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How to Construct a Time Machine

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MK Gallery Milton Keynes 23 January to 23 March

There are many ways of classifying time and its associated complexities, and Marquand Smith's curation of 25 artists takes on far more than movement between time zones. In the catalogue he categorises his choices as dealing with time as an ordering of the world ('chronos'), as a means of imposing order (protocol), as the driver of our unimaginable placement in the 4.5bn-year history of the world (deep time') and as an account of the right or opportune moment ('kairos'). Mieke Bal dissects the more frequently made distinction between 'dock time' and 'Bergsonian time' in her insightful commissioned essay, albeit she illustrates her points only through artists not induded — and I found myself wondering whether her choices of Christian Marday, William Kentridge, Ann Veronica Janssens, Stan Douglas, Eija-Lisa Ahtila and Aemout Mik would outdo the actual line-up.

The phrase 'how to construct a time machine' comes from an 1899 essay by Alfred Jury, which claims to explain how to realise what HG Wells imagined. That, too, is in the catalogue, and threatens to make sense as Jarry explains how 'were we able to remain immobile in the Flow of Time, then we should be able to travel through all past and future moments successively'. But when the mechanics of said machine are laid out, you recall that he was a pataphysicist, interested in 'the art of imaginary solutions'. This reads across rather well to the straight-faced absurdity of some of the art.

The show's aims, then, are complex and multi-stranded. Yet the most immediate question of time posed is a simple one: how long should we spend in the gallery? The installation is oppositional enough to suggest that Smith is not keen to detain us too long, but the reasons for this curatorial gambit remain obscure. Thus three substantial films (Majar Smrekar's chronological anthology of the look of sci-fi, History ofthe Future, 2012; the Otolith Group's self-contextualisation in history, The Otolith Timeline, 2003; and Chris Marker's La fate, 1962) are pretty much thrown away on a trio of small monitors dominated by the adjoining soundtrack of Thomson & Craighead's The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order, 2010. We do see that to full effect — a big and loud reordering ofthe 1960 film of Wells's novel which I caught from all the consecutive 'all's' to a substantial dutch of the times when a character says 'centuries'. The spoken narrative is fragmented second by second of a system is made visible to ominous and environmentally troubling effect as we see just how many flights are leaving right now. Tehching Hseth's canonical One Year Performance 1980-81 (Time Clock Piece), in which the 8,760 images ofhim punching a dock every hour are shown for a second each, leads to a flickering record like the sun in Sleep, and is set dose enough to a 20-year-old On Kawara date painting, 27 AG. 1995, to make the one look like a slowed or accelerated version of the other.

A further effective sub-plot is how past views of the future, from around 1900 and 1960, are played into our current perspective as illustrations of time travelled in the spaceship of the gallery. To Jany and Wells (The Time Machine was first published in 1895) we can add the first use of reversed footage in a film (Demolition of a Wall, 1895, by Louis Lumiere), the first sci-fi film (Georges Mai 's' Trip to the Moon, 1902) and the Victorian tendencies of Matt Collishaw, whose Magic Lantern. Small, 2010, is a zoetrope. In addition to Marker and the 1960 filter on Wells, we have the first episode of Dr Who from 1963 and Mark Wallinger's mirrored version of his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space, 2001) 'simultaneously disappearing into the space-time continuum and reflecting its own surroundings', as Smith puts it Overall, then, this mix of familiar recent work and more surprising historical condusions makes for an interesting show, even if marred by its presentation.

PAUL CAREY-KENT is a writer and curator based in Southampton.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Carey-Kent, Paul (2015-03-15). How to Construct a Time Machine. Art Monthly p. 23.
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  • Chicago 15th ed.: Carey-Kent, Paul. "How to Construct a Time Machine." Art Monthly, edition, sec., 2015-03-15
  • Turabian: Carey-Kent, Paul. "How to Construct a Time Machine." Art Monthly, 2015-03-15, section, 23 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=How to Construct a Time Machine | url= | work=Art Monthly | pages=23 | date=2015-03-15 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=12 July 2020 }}</ref>
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