Exercise 1 – The fourth dimension

How proper: two weeks ago, on my flight from Amsterdam to Salt Lake City while travelling very fast in timespace  8 hours backwords,  I was totally absorbed in the book Introducing Time (Callender and Edney, 2004) and getting to grips as best as I could with the fourth dimension and Einstein’s relativity.

The concept of time has always fascinated me but I had never before tackled it from a scientific perspective. From reading this book I now understand that I have always had a tendency to look at it as an inner, psychological feeling,  a personal  flow of memories and mental states, something that does not really have much to do with the ticking of clocks and which is also detached from the biological watch and the process of aging.

On exploring a little more deeply my attitude towards time I see that I often look at past experiences and feelings like they are never really over and still very much belonging to the present. Rather like pieces and fragments that keep being added to the original blank canvas and make it more complex and layered.  Instead I have scarce vision of the future. So I live mostly in a present that is enriched, coloured and modified by past events that refuse to fade away.

I find the scientific perspective very refreshing and absolutely inspiring but I think that scientific time has not much to do with psychological time. They seem to me two different ideas or concepts altogether that cannot easily be put under the same roof.

I have read that in 1922 in Paris, at the Societé Française de Philosophie, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson, one of the most celebrated philosophers of the last century, had a famous debate on the nature of time during which Einstein said among other things that “the time of the philosophers does not exist” and I believe that perhaps the irreconcilability of their positions is not surprising since they seem to be speaking of two different concepts.

Getting back to physics,  in Wikipedia I have found an animated image that may be useful to visualize the fourth dimension of time.



Fig. 1

Have I thought about time in relation to artwork before?

No, I do not think so, or at least only broadly speaking. I had not thought explicitly about time in connection with art before commencing this course and now that my attention has been drawn to it I realize that considerations about time, its passing, the past, the present and the future,  the evocation of death and all human reflections about the transiency and caducity of life, fame and nostalgia are more or less inextricably intrinsic to much art.

A second very interesting point of which I have been made aware since starting this course is that of art using ‘time-based media’  in which time is in relation to movement or change, as suggested in the Creative Arts Introduction to Project 2, like sound, video, film etcetera, and of how this art depends on the fourth dimension or dimension of time. I now see as Project 1 concentrated upon time-related works of art using the first three dimensions – the dot, the line and the cube – whereas Project 2 focuses on the Fourth dimension.

Have you already come across pieces that explore what time is?

First of all there are of course all the traditional and modern vanitas paintings and still lifes which I have just been asked to consider.

The first other works that come to my mind in relation to the passing of time are the Impressionist paintings, for example Claude Monet’s  very well known series of Rouen Cathedral: more than 30 paintings which Monet did around the 1890s representing the cathedral facade in changing time and light conditions or his other celebrated series of Haystacks , again depicting stacks of hay under different light, season and weather conditions.

While reading Introducing Time (Callender and Edney, 2004), also Cubists came to my mind and I noticed that their paintings are approximately contemporary with Einstein’s special theory of relativity. I ignore if Picasso and Braque were familiar with scientific theories being discussed in those years, but in any case I think there is some affinity of vision. At the beginning of last century it seems that the traditional view of an absolute space and time finally disintegrates and also the unified perspective in painting adopted since the Renaissance is subverted. Time depends from where the observer stands and the painter can simultaneously represent different points of view of an object in time and space.

Also Duchamp (he again!) is interested in showing how a figure develops spatially in time, for example in Nude descending a staircase, No.2 (1912)


Fig. 2

In this connection it comes natural to think of chronophotographies  like those of Eadweard Muybridge, in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

A Futurist sculpture by Umberto Boccioni is another way of showing movement in time



Fig. 3

Among many other contemporary artists whose work deals with time in one form or another, also William Kentridge was involved in 2012 in a project that had time as his main theme, The refusal of time,  a 30 minute video installation that was produced on the occasion of Documenta 13 in Kassel, and that has been put up since in several museums around the world and also in Rome at the MAXXI museum in 2013. Here is an excerpt from that exhibition:



I realize that the list could go on forever! But I stop here for the moment and hope I shall have a chance to delve some more into this fascinating subject.


List of illustrations

Figure 1 Hise, Jason at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1724044 At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-dimensional_space (Accessed on 01/09/16)

Figure 2  Duchamp, Marcel  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (French: Nu descendant un escalier n° 2) (1912) [oil on canvas] source: http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51449.html?mulR=864354163 At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Duchamp_-_Nude_Descending_a_Staircase.jpg

(Accessed on 04/09/16)

Figure 3 Boccioni, Umberto Unique forms of continuiti in space (Italian: Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio) (1913) [bronze sculpture] Location Museo del Novecento (1931 cast), Milan At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unique_Forms_of_Continuity_in_Space

(Accessed on 04/09/16)

Figure 4 Kentridge, William The refusal of time  (2013)  Location Museo MAXXI, Rome At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ETGpUNSkkA (Accessed on 04/09/16)



1 Callender, C. and Edney, R. (2004) Introducing Time.  [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.it (Accessed on 30/08/16)




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