The exhibition Timefulness at the Acoustic Laboratory at Lund University is an experiment and attempt to initiate a creative hub on the university campus for researchers, students and visitors to meet and discuss various topics. The chosen exhibit topics will be derived from various research disciplines and used as catalysts for creative brainstorms and thoughts. For the first instalment, Bigert & Bergström have collaborated with Anette Andersson, a curator from Artikel 31, to create an installation on the theme of ‘time,’ in which one can ‘think together’ in a format deviating from the classic academic setting.
The Affectarium, (2010), is precisely such a place—a “Think Tank” where its hemispherical shape of gray felt leads the thoughts to a gigantic brain. In its windings, a thousand RGB LEDs are embedded, which together form a low-resolution display. On the outside, it looks as if the Affectarium has been equipped with an electrode cap to examine its internal EEG. It is said that the brain contains 100 billion nerve cells, which is as many as there are stars in the Milky Way. A staggering thought and an indication of the fantastic capacity of the brain. Equally remarkable is that we still don’t really know how this gray volume actually works. What consciousness is, or how it arises, remains unresolved mysteries to this day.
A question that is interesting to discuss in this exhibition is that of time—how we perceive time and how this perception functions. The ancient Greeks distinguished between chronological (external) time, Chronos, and subjective (perceived) time, Kairos. Research shows that several parts of the brain are active in the construction of time perception, which is usually divided into three categories: micro-time (milliseconds), intervals (seconds to minutes), and the body’s circadian clock, which regulates various automatic bodily functions throughout the day. But even body temperature and neurotransmitters influence our perception of time. We can also support the idea that as we age, our perception of time shortens the experience of time. Every day gets shorter in relation to your continuously longer life.
Another theory about the aging brain is that it loses its plasticity, and the oscillations of neurons, partly controlled by dopamine levels in the brain, slow down, making it difficult to estimate time intervals and enhancing the perception of time’s increasing escape. Even the size of animals seems to have some impact and is linked to metabolism; as smaller animals often have a faster metabolism and therefore a more rapid perception of time.
But the Affectorium also represents a starry sky where other dimensions of time and space can be discussed. If one imagines that a LED in the Affectorium’s dome is a star located 65 million light-years away from our own planet, and next to this star, there is a celestial body resembling ours. Then perhaps a being, at this very moment, is standing and gazing into space, aiming its telescope at us on Earth. What does it see then? Probably dinosaurs in dissolution and panic in the face of an approaching Chixculub meteorite. Simultaneity is therefore something exclusive to us earthlings. When we travel into space, this shared perception of time becomes relative.
On the other hand, half our planet is currently in a deep slumber, and the time zones that divide our planet regulate a lot of our lives and coexistence on Earth. Before Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was introduced in the late 19th century, most people on Earth lived in the era of “solar time”. But with the advent of the railway, long distances could be traveled much faster. The need for simultaneity became evident, leading to a long discussion where, for a number of years, different “railway times” existed, with a 24-minute difference between Gothenburg and Stockholm in Sweden. So when “standard time” was introduced, hotel lobbies could proudly display rows of clocks from different world capitals signaling that the global era had finally arrived. The focus on progress and technological development has led to speculations about an impending “technological singularity,” a concept popularized by futurists like Ray Kurzweil, who claim that time will collapse into a single point when all technological development coincides with its widespread adoption, and everything happens at once, which might occur when AI reaches general intelligence. The singularity analogy sends us back into space to a black hole and its event horizon where singularity is a physical fact. An observer looking into space at the same moment as being drawn into the black hole’s event horizon will experience time as standing still. Just like the particle traveling at the speed of light. Gravity affects space and time, and Einstein’s general theory of relativity was confirmed by the two researchers who aimed their telescopes at the sun on May 29, 1919. Arthur Eddington on the island of Principe off the coast of Africa and Frank Watson Dyson on Sobral Island off the coast of Brazil, through their simultaneous observations of a solar eclipse, could confirm Einstein’s theory—that light indeed bends when it passes the moon’s edge.
The relativity of time, its movement, and its relation to gravity are also captured by the artwork Thought and Time (2013), displayed in the second part of the acoustic hall. A large mobile with arms that rotate slowly in the breeze created by the visitors movement around the room. At the end of each arm of the mobile is an hourglass that, at regular intervals, turns and causes the sand in its various glass parts to fall between them. The mobile represents a diagram where balance between different time spaces is negotiated.
One way to see it is as a model of our consciousness’s ability to balance different neural time clouds. And how this ability makes us flexible time travelers, constantly hopping between the experiences of the past, the direct impulses of the present, and the hopes of the future.
In the echo chamber, the work Established but Incomplete (2017), is displayed, a laboratory stand holding several objects in its arms. Here, a large hourglass hangs in which an ice core is slowly melting. The water drips through a skull made of marble and further down onto the laboratory stand’s foot, which is red-hot and vaporizes the falling drop. A sizzling sound echoes in the room each time the drop meets the hot cast iron. On a shelf lies a snippet of a landscape resembling human skin, and above hang meteorological red warm front signs that have taken physical form. They are cast in bronze and painted red, but time’s touch has caused the prominent bronze to tarnish green. The parts of the sculpture seem involved in a discussion about different perspectives on change, transformations, and phase transitions. And the material of the work carries stories where both ice cores and sediments can be linked to a geological “deeper time”—eons, eras, periods, and epochs beyond human’s short existence on Earth, but which we, Homo sapiens, now seem to be adding a new epoch to— the Anthropocene.
In the anechoic chamber, the film Moments of Silence 2014, is shown. It is a short film about the ritual that brings people together regardless of religion, culture, or ethnicity. The film reflects contemporary history through edited archival footage of silent minutes where people have gathered to honor someone or something in shared silence. The images of these moments remind us of our vulnerability but also serve as evidence of the collective strength when the unthinkable has happened. The origin of this ritual can be traced to a letter published in the London Evening News on May 8, 1919. The Australian journalist Edward George Honey suggested a respectful silence to remember those who had fallen during the First World War. This was noted by King George V, and on November 7, 1919, the king issued a proclamation calling for two minutes of silence: “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.” After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Armistice Day became a day to remember all those who died in the two world wars.
Bigert & Bergström, November 2023
Photos by Emma Larsson