Infinite Instances: Studies and Images of Time is a collection of original essays and visual meditations on the nature of time. It includes papers and artwork from the ArcheTime conference & exhibition in 2009 with additional materials.
Tax-deductible contributions to the ArcheTime Project can be made at: WWW.ARTSPIRE.ORG
An Interview with Olga Ast by Eli Stockwell
INTERVIEWER: How do you yourself describe Infinite Instances? What first drew you to the subject of time?
AST: The concept of time has existed for thousands of years, and engages us every day – “what time is it?,” “how much time do I have left?...” And yet, like many other familiar concepts, there is no clear consensus on what it actually is. As I began to explore the subject, I noticed that my conversations with both scientists and artists each yielded a new and different definition of time.
So much of our culture is founded on the competition of ideas – and on the eventual victory and domination of a singular viewpoint on any given subject. The intention of Infinite Instances was, in contrast, to present a wide range of views on the theme of time without creating a hierarchical structure that contrasts each text with a “winning” idea or pre-defined notion of time.
In a way, the title Infinite Instances is therefore meant to reflect the infinite number of possible viewpoints on Time, and the infinite possibilities of the subject.
INTERVIEWER: In your book you speak about your earliest questioning of time. How would you describe Infinite Instances to a child?
AST: One of my first interactions with the concept of infinity as a child was through a folk superstition about two mirrors. The story went that if you held a candle and sat between two mirrors at midnight, then looking at the corridor made of infinite reflections in the mirror in front of you, you could see someone coming up to you from the back. When they came close and placed their hands on your shoulders, you would be able to glimpse their face – and it would be the face of your future spouse.
I’ve never tried it myself, but mirrors have been a constant theme in my artwork. Mirrors are also a key introduction for children into the concepts of time and infinity. Many folk stories employ the trope of mirrors; and their presence continues in literary and art works accessible to both children and adults, such as Rene Magritte’s Reproduction Interdite. In the painting, Magritte depicts a man looking at a mirror, but seeing the back of his own head. The visual metaphor is a great example of our perception of time – we look to our future, but see only own our past and memories. Our future is our past, plus our desire.
INTERVIEWER: How has your perception of time changed over the years? What can you attribute these changes to?
AST: It’s not that my perception of time has changed; what’s changed is the way I present that perception.
It’s difficult to separate the idea of time from the physical manifestation of a clock that is our primary visual metaphor of time. One of my first problems with the clock was the underlying idea of an “absolute” time. How could identical time intervals, determined by the cyclical movement of our planet around an inconsequential star, represent this immense and universal concept? How could they account for the different rates of change that we see even in identical everyday objects?
The challenge over the years was how best to convey this idea to an audience. I began exploring the issues of time and space through sculpture, exhibiting several large-scale artworks that divorced these large concepts from the purely theoretical.
More recently, I began looking into other visual metaphors of time that have been used over the centuries, starting with the uroboros (a snake eating its own tail), and continuing through to the surrealist works of Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. After several conferences and presentations, I found that this was a compelling way to engage an audience with these ideas. I decided to open my own book of essays on time, Fleeing from Absence, with an overview of these visual metaphors as a way of introducing the concepts of time and infinity.
In Fleeing from Absence, I also began to explore the current multi-disciplinary dialogue on time. In the book, I posit that what we currently describe as time is likely to be a mixture of several different (and possibly even not quite related) physical phenomena. However, our quest for scientific and philosophical synthesis, and our tendency toward singular viewpoints, has led us into a conceptual corner.
This is where Infinite Instances comes in. I wanted to create a space where different ideas and approaches could come together and engage with the subject of time without pre-defined notions of what it is or how it behaves. The contributors that have come together from different disciplines are here given free reign to generate new ideas on time in a non-critical space, therefore re-invigorating our search for its meaning.
INTERVIEWER: What is the relationship between your project, ArcheTime, and Infinite Instances? What can we expect to see from ArcheTime in the future?
AST: Infinite Instances grew directly out of the ArcheTime Project, which was founded as a cross-disciplinary conference and exhibition on time in 2009 with approximately 60 thinkers on the subject from academia, science and art. Many of the papers and artworks presented at the conference appear in the book, as well as many additional works from contributors that have joined the collective project since its initial launch.
The ArcheTime project was initially supported by a small grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Now, it is fiscally sponsored by Artspire, a program of the New York Foundation of the Arts. I am constantly looking for ways to expand the reach of the project, and looking for funds to organize a second conference and exhibition around 2013-14. Tax-deductible contributions to the ArcheTime project can be made at Artspire (a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts).
INTERVIEWER: What was the most difficult part in making this book a reality?
AST: Honestly, all the aspects of creating a large compilation of works take a lot of time, especially when working with around seventy individual contributors. But curating the materials, finding parallels between the images and the texts, and generally organizing the contributions were perhaps the most challenging.
Finding a title was also challenging in the era of Google, when a quick search reveals that the title you thought was original has appeared on 100+ works to date. I wanted to make sure that the title was not just fitting, but also original – which took quite a few attempts to get right.
INTERVIEWER: Now that the book is a finished product, is there anything you’ve learned about the subject matter that you may not have known prior to?
AST: There is something new and interesting in every essay in the book, and there are more than seventy artworks. I feel like I learn something new every time I open the book, even though I have been through each work several times.
INTERVIEWER: If you could give one piece of advice to someone wanting to create a book such as Infinite Instances, what would it be?
AST: Just start to work on it, and take it step by step. Be prepared for it to develop and grow in ways that you could not have predicted at the start, as all real artwork does.
ArcheTime Project supported by Artspire (a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts), the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, EFA Project Space, the Tank Space for Performing & Visual Arts, WIX Lounge, SET Galleryand the NYC Future Salon
Infinite Instances: Studies and Images of Time is a collection of original essays and visual meditations on the nature of time. It includes papers and artwork from the ArcheTime conference/exhibition in 2009 with additional materials.
Mark Batty Publisher is an independent publisher dedicated to making distinctive books on the visual art of communicating, showcasing the visual power and innovation of contemporary culture in all of its varied poses: www.markbattypublisher.com
ArcheTime is an ongoing cross-disciplinary project dedicated to exploring artistic, academic and scientific concepts of Time: www.archetime.net