Ma(r)king Time (2014) is a piece of work by two Dutch artists Milou van Ham and Moniek Driesse. It is intriguing as it is certainly a piece of work with many layers to it and one that has made me consider different aspects of time and how we spend our time. On one level, it is a paper poster made up of punched holes. Its style reminds me in a loose way of Georges Seurat’s pointillism where a piece of work is built up from smaller dots and together very small pieces of information build up the piece of art, however, this is in monochrome and does not utilise the colour Seurat does.
The time scale in which it was created is significant. It was over what is a typical traditional working week, 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday over the usual 40-hours that people work for. The significance of forty is emphasised too in that the piece is split into forty parts. It makes me think of routine jobs I have had in the past where the hours go incredibly slowly but then suddenly it is Friday and there is two days reprieve before beginning again at 9 am Monday morning. It could be highlighting the aspect of time that is down to the human perception of it. Where when something we enjoy seems to go faster than when doing something we dislike. Or how when we are busy time seems to fly. There has been recent criticism of the 40-hour working week, particularly during the pandemic when people started to realise that working from home on a more flexible schedule suits people. The 40-hour week really is a byproduct of the early labour movement where the concept of a weekend was introduced. People were once grateful for that, now we seem to be ungrateful for it.
This seemingly mundane task of punching holes in a piece of paper is interesting. Einstein famously came up with his theories of relativity which threw the understanding of time out when he was doing a 9-5 job at a patent office. Perhaps it is a nod to the fact that sometimes to make truly creative discoveries we need to do a simpler task to allow ourselves to enter that meditative state of flow where creative thinking can occur. Having tried to recreate some hole punching to create art to try out this technique for myself, I will say a great deal of concentration is needed, to begin with, especially to create the straight lines of the font they have used. So, what seems on a surface level to be mundane, is much more involved once you try it. I think this helps to highlight one aspect of work where people are very judgemental about how other people choose to spend their time and it is only by actually doing the same activity you get a true appreciation of it.
I think this mundane nature is emphasised by the lack of colour, the plain background, the fact the same font is used. Although the font choice is somewhat significant, on research I found it is all done in Nobel font which is a very iconic Dutch font, perhaps a compliment to the artists’ heritage. On one level, the piece of work is made interesting through its lack of traditional interesting features such as colour, image and change of font.
There is also the aspect of time being about recording change that this piece alludes to. Time can be thought of as small events being pieced together, events that are in a constant state of flux. This piece would have been constantly evolving through the week and I’m sure there were times when it felt like little progress was being made. There is also a sense of direction too. This piece had a past, a blank piece of paper, it is one-directional, we can’t reverse it back once the holes are punched. Just like every small thing that happens, has some kind of lasting impact.
When you look at the two artists’ other pieces of work, this piece forms part of an even bigger message. Milou van Ham makes pieces that focus on language, communication, and interaction and she aims to describe reality and often uses holes in paper as the basis of her work. Moniek Driesse works on projects that visualise socio-cultural imaginaries that often go unnoticed in everyday life. Marking Time merges these two ideas. There is clearly some form of interaction needed between the people making the holes, a way to coordinate the project and the amount of sheer effort, skill and concentration involved in creating this could easily go unnoticed by a first glance and assumption of “it is just holes in paper”.
I think my biggest take-away from this in relation to what the phrase “ma(r)king time” means is that it is so different for different people and we shouldn’t make judgements or assumptions about what that feels like to people. Time is incredibly subjective, what seems a menial task for one may be a deep meditative journey for someone else. What seems like a long day to someone, may pass very quickly for others. Time is something we can’t control in the aspect of how much time we get to live, all we can do is choose how to spend our time and how to mark that in a way that makes us thrive.