And for Rouvelle, this metered sense of time is worrisome. “My concern,” he says, “is that we—Western culture—have, over the past few hundred years, chosen to develop along a trajectory of reductionism, trying to understand things by breaking them down into individuated, component parts whose behaviors are often described as relating to other unique components sequentially, and verified metrically – and often visualized.”
The visual description of time, at least in Western classical art, is often a sequential one. In many of the great Piero Della Francesca's pieces (like The Queen of Sheba's Visit to Jerusalem, above), for instance, the progression of the action is achieved by the viewer looking from left to right. First, then, finally—story told.
But many contemporary artists and architects are looking to break free of this metered perception of time. Rouvelle encourages this change, as he believes an un-metered temporal perspective can enhance both our aesthetic and social experiences. “There are complementary experiences, non-linear experiences,” he says, “where time, for example, is not moving in a specific direction, yet change is evident. I believe that these non-sequential experiences are equally real, however, and that if I could contemplate them more fully my experience overall would be significantly different.” And artists, he says, have the means to create less metered descriptions of the world, and thus make the world a better place. “I believe that if we could improve our understanding of our experience through better and more accurate models,” he argues, “we would experience greater empathy with others.”
Here are a few examples of recent art and architecture that flaunt a non-linear expression of time, and in this way, force their audiences to experience time un-metered…
On the other side of the world, in
If you look at a map of the park, the names of the featured sites sound like some kind of metaphysical
The park also—like Disney’s rollercoasters—disturbs balance; a warning on their homepage, written in red text, reads: “.” Indeed, since the park opened in 1995, Rouvelle says it has had to set aside funding specifically for medical bills of the dozens of visitors who, just from walking around the disorienting landscape, have fractured or broken bones.
Clearly then, the Site of Reversible Destiny creates an endlessness that we don’t normally experience. Psychologist and art critic Rudolf Arnheim argues that this endlessness, especially when experienced outdoors, grants art and architecture “a high aesthetic value.”
Rouvelle would agree. He says the Site of Reversible Destiny—without flat surfaces, street grids, or 90-degree angles—“forces us to come to terms with physical angles that are becoming less and less common” in Western city life; in other words, it’s exactly the kind of art that can help us break free of a metered sense of time.
“Experiencing Duration” was the theme of the 2005
Echoing the words of James Rouvelle, Bourriaud and Sans explained on the exhibition’s website why time is such a provocative theme to explore in art: “Addressing time was a way for us to draw up an inventory of the 1990s, when art began to function as a sort of editing bay on which artists could reconstruct everyday reality.” These artists, the curators explained, “tweaked the tempo” of their art—displaying videos and sounds that had been paused, looped, or synchronized in unexpected ways. “Time is more a building material than a mere medium,” Bourriaud and Sans argued. More than a static oil painting or stone monument, they wrote, “art is first and foremost an event.”
Both the Site of Reversible Destiny and the exhibits at the Lyon Biennial use art to manipulate the viewer’s experience of time. But other forms of contemporary art—like interactive sound projects—are themselves manipulated by time. One such dynamic project, designed by Rouvelle and Berlin-based artists Innes Yates and Judith Bieseler, is called Research, Instructions, Programs, and Logic for Trans-Robotic Adaptive Networked Environments, or RIPLTRANE. Launched in March 2004 and still going today, RIPLTRANE allows participants in both
Remove Your Watches!
Changing our experience of time—that is, un-metering it—is not an easy task. It may be worth the psychological (and in the case of the Site of Reversible Destiny, physical) effort for an artist who wants to create and appreciate art in new ways. “Artists can definitely contribute to the creation of better models [of time],” Rouvelle says. “The content of our models and their presence in our common spaces is an aspect of our collective development. We must, I think, take the role of objects and their affect seriously as we build our world.”
But even those uninterested in art, Rouvelle continues, should make the attempt. Experiencing un-metered time, he says, will help our interpersonal relationships, help us to better empathize with others. He argues that, “the general public can benefit by having aspects of their lives made more available for their own consideration via aesthetic creations that explore the complementary senses and experiences of non-linearity.”
To Rouvelle, all of human development, in fact, is about the way we choose to perceive and influence time. “If we want to develop along a different trajectory we must take action and do so. We have a responsibility to do so.”