Time is fickle as it is unsympathetic, it could not stop and will never stop. A reliable constant, a cruel constant.
Golden Hour, Golden years, golden ages.
Time seems to be fraught with our nihilism and our enthusiasm. The hope for a good day as the first rays of light peeps through window grills. Watching the beautiful melancholy of sunsets slowing sinking behind rows of HDBS in a packed train home. Admiring the day’s dying breath, while something gnaws deep inside of having wasted a day or perhaps a year, or a life.
The golden hour is often used in photography to signify the times when the sun is close to the horizon of the earth. The atmospheric light is diffused, colour is enhanced. Sunrise, sunsets, both are good. Although we see it on a almost daily basis, that short period of magic, where light seems heavy and the world looked a tad more beautiful, time becomes a bit more precious.
Time is full of paradoxes, of contrasts. Light and shadow.
Time Keeping Devices: Water Capillary action and Time Candle.
Our first experiment was largely inspired by the Chromatography experiment that we would all do during our secondary school days. Ink chromatography relies on water capillary action in order to separate various elements in a compound for identification. Your mysterious compound sample (in our case, food dye) is placed near the bottom of a vertical strip of paper and placed onto a small puddle of water barely covering the base of the paper. The cool thing is that water through capillary action would go against gravity and travel up the vertical piece of paper, bringing the dye pigments up together with it.
Capillary action happens due to the cohesive and adhesive nature of water molecules. Water is able to travel upwards when the adhesion of the water molecules to the walls of a vessel ( the paper fibres) is stronger than the cohesive forces between themselves. But of course, there is a limit to this when the water is too high up to be able to counter against the forces of gravity.
The question now is, will the rate of water traveling up the paper be that consistent enough to be an accurate time keeping device. True enough, during our research we came upon an wonderful art piece by Oscar Diaz which uses the same scientific principles to create a calendar. Hence we were largely convinced that the time keeping device should be accurate at keeping time to a certain degree.
In our experimentation, we used various types of paper and see how well the medium could facilitate the movement of water. In the time-lapse video below, we’ve used a 25 cm strip of magic-clean paper towel with a concoction of food dye and water.
It took roughly 10 mins for the dye to travel from one end to another, well… only for that one strip. The others that we’ve tried took longer or shorter than 10 minutes largely due to the fact that the dye would not travel all the way to the end of the strip despite the fact that the strip itself is completely soaked with clear water.
We tried another experiment using a longer strip of paper cut into a zig-zag pattern and have the dye poured onto the strip instead.
While you can see the capillary action going on with that experiment, the rate of which the water was travelling was way too fast as compared to the previous experiment. Where did we go wrong? We are not too sure.
We compelled a list as to which elements could be a factor to the different rates of which the dyed water could travel up the strips. Maybe it could be the height of the container holding the dye water, or the dye-to-water ratio. Perhaps the length of the strips of paper or the amount of fibres in one strip, or -gasp- a mysterious scientific phenomenon not yet discovered by man?
Well, we don’t really know and we were pretty pressed for time, hence we have to find another time-keeping device. While our experiments sort of failed, this does not take away the fact that the gradual colour-changing effect of the strip is pretty neat though.
The exhibition was a rather eye opening experience for me as I find the social political context that most of the works were dealing with was rather interesting. The dissonance between the past and present was often highlighted in the works and how the factor of time affects people and communities. I especially loved how comparisons could be made across works as to how a drastic event in the past affect different communities and how these communities dealt with them.
One work that particularly struck out to me is Vandy Rattana’s Monologue, which largely discusses the effect of time and how it wears down on the significance of events or symbols. The context behind Monologue is a rather interesting one as the artist receives a map from his father which marks the location of an unmarked grave between two mango trees. While sounding like a murder mystery at first, it was later revealed that the man was possibly a victim of a mass killing during Cambodia’s communist era as his body was found not far away from an unmarked mass grave. The dissonance between generations of Cambodians living during or after the Pol Pot regime was rather evident through the dialogue between the artist and his unnamed compadre. Through the monologue of the artist, addressed towards the person in the grave, we were informed that the artist had seen at least seen a photograph of the mysterious man although we ourselves as an audience were not shown this. In addition, instead of sympathising with the man for his tragic passing, Rattana scolds him in a harsh, condescending tone, giving off an air of disrespect towards the deceased. While shocking, his actions are not far off from how the Cambodian community are treating the deceased. It was later revealed how the area of the mass graves have turned into rice paddies for farming are still being used for that purpose, highlighting the indifference of the modern day Cambodians towards the victims of the horrible past.
And the end of it, many questions were still left unanswered in the film. Who is the person in the grave? How did the artist’s father know about him and does the victim’s family know about the location of his grave? Did they even try to find him? Taken onto a larger context though, the same questions can also be asked about every one of the 5,000 bodies found in the mass graves that were left forgotten over the years. While the anonymity of these victims is a rather distressing issue, one also tackle the issue that acts of respecting the dead compromise that of the still living. Should the livelihood of the rice farmers and the communities which feeds off the rice that they plant over the graves be heavily affected when the plot of land is to be turned into a proper burial area or monument?
I loved how for most of the works and the communities involved in them, the significance of certain things, events and people although have died down, but are never truly forgotten. There is always a sort of a new “life” growing from a physical and symbolic death under the effect of time. One could infer that rice plants and the mango trees could grow and flourish due to the nourishment provided by the bodies buried underneath them. As such, it can be argued that there is always progress in time and the dead in some way or another, will always still contribute to the next generation.
p.s I find it amusing that even the work itself is an example, the death of an unknown person once recorded on a hand-drawn map eventually became that of a 18 minute video to be shown on art galleries.