Big Ideas: Time

A large, faceless, clock is suspended in the ceiling of the Roundhouse, a circular venue with 24 supporting pillars. The complex movement of the hands and the interplay of light and shadow create something which appears to be telling the time, but is impossible to follow. It imitates both a clock and the sun (thanks to a spike acting as a sundial). This is sculptor Conrad Shawcross’ latest installation.

As the focus for a series of ancillary events, ‘time’ is a big topic, but I like that the Roundhouse has tackled it. As well as the installation, they’ve drawn on the work of contemporary music heavyweight and time-obsessive Karlheinz Stockhausen: the London Contemporary Orchestra perform some of his work KLANG – Die 24 Stunden des Tages, a cycle of compositions each representing one hour of the day. The Roundhouse has also resurrected a work by Siobhan Davies called ROTOR where four dancers ‘manipulate’ time in order to achieve a set of tasks (NB does not involve actual time-travel). They could have expanded into film or literature too.

So we have time progressing interminably with the sculpture, time subdivided in music, and time as a fluid concept with ROTOR. And at the heart of it all: the idea that we run our lives with this stuff, but most of us fundamentally don’t understand how time works. Perhaps we should consider how peculiar it is more often…

Timepiece is at the Roundhouse, Camden until 25 August 2013, pay what you can.

Some other thoughts:

  • How does the fluid theory of time work in performances? A performance moves from the beginning to the end over a period of time…or does it?? (Check out Brian Cox’s Infinite Monkey Cage podcast for a great explanation of the quantum science. Not as scary as it sounds.)
  • Is it possible to manipulate our perception of the passage of time using a performance?
  • Were people as time-obsessed when they had no way of measuring it accurately? What if you removed all timekeeping devices from an audience?

For more timekeeping fun, check out the Time Galleries at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Wired also published an interesting interview with Conrad Shawcross.

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