Hourglasses and Pixels: Documenting Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
I’ve been wondering about time, lately. How I never seem to have enough of it. How some moments linger on like contrails and how others feel like they never were at all, like shooting stars no one saw fall. Empirical time and the exact measurement of it somehow seem less real than the intangible: the feeling of the passing of time.
Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of documenting the progress of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (YTT)—a public artwork of suspended hourglasses filled with various paused measurements of time, representative of different moments remembered, submitted by the public to artists Caitlind Brown, Lane Shordee, and Wayne Garrett. For a project about the experience of time, YTT has appropriately seen delay after delay that has turned a 6-month project into one that extends over a year. That year has created a considerable amount of new moments that could fill a stadium of hourglasses of remembered time. Since I started photographing the project, I have my own measurements of the year: the days it took to buy plants for my new apartment; the sudden collision of falling in love; how long I lay awake under a blanket of mountain stars before drifting off; the hours spent in conversation making friends at a new job; and on and on.
I’ve always considered myself a collector of moments, which might be what led me to photography as a form. Capturing photos has felt like a tangible way to try to gather little pieces together to try to make a whole, find a pattern or a story for life. I know now that my memories fool me constantly and that a moment cannot really be caught in a photograph. To believe they can be is a dream, a ruse, a cheap trick. Yet, in an age of smart phones and Facebook memories, we collect moments and try to grasp those wisps any way we can. Perhaps this drive is what makes Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow such a fascination to photograph and document. Each image is, in a way, like its own hourglass: time collected in data that tries to share the process of the work itself. How long it takes to polish an hourglass. The seconds it takes to tread a wire through a metal fixture. The hours spent crushing sandstone blocks into sand.
I call myself very lucky to know artists like Caitlind, Lane, and Wayne, who question ideas of individual and collective memory that so many of us let float past. In the grand entrance of the historic King Edward building, the artists consider a place’s history as the habitat of years of moments, captured in hourglasses of seconds and minutes. Time means everything and nothing as the sand crushed from the sandstone of the building pour through the hourglasses, flipping with the aid of electronic motors at varying intervals of the day.
Indeed, it seems foolish to try to show process through a series of images when you think about the fallacies of photography and memory. In the early stages of the project, when Lane was crushing sandstone blocks out in the parking lot, we decided to create a small series of images that showed the demolition of the block into sand. First, crushed into smaller blocks, then gravel, then coarse sand, then, finally, a fine sand that would flow through a delicate glass passage. Do the images show a passage of time or the demolition of it as the sandstone was broken into fragments? Pixels make up images that show transition, movement, progress, and history of place with each broken piece of sandstone that would eventually become a new collection of time in the hanging hourglasses.
I watched the artists as they placed the hourglasses into their metal branches, hovering above us, taunting us to reconsider what time means.
“Why doesn’t that hourglass have any sand in it?” I ask Wayne.
“It represents no time.”
“Or all time,” I respond, burrowing into my mind with further contemplation. I take out my camera and, with a click, another moment is gone.