Playing With Time

Playing With Time explores time (linear, circular, elastic) and truth. It owes much to the pioneering photography of Eadweard Muybridge whose animal motion studies remain a staple resource for animators and whose life and times are vividly and thoughtfully related in Rebecca Solnit’s book Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge.

It is an installation formed of twelve hand-cranked ‘flipbook-boxes’, initially a response to the cave palaeontology collections of the Wells and Mendip Museum. However, like so many such collections, these form a portal to a much bigger, interconnected story and thus the piece has expanded accordingly.

The science of cave palaeontology emerged in the course of the nineteenth century – an era of great technical and societal paradigm shifts – from long held mythologies relating to catastrophic flooding events expressed not just in the Old Testament but across a range of cultures.

Until the 1840’s it was widely held that the bones of exotic beasts – many of them mysteriously absent from the contemporary landscape – had been washed into caves across England and Wales by the waters of the Great Flood or ‘The Deluge’.

A succession of ‘Cave Hunters’ – gentleman underground explorers – gradually established the scientific truths not just of constant climatic and environmental change but also of the antiquity of man, causing great ripples across the Victorian world. The impact of these discoveries might, for us today, equate to the discovery of life on another planet.

The story in its entirety reflects changes in society not just then but for millennia before and for us today. It mirrors our changing perception of the universe and place in it.

Each flipbook-box constitutes a window on the mind of a ‘Cave Hunter’ covering a timespan from the Late Upper Palaeolithic to the present day. The imagery within is formed from moving creatures, their bones and teeth and extracts from field journals, diaries and other forms of written code.

Turning the crank handle of the flip book-box brings to life the twenty four frame ‘haiku’ within – but at a variable rate designated by the operator (and not the film’s director). Given the nature of the imagery within, it therefore becomes possible to move simultaneously though increments of twenty-fourths of a second and ten thousand years at a pace of one’s choosing.

Rather than being a fixed societal construct, time therefore becomes elastic – and a matter for the individual.

The installation is accompanied by a series of texts, one for each flipbook-box.

Playing With Time was created through a residency at the Wells and Mendip Museum, Wells, Somerset as part of the Muse; Makers In Museums project, a collaboration between Somerset Art Works and South-West Heritage funded by Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Somerset and Devon County Councils and South Somerset District Council.

Flipbook page samples

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