhythm is an elementary source of our idea of time

In the ancient consciousness of humanity, time is, above all, this counting of days.

counting how things change.

Aristotle is the first we are aware of to have asked himself the question ‘ What is time? ’

time is the measurement of change.

Time is the measure of change: 8 if nothing changes, there is no time.

the existence of a time that is uniform, independent of things and of their movement which today seems so natural to us is not an ancient intuition that is natural to humanity itself. It’s an idea of Newton’s.

Legend has it that Leibniz, whose name is still occasionally spelt with a ‘ t ’ ( Leibnitz ), had deliberately dropped the letter from his name following his belief in the nonexistence of the absolute Newtonian time t.

Don’t take your intuitions and ideas to be ‘ natural ’: they are often the products of the ideas of audacious thinkers who came before us.

That which seems intuitive to us now is the result of scientific and philosophical elaborations in the past.

Remember the clocks in Chapter 1 that slow down in the vicinity of a mass? They slow down because there is, in a precise sense, ‘ less ’ gravitational field there. There is less time there.

Time thus becomes part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space.

the residual temporal scaffolding of general relativity, illustrated in the previous chapter, also falls away if we take quanta into account.

The time measured by a clock is ‘ quantified ’, that is to say, it acquires only certain values and not others. It is as if time were granular rather than continuous.

A minimum interval of time exists. Below this, the notion of time does not exist – even in its most basic meaning.

The Shape of Time – Summary and Notes

Book Summary, Books & reading, Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection


Art is usually defined as a symbolic language which leads to a basis of culture being anchored upon art as a symbolic expression.

Chapter 1 – The History of Things

We seem to prefer to catalogue from history certain types of art and objects. This means our archive is limited.

The systematic study of things is less than five hundred years old.

The history of art treats the least useful and most expressive.

The oldest surviving things made by men are stone tools. A continuous series runs from them to the things of today. The series has branched many times, and it has often run out into dead ends.

Everything made now is a replica or variant

Historians can cut time wherever they want to aid their own categories.

Artistic biography is very incomplete too and only really started in the 1300s

We also decide who is talented and worth remembering. Times and opportunities differ more than the degree of talent.

We tend to use biological metaphors for time and historical styles, however, it is often not the most appropriate. Biological time is continuous. Historical time of more intermittent and variable.

Although both the history of art and the history of science have the same recent origins in the eighteenth-century learning of the European Enlightenment, our inherited habit of separating art from science goes back to the ancient division between liberal and mechanical arts. The separation has had the most regrettable consequences. We miss opportunities to work together.

Science and art both deal with needs satisfied by the mind and the hands in the manufacture of things.

It wasn’t always the case that they were separated. In the past, particularly in the Renaissance, they were very much together.

The historian’s special contribution is the discovery of the manifold shapes of time. The aim of the historian, regardless of his speciality in erudition, is to portray time. He is committed to the detection and description of the shape of time.

Unless he is an annalist or a chronicler the historian communicates a pattern that was invisible to his subjects when they lived it, and unknown to his contemporaries before he detected it.

Time, like mind, is not knowable as such. We know time only indirectly by what happens in it: by observing change and permanence; by marking the succession of events among stable settings; and by noting the contrast of varying rates of change. Written documents give us a thin recent record for only a few parts of the world. In the main, our knowledge of older times is based upon visual evidence of physical and biological duration. Technological seriations of all sorts and sequences of works of art in every grade of distinction yield a finer time scale overlapping with the written record. Now that absolute confirmations by tree-rings and earth-clocks are at hand, it is astonishing in retrospect to discover how very accurate were the older guesses of relative age based upon seriations and their comparisons. The cultural clock preceded all the physical methods. It is nearly as exact, and it is a more searching method of measurement than the new absolute clocks, which often still require confirmation by cultural means, especially when the evidence itself is of mixed sorts. The cultural clock, however, runs mainly upon ruined fragments of matter recovered from refuse heaps and graveyards, from abandoned cities and buried villages. Only the arts of material nature have survived: of music and dance, of talk and ritual, of all the arts of temporal expression practically nothing is known elsewhere than in the Mediterranean world, save through traditional survivals among remote groups. Hence our working proof of the existence of nearly all older peoples is in the visual order, and it exists in matter and space rather than in time and sound. We depend for our extended knowledge of the human past mainly upon the visible products of man’s industry.

The difference between craft and art is discussed in great depth.

The nature of actuality – Actuality is when the lighthouse is dark between flashes: it is the instant between the ticks of the watch: it is a void interval slipping forever through time: the rupture between past and future: the gap at the poles of the revolving magnetic field, infinitesimally small but ultimately real. It is the inter-chronic pause when nothing is happening. It is the void between events. – It is all we ever really know.

To other animals who live more by instinct than do humans, the instant of actuality must seem far less brief.

What we sense now really happened in the past due to the speed of light. Astronomers only ever look at old light.

There is a signal to us which we interpret.

Celebrated events get to us by an unbroken alternating sequence of event, signal, recreated event, renewed signal.

In the relay, things like myths can get regenerated.

Chapter 2 – The Classing of Things

We seem to have a desire to categorise everything.

Time doesn’t always fit into our granular durations. We opt to try and categorise style instead.

T. S. Eliot was perhaps the first to note this relationship when he observed that every major work of art forces upon us a reassessment of all previous works.

Sequencing may serve as a useful scaffold to divide portions of history and styles.

When does one part of the sequence start and end?

Fashions in dress are often the shortest durations.

Tools are often the longest in duration.

Inside these are prime objects and replications.

This idea of collecting only happens in the European, Chinese and Japanese people.

Artists are obsessive types of people.

Usually, the entire range and bearing of such a career can be brought into focus only long after death, when we can place it in relation to preceding and subsequent events. But by then the shock of the innovation has faded. We may tell ourselves that these pictures or buildings once broke with the tradition. But in our present, they have entered the tradition as if by simple chronological distance.

Chapter 3 – The Propagation of Things

Our attitudes are in constant change.

Our whole cultural tradition favours the values of permanence, yet the conditions of present existence require an acceptance of continual change.

When we imagine the transposition of the men of one age into the material setting of another, we betray the nature of our ideas about historical change.

Aesthetic inventions are focused upon individual awareness: they have no therapeutic or explanatory purpose;

events. Since no two things or events can occupy the same coordinates of space and time, every act differs from its predecessors and its successors. No two things or acts can be accepted as identical. Every act is an invention.

This age dedicated to change for its own sake has also discovered the simple hierarchy of the replicas that fill the world.

Our actual perception of time depends upon regularly recurrent events, unlike our awareness of history, which depends upon unforeseeable change and variety. Without change there is no history; without regularity, there is no time. Time and history are related as rule and variation: time is the regular setting for the vagaries of history. The replica and the invention are related in the same way: a series of true inventions excluding all intervening replicas would approach chaos, and an all-embracing infinity of replicas without variation would approach formlessness. The replica relates to regularity and to time; the invention relates to variation and to history.

No act ever is completely novel, and no action can ever be quite accomplished without variation.

The usual view in our age is that obsolescence is merely an economic phenomenon occasioned by technical advances and by pricing. The cost of the maintenance of old equipment outruns the cost of its replacement with new and more efficient items. The incompleteness of this view is apparent when we consider the decision not to discard.

The retention of old things has always been a central ritual in human societies. Its contemporary expression in the public museums of the world rises from extremely deep roots, although the museums themselves are only young institutions going back to the royal collections and the cathedral treasuries of earlier ages. In a wider perspective, the ancestor cults of primitive tribes have a similar purpose, to keep present some record of the power and knowledge of vanished peoples.

The point of these distinctions is that merely useful things disappear more completely than meaningful and pleasurable things.

We often invent new variations due to boredom and a desire for something new.

Chapter 4 – Some Kinds of Duration

It is calendrical time, which permits us to arrange events one after another. But that is all. The domain of the historical sciences remains impervious to other numbers.

Calendrical time indicates nothing about the changing pace of events. The rate of change in history is not yet a matter for precise determinations: we will have advanced if only we arrive at a few ideas about the different kinds of duration.

More readily available for observation are the lives of famous artists. The pace and tone of an artist’s life can tell us much about his historical situation, although most artists’ lives are uninteresting.

These only occurred in Europe and the Far East. Africa American and India we know nothing about.

There are slow-paced, patient painters, such as Claude Lorrain and Paul Cézanne,

today. In the Middle Ages, the individual artist remains invisible behind the corporate façades of church and guild.

The number of ways for things to occupy time is probably no more unlimited than the number of ways in which matter occupies space.

History has no periodic table of elements and no classification of types or species; it has only solar time and a few old ways of grouping events, but no theory of temporal structure.

Because no work of art exists outside the linked sequences that connect every man-made object since the remotest antiquity, everything has a unique position in that system. This position is marked by coordinates of place, age, and sequence. The age of an object has not only the customary absolute value in years elapsed since it was made: age also has a systematic value in terms of the position of a thing in the pertinent sequence.

We also have a very colonial centric record as native records were often destroyed.

Our ideas about Middle Minoan time are clearer than our ideas about Europe between the World Wars, partly because less is known, partly because the ancient world was less complex, and partly because old history comes into a long perspective more easily than the close view of a recent happening.

The older the events are, the more are we likely to disregard differences of systematic age.

Self-determining sequences are much rarer, and they are harder to detect. Early Christian art was a deliberate rejection of pagan traditions. The survivals of pagan antiquity were either strategic or unconscious in early Christianity. The Christian sequence, however, rapidly became model-bound, as when the close array of these revivals of Early Christian architectural types finally constituted the Early Christian tradition.

Tehching Hsieh

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Notes, Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection

Andrew Cummings reports on a talk by Tehching Hsieh.

One Year Performance

One Year Performance1980-1981 1980-1 Tehching Hsieh born 1950 Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2013

Time Clock involved punching a time clock every hour for a year.

Physically demanding year-long immersive art.

Challenging the limit of possibility in terms of endurance

There is often a disconnect between performance and its representation in text, photography and art. How can you possibly write about punching a time clock every hour for a year to the same degree as experiencing it?

Also when you’re looking at someone’s life works over say 30 years, how do you summarise that? Or put together one exhibition? in other words, the task of translating time into space.

His works are about passing time. Time Clock and Outdoor Piece.

Amelia Groom writes – the 133 times that Hsieh failed to punch the clock out of a possible 8,760 are a vital component of the work as they highlight the conflict between corporeal time – the time of circadian rhythms, for example – and clock time. And though the time-lapsed film of the performance (a stop-action record made up of the 8,267 photograms taken when Hsieh did punch the clock) condenses the time of the 365-day performance into a six-minute film, it also registers an otherwise barely detectable corporeal time as the artist’s hair grows and his face bears greater signs of fatigue with the passing of the year.

Relentless productive work of capitalism. Every hour of the day, not just 9-5, represents how work seems to spill over into all hours of the day now.

Hsieh’s performances address pure time, the constantly renewing time of the present in which we all live, not any particular time or moment in his life.

This work has a lot in common with Ma(r)king Time.

Holding Time – Lisa Creagh

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Exhibitions, Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection

I had the pleasure of attending the launch event for Holding Time which is an experimental art project around motherhood and breastfeeding.

I was interested in the event because of the subject of motherhood and breastfeeding which is very close to me, but also because the title intrigued me, especially with looking in-depth at the ways artists use and portray time for this unit.

The project involves photographs, animations, conversations, presentations and a lot of collaboration and aims to inspire a new generation of families to find their way back to breastfeeding, which is as old as humans themselves.

There are different ways the concept of time is interwoven into the work. There is a moving animation of Breastfeeding mothers that evokes images of an ancient breastfeeding circle.

There are also the photographs that are incredibly powerful themselves as a rich tapestry of diversity and variety in breastfeeding. The idea that this photo captures a very intimate moment of time between mother and child.

There is also a deeper exploration of time. Becoming a mother can sometimes make women outsiders to “normal time”. A woman can go from working full time and having a very time defined role to having their world turned upside down. Breastfeeding still even in 2021 makes it difficult for some women to return to the world of work, they can lose part of their identity and with it feel like linear time has stopped for them.

I find the technique describe by the artist Lisa Creagh fascinating.

Each mother was photographed every four seconds. These stills were then used to create short sequences, animated in ‘realtime’. The use of one frame per four seconds disrupts the time illusion typically created through the acceleration of 24 frames per second. The Cosmatesque Timepiece offers a PreIndustrial alternative to our linear timekeeping through a scale-based timecode that grows as time ‘passes’.

This ‘right-brained clock’ is based on an ancient Cosmatesque design, found on the floor of the Sistine Chapel contextualises the breastfeeding mothers within an older decorative tradition, recontextualising motherhood and breastfeeding in particular as an active, rather than passive activity, by disrupting the dominant western understandings of time.

Sarah Sze – TED Talk

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection

Where does an artwork begin?

We use art and materials to make sense of the world around us. A fragile pursuit. Brings together everyday materials to build immersive experiences and ultimately occupy memory. To start a piece of work we often have to wipe the slate clean to begin.

Why and how do objects acquire value for us? Mass-produced objects that are designed for use not aesthetic. Can the way we interact with them create some kind of value in them?
How do we breathe life into inanimate materials? Blur the boundaries between mediums and blur the experience between being in art and being in real life. See the art in everyday life.

We experience time through materials, so what happens when the line is blurred? Experimented with animals moving on film. If we try to remember one thing that happened in a year – that one moment we remember expands to fill the whole time. One image can grow and haunt us.

Confusing over what is an image and what is an object – made the interior of a planetarium.

Image from Confusing over what is an image and what is an object – made the interior of a planetarium.

Shadows, images and real objects all get blurred

Painting is the representation of the interior images we have.
We store memory as images. Images appear in our memory.

Painting reminds you of the limits of photography. Looked at an image and then tries to create what it would look like on the retina as an afterimage.
Merging of mediums. Takes sculptures and makes them in sketches and graphics and vice versa.
Is the idea of art to remain in the memory and then continue to generate ideas?

The Art of Contemporary Experience – Peter Kalb

Books & reading, Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection

Peter Kalb is an associate professor of contemporary art at Brandeis University. The book Art Since 1980: Charting the Contemporary “charts the story of art in contemporary global culture while holding up a mirror to our society.” “The political and cultural transformations of the early 1980s developed a new era of accord between communist states and western-style economics. The art world has since been reconceived and today we see record-breaking sales of contemporary art and a dramatic rise in the number of students taking courses in the visual and performing arts. Kalb approaches art from multiple angles, addressing issues of artistic production, display, critical reception and social content. Alongside his analysis of specific works of art, he also builds a framework for readers to increase their knowledge and enhance critical and theoretical thinking.”

My immediate thought when finding out about the author and then skimming through the artists mentioned is that the whole chapter is a very white western male perspective.

The excerpt we were given is from Chapter 11: The Art of Contemporary Experience. It is difficult to find a copy of the whole book to understand how this chapter fits in the rest of the book.

My overall summary of the chapter is that it is a reflection on how we experience creative art, both how the artist intends the experience and how a participator actually experiences it. There are many interesting points to consider throughout the chapter. I think one of the things that stands out to me is this idea of subjectivity and objectivity. Is there really any experience that is truly objective? So much of what we experience is based on our own perceptions. Even though on a biological level, the mechanism behind the senses may be the same from person to person, there is such a range of how that is actually interpreted. Light with the same wavelength may trigger the exact same response in the retina but how that is processed by the visual cortex is so different. At what point does that difference occur? Taking the colour example, the colour can seem different when it is next to other colours, it can evoke different memories in different people, there are people even who have certain smells associated with different colours. There may also be people who have colour blindness who see a completely different colour. Maybe some don’t see colour at all. We have different colour preferences too. Why do we all interpret something that has a very physical property such a wavelength, so differently? Is there a true and real colour? Culture and society also have a huge impact, we associate different colours with themes. Green for example is the environment but then may differ in different cultures. As stated in the opening paragraph, they are in perpetual flux too. Time constantly changes our perspective and like mentioned later in the chapter, there is a reminder that we can never experience a first again. Once we have seen something the memory of that will always have an impact on how we view it the second time. Perhaps this is what time is, a hard line that is drawn where we can’t go back to experience something again. This makes me think about people who have memory loss, are they experiencing something new again? Or is there always some residual memory there that impacts their experience, even if it isn’t conscious?

The chapter looks at different ways that different artists have tried to consider this experience and how they have tried to test the ability to measure experiences accurately. They “demand viewers layer their sensual apprehension of form with an intellectual analysis of content”.

The chapter (and book) focuses on the post-1980s as it is felt this is when we as a society became more self-conscious. What was it about the 80s and 90s? Post-modernism : “Postmodern art drew on the philosophy of the mid to late twentieth century, and advocated that individual experience and interpretation of our experience was more concrete than abstract principles”.

This idea of examining what we see isn’t new. 18th-century Baroque art challenged the idea of the present with the ethereal realm of the divine.

The 1960s – Light and Space art aimed to allow people to view just the abstract effects of lights, colour and space and be free from specific cultural references. Is this truly possible? Or are we always influenced by culture and history – unconscious bias?

James Turrell is someone who creates art where shadows, reflections and solid objects are all equally real. It isn’t about fooling the eye in an optical illusion way, it is about letting people view something and reach their own conclusions.

We know our senses aren’t always accurate and there are people who suffer from memory loss. In these situations, how do we regain our bearings? This is something Eliasson tries to play with. Your strange certainty deliberately confuses. Water stops mid-air, fake electric storms are created. You know when you see it that it isn’t a real storm but the sense of wonder is no less powerful.

“Light and Space artists heighten our awareness of the human being as a sensing body”. We rely on our senses more than we realise – when they are taken away we often notice what is missing. For example, how different food tastes when you lose a sense of smell.

Your colour memory by Eliasson is a curved wall that changes colour. Due to the way the retina deals with light colours, as the colour of the wall changes, there is an afterimage. Each viewer’s experience is dependent on when he or she entered the piece, and the combinations of colour and afterimage will be different for everyone. This reminds me of the music piece where it is up to the composer and no piece is the same. John Cage’s Piano Concert (1957) there the order and inclusion of parts is at the performer’s discretion. So each performance will be different.

Ernesto Neto challenges the duality of body and mind. “body-minds that we connect the things in this world, in life- the way we touch, the way we feel, the way we think and the way we deal.”

Neto’s understanding of the mind-body, his perception of the world we encounter, either in the artwork or outside it, is as a “cultural-physical” entity. That art should be about trying to create experiences.

Roni Horn’s Things that happen again is one of the most interesting pieces mentioned in the chapter. It is two identical copper cones that are placed in two different rooms that are next to each other. The piece needs time and memory

You go into a space and see a simple disc. It doesn’t look like much: it isn’t until you walk in and see that it is a three-dimensional cone-shaped object which is familiar but has certain subtle formal qualities which make it different, which take away from it being familiar. It becomes memorable. Then you go into the next room and enact exactly the same experience, but of course, it’s unexpected and it’s so many minutes later; it’s a slightly younger experience in your life. Whereas when you walked into the first room, you had the experience of sometl1ing unique, you can’t have that a second time.

It is a very insightful way of highlighting that everything we see we are influenced by past experience. This idea of things being identical is a paradox, you always have one that is here and one that is there. Time and place have such an important role in something’s identity.

Another artist mentioned in the chapter I am fascinated by is Mark Dion and his work On Tropical Nature. Perhaps it is because I resonate with him mixing biology and art and his idea of interdisciplinarity between the two. It is early environmental art. I also am intrigued by his references to the way we want to classify and categorise everything. It seems a very human need. Like the historians who want to categorise time into distinct periods. Dion gathered different curiosities from his trips and placed them together, leaving the viewer puzzled as to why they were together. It makes us think about why museums choose the collections they do. Who gets to decide what is valuable enough to put on show. If you look at children and the way they treasure the strangest of things at times, it can often seem illogical too. But isn’t every categorising illogical and influenced by someone? It reminds me of a scene early in Stalker where the three men are talking in the bar before they set off to the zone. One tells the tale of an artefact in a museum that was found to be fake to trick archaeologists. Before this was discovered everyone viewed the item with “oohs and ahhs”. After the discovery of its deception, it was deemed worthless. Why do we place value on some items and not others? Is art really the influence of galleries, is this the same thing the Land Artists were running from? Some things also lose their value when placed in a gallery or museum. Like the hemlock tree in Dion’s Vivarium. It can no longer contribute to the greater environment even though it can be grown inside for decades

Artists and Work Mentioned

Olafur Eliasson

Your strange certainty still kept (1996)

Your colour memory (2004)

A curved room with changing colours

Thomas Hirschhorn

Cavemanman (2002)

Cavemanman (2002)

Robert Irwin

A central figure in the 1960s California-based Light and Space (

Created works where shadows and reflections have the same properties as objects

James Turrell

Also mentioned in Doug’s lecture.

Ernesto Neto

Anthropodino (2009)

A network of navelike rooms, skeletal corridors, small caverns, and open pools and pads filled with cushions and balls.

Carston Holler

Roni Horn

Things that happen again (1986-91)

Still Water 1999

1999 Roni Horn born 1955 Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of the American Acquisitions Committee 2005, accessioned 2008

Library of Water

Mark Dion

On Tropical Nature

The Vivarium

Stalker – Andrei Tarkovsky 1979

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 1: The Shape of Time

Description: “A guide leads two men through an area known as the Zone to find a room that grants wishes.”

This is a movie that was mentioned in Doug’s intro lecture that intrigued me when I first heard about it. It is loosely based on the sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which I intend to finish reading too.

The movie is from 1979 and is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky whose films I am aware of. Stalker has been one I have wanted to watch for a while and I was not disappointed.

The movie is slow, dreamlike and the long camera shots pull you into the film in a very experiential almost hypnotic way. The background is haunting and makes you feel uncomfortable at times.

The sepia like tones used and the muted colours of the zone add to the atmosphere created by Tarkovsky.

In terms of plot, it is simple and there isn’t the high-speed action of modern sci-fi but that is what makes this movie so enthralling. The slowness makes you feel like you are watching it in real-time and you see the existential struggles of the three characters as they play out.

It is a philosophical movie about what happiness means, what it means to be human, about what we yearn for. At the same time, it is a movie about time and what passing time means.

Reading About Art

Books & reading, Coursework, Notes, Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection

Why do we read when we study?

I am hugely passionate about reading about subjects. Reading gives you an insight into the mind of other people in a very intimate way. It is the way we share ideas, collaborate, challenge our own ideas and knowledge, develop our understanding and find new ways of working.

Suggested Reading List

CA4ECA Reading List


  1. Make notes when reading
  2. Don’t feel you have to read the whole book
  3. Read journal abstracts
  4. Keep an annotated Bibliography

SQR3 method

  • Survey (Skim) – Look through the chapter to get a feel of what it is about. Skim the content to check prior understanding and look for what is useful and interesting.
  • Question – Examine the text in detail. Ask questions about what you are reading. Highlight sections.
  • Read – Go back through your highlights and read again carefully.
  • Recall – Outline the main points in your own words to check understanding.
  • Review – Read the text again to make notes on anything missed. Is there further reading you need to do?

Troublemakers – Documentary

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Notes, Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection

When researching Smithson and his Spiral Jetty, I stumbled across ‘Troublemakers’ the 2020 documentary about the land art movement.

From the start, the title intrigued me. I had an idea as to why they were labelled troublemakers from the reading I had done about the anti-establishment principles the movement was based on, but I wanted to find out more.


  • The Land Art movement was s group in the mid 1960s who used land as both the subject and the material
  • The works remain impressive even today
  • Everyone at that time was an explorer and there was a hunt for as bigger canvas
  • There was also a desire to end galleries and dealers and the influence they had, to give the voice back to the artist
  • There was a mixed reaction with some even labelling it Satanic and Violent
  • The idea was to be able to experience art
  • Links to the time – Vietnam War
  • Munich depression by Michael Heizer was one of the first
  • The era of space travel had an influence as we saw Earth in a new perspective
  • As did aerial views in general
  • Duchamp’s work was all aerial
  • The USA was the prime country for this to happen due to the space available out West
  • Was the movement anti-gallery? Or was it a need for space?
  • It alsmost created a new type of religion where people had to make pilgrimages out to see the works
  • However, artists still used galleries as meeting points, to make connections and exchange ideas
  • To people like Smithson, the idea was often more important than the doing
  • Smithson originally tried to find land in New Jersey but nowhere was suitable
  • Instead, the Earthworks show was born
  • Earthworks took its name from a sci-fi book, but the show was literally art using dirt. It gave the movement the massive publicity it needed
  • Walter De Maria filled the entire room with dirt
  • The art is linked to ecological concerns
  • Heizer’s double negative links to time as you see sirectly the layers that are in the cut outs through time
  • Also has themes of process and labour too

Katie Paterson

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 1: The Shape of Time, Research & Reflection

One of the creative pieces in Doug’s lecture that inspired me was Future Library by Katie Paterson. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what grabbed my attention. My background is science initially and so I guess I am always drawn to pieces that have a scientific slant to them. I also am really intrigued by the time element, that the work won’t be complete for 100 years, so the artist herself is unlikely to ever see the full reward of her work. This on one view seems a very selfless act, she is leaving something that only others will be able to enjoy and she will never know how the final reveal is received. The choice of 100 years is interesting as it is just out of reach of most people’s lifetimes but not too far in the future to be incomprehensible. It seems tantalisingly close, but just out of reach.

Katie Paterson is a Scottish contemporary artist. Her works have a lot of ecological themes. Her graduation piece Vatnajökull (the sound of), featured a mobile phone number connected to a microphone submerged in a lagoon beneath Europe’s largest glacier. Related work includes Langjökull, Snaefellsjökull, Soheimajökull, in which the soundscape of melting glaciers was created by making LPs from ice consisting of glacier meltwater. She has also done projects where she mapped 27,000 known dead stars.

Future Library

A forest has been planted in Norway, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the year 2114. The manuscripts will be presented in a specially designed room in the new public library, Oslo. Writers to date include Margaret Atwood (2014), David Mitchell (2015), Sjón (2016), Elif Shafak (2017), Han Kang (2018), Karl Ove Knausgård (2019), and Ocean Vuong (2020).

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Other Works

Many of Paterson’s other creations are really interesting to me too.

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  • Timepieces: A series of nine clocks that tell the time on the planets in our solar system and Earth’s Moon. The durations of the day and night range from planet to planet, from the shortest on Jupiter to the longest on Mercury. Each clock is calibrated to tell the time in relation to the other planets and to Earth.
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