Exercise 1: The fourth dimension

This exercise marks the beginning of Project 2: Time and time-based media.

Make notes on your own thoughts about time

As someone who has done graduate work in theology and learned to read a couple of ancient languages I have certainly thought about time. I learned through those studies to pay close attention to issues of history, culture and language, all of which are directly affected by time. The understanding of ancient texts is aided by giving care to the history of interpretation and the realization of the distance that exists between our time and that of the first writers and readers or hearers. We have to be conscious of the temptation to project our own views onto the past and the future and resist making our own period normative. To interpret an ancient document faithfully is to try to inhabit—however imperfectly—the world of the text.

Even without formal study, the process of aging must encourage most people to think about time and its passing. It happens to us all (birth, growth, maturity, decline and death) and comes close to home as we see our children gain strength and our parents gradually lose theirs. And talking with family members has made me conscious of the malleability of memory as we realise from each other that the accuracy of the things we remember can change with the years. And that our frame of reference may not be theirs. Or completely reliable.

Have you thought about time in relation to artwork before?

Much of what I wrote above applies to artworks as well as to ancient texts: the role of time in shaping culture and interpretation, and even the decaying effect that it can have on physical materials. The further in time we are from the moment a piece was created, the more our world is not the world of the artist.

I also have a particular interest in photography which owes much of its power and interest to the way that the camera can play with time: 1/1000 of a second for this frame; four hours for this one. Photography allows us to experience and abstract time beyond the way our senses usually allow. A camera is a time machine.

Have you already come across pieces that explore what time is?

Again, photography is the obvious answer, whether it is Eadweard Muybridge's pictures of human and animal movement or Harold Edgerton's images of bullets frozen mid-way through fruit and playing cards. Time-lapse shots of passing clouds, waves and even passing seasons demonstrate how the camera can capture much longer periods. Painters also play with time for effect, whether subtly in the  memento mori pieces mentioned earlier in this course or more obviously in Salvador Dali's melting clocks.

In the last segment, the videos and articles on Damien Hirst's works also mentioned the effect that time can have on artistic materials themselves: sharks can rot even when swimming in formaldehyde.