What does your internal landscape of time look like? Is it an orderly chase over a metaphysical racetrack neatly labelled with Life Events? Or something less mappable, measurable and comparable? These are the questions behind the life maps, above, installed at South Kiosk, London (15 May-20 June 2014, see below).
Life Map (Tristram Shandy), above, amplifies the most significant visual element of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767) by Laurence Sterne. This fictional autobiography was published on the cusp of industrial modernity just as two devices were introduced that began to reorder everyday perceptions of time: the timeline as a single measure against which every earthly event can be mapped; and the realist novel, one of the first mass-produced commodities which in theory offers every reader the same linear experience of time.
In mockery of the idea that lived-time can be mapped, sliced up and bought, Tristram Shandy is a self-proclaimed knot of a story that can't simply be untangled and laid against a line. The story has a counterpart in the physical form of the book (at least in its original design). The first imprint of Tristram Shandy included a hand-marbled page, meaning that every copy was different from the next. Shandy calls this page the 'motley emblem of my work'. I think of it as a life map. Two and a half centuries later, to me it still rebuffs the imperatives of mechanical time. Set against the CV and the social media timeline, it offers us an alternative form, one which refuses to reduce a life to a line of measured units like the output of a machine.
When I look at the marbled papers in Life Map (Tristram Shandy), memories and ideas surface differently each time. I might see volcano plumes, river deltas, mountain ranges. Another time, fossil slices, microorganisms, Mandelbrot maps, snow storms, bubble gum, Pollock splatters, Kusama rooms, screen static, cosmoses, black holes ... No doubt you can see other things too. In this form of time map, there is no key, no scale, no dominant reading. If it is an image of our internal landscape, then in it memories and ideas don't make a neat orderly queue from past to future, but seem to rise and sink in a sea that connects without order the old and new, the half-forgotten and the ever-present. To me this seems a far truer picture of our lived experience and perception of time.
The marbled papers are produced by experts using 18th-century processes to take a print from the surface of a moving sheet of water prepared with oil and watercolour. Each is therefore an image of an unrepeatable moment in time.
In a wink to the aura of uniqueness lost through mechanical reproduction and arguably retained by the prints, each work's translucent red frame appears to emit a soft glow under domestic room lighting. The frame's inner side is mirrored. This produces a Rorschach-test effect at the print's edges, adds to its unstable watery quality and leaves the dimensions it inhabits a little ambiguous.
The four versions of Life Map (Tristram Shandy) shown at South Kiosk were accompanied by Life Map (George III), a two-hundred-year-old gamesheet and an early example of the timeline as we know it now. Its rope-and-coin motif pictures history as a progressive, measurable sequence of steps along a line towards a highpoint in the figure of George III. It is the kind of life map Tristram Shandy tries to divert at its source.
I wrote about Tristram Shandy and some of my other favourite books for South Kiosk's recommended reading feature, here.For high resolution images, see my Flickr pages here.
IMAGES from top:
1. Life Map (Tristram Shandy) I, II, III, IV, Cathy Haynes, 2014. (Marbled paper, Perspex, mirror tape. Each 30cm x 30cm).
2. Life Map (George III) © Cathy Haynes 2014
3. Chronovisor: Archive exhibition at South Kiosk with works by Mirko Smerdel (on wall, right and left); Cathy Haynes (5 images, centre); Rowena Harris (sculpture); Johann Arens (floor vinyl); Patrick Hough (video). Curated by Dave Charlesworth. Photo: courtesy the artists and South Kiosk.