SIMON LEWANDOWSKI

Copyright 2009

THE MUTOSCOPE: Variant 1, McTaggart's Machine

"the steps a man takes, from the day of his birth to the day of his death, trace an inconceivable figure in Time. The divine intelligence perceives that figure at once, as man's intelligence perceives a triangle. That figure , perhaps, has its determined function in the economy of the universe..." (Jorge Luis Borges)

Kurt Vonnegut invents some fictional aliens in "Slaughterhouse 5" who exist outside the linear flow of time: "...the universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures from Tralfamadore. The creatures can see where each start has been and where it is going, so the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti. And Tralfamadorians don't see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millipedes - with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other..." Or to put it another way, seen from this hypothetical viewpoint we are continuous forms extruded through time and space - foetus-shaped at one end and corpse-shaped at the other...The mutoscope can, metaphorically, take that shape, bend it into a loop and join the two ends. Forever.
How do we know which way Time flows? Time was seen by many civilisations as cyclical - everything ultimately returns back to the same point, everything has been exactly as it is now countless times before and will be again ... the Gods know the Future as a memory...As far as I understand it - Einstein's relativistic mechanics established that time is simply a function of the observer's frame of reference. More recently I was told by a cosmologist that particles move in both directions through time more or less at random but because enough of them go in one direction we experience time as a unidirectional flow - (I'm willing to accept I may have grasped the last one pretty sketchily!)
The idea of cinema depends on the philosophical construct that dates right back to Zeno's paradox, namely that it is possible to view the indivisible flow of time as if it were composed of an infinite succession of discrete and perfectly static instants. Hollis Frampton wrote, though "much of the early history of photography may be looked on as the struggle of the art to purge itself of temporality. The normative still photograph, the snapshot, purports to be an ideal, infinitely thin, wholly static cross-section through a four dimensional solid, or tesseract, of unimaginable intricacy...."
This is a project that fascinated me: to in some way step outside of Time is a recurring theme of speculative science and of speculative fiction. To step outside the flow is to liberate oneself from the inevitability of death but perhaps also to trap oneself in the eternity of stasis or the very least of circularity. I had a vision of certain devices diverting the flow (though I know the metaphor is flawed in terms of its Physics) into a kind of side current or eddy.
I'm not really, objectively trying to sculpt the inconceivable figure in time... the machines and multiples are just things that tell a story about someone trying to do that... there's a big difference - that's why I'm an artist not a quantum physicist .In this work and in the rest of what I make, I have no real thesis beyond this, namely that a person with any soul or wit or humanity surely has to stand before the workings that make up the big machine we call the universe and any of the component little parts that make it up and, regardless of its provenance or the uses and misuses we make of it, always be able and prepared to feel wonder and awe and amazement that its there at all and that it is so fantastically intricate.