Visualizing Time


I’ve been reading and re-reading your comments, Tweets and emails from this post, and I love how each of your stories are further cementing my need to re-evaluate how I perceive time. Yesterday was a frenzy of appointments, phone calls and missed deadlines, and I ended the day feeling frustrated and overwhelmed (so much that I had to write an apologetic note on my husband’s sandwich wrapper this morning!). And then, as life all-too-often works, the below interview landed in my inbox, begging to be read, understood and applied…

I first spotted the work of Amsterdam-based artist Mark Sturkenboom on This is Paper (a seriously fantastic site if you’re relatively design-minded) and furiously began trying to find meaning in his “Watching Time Fly By” project. The idea is a literal approach to watching time fly by, illustrating a new way of experiencing the very threads of our society’s obsession with calendars and deadlines and milestones. Encompassed in a glass shell is a single paper creation: a fly, existing from a 500 euro bill, completing a whirlwind rotation once per minute.

The piece is decidedly more masculine than I tend to gravitate toward, but I couldn’t shake the idea that there was something deeper to be shared here; something thoughtful that needed to ruminate and simmer until I was hungry for the creation. And then Mark’s interview arrived in my inbox.

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“I was looking for a new way to give shape to a very old thing called time,” Mark writes. “Time is a given thing; I was intrigued by the value of time these days. In most of my work I try to find a new perspective on things. Not a new shape or material but the meaning behind an object or a product. Eventually when you combine different thoughts and perceptions on things you end up with a clock that doesn’t show the time, but allows you to see time flying by in a precious way.”

Someone wise once shared with me that flight doesn’t equate speed – it equates movement. It is pulling itself forward continually, placing one step in front of another – just as we are. Time is motion and money and an exchange – an agreement between humanity that we exist in the same space and in the same moments.

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When asked whether he interpreted his piece in the same way, Mark answered in a way that made me smile. “I have an idea on how I see these things, but what I think is not interesting,” he writes. “In this piece, it’s the viewer’s perspective that is most interesting to me. Sometimes telling everything there is to know about a work spoils it completely, because then you can never look at it the same.

And perhaps that’s why this project is so beautiful to me. Because by visualizing time, it has changed. I can never look at it the same. It’s no longer an abstract concept that is spent and wasted and shared and saved, but instead, it exists always – displayed in a glass case of repetition and order, creating seasons and growth. It is harnessed, wrapped in glass as a gift to be given – a gift that is not always ideal, but is enough.

Image Credit: Mark Sturkenboom

p.s. Mark also shared a bit about his creative process, which I found particularly moving: “When you are free, don’t have a deadline, a set medium or what not, then you sometimes have a conversation or observation and this little question seeps into your mind. Most of the time, it’s something like, What would it look like if…? And if an idea or image appears in your head afterwards, it’s like falling in love.”
p.p.s. A concrete clock, knitting clock and topography clock.

  • i think this post is super interesting. i am reading brian cox and jeff forshaw’s book “why does E=mc2?” and have been fascinated by the way physicists look at space, time, and motion. it is incredibly interesting and beautiful and mind-bending. if you’re thinking about different perceptions of time, i would definitely give it a read.

  • I’ve know you blog by ‘reference’ seen in other blogs but just now i took the time to open it and explore – i’m loving every post and this one about time is fascinating to me.
    keep the good work :)

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