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Three Projects to Help You Rethink Your Relationship With Time


Perhaps time’s greatest feature is its flexibility; you decide how you live it.

We live under the tyranny of the clock. In our city lives we spend the day surrounded by alarms and deadlines. We take as given certain preconceptions regarding time: the future doesn’t exist; time runs out, all we have is now. But we rarely stop to think about the real dimensions of the past, in the thousands of possibilities the future offers and how we inhabit the present.

Following are three radically different ways of perceiving time and how we relate to it. This could be the first step toward beginning to live it differently.

The Past / The Histomap


John Sparks once said: “When man’s knowledge is not ordered, the more he has and the more he knows, the more confused he will be.” Sparks was the manager of the Nestlé plant between the wars. He had to travel a long distance to get to work and, as a fanatic of history, he used his time on public transport to create a timeline. He took various history books with him and a notebook in which he wrote down names and dates he considered important. When he got home he would cut them out and stick them on a giant time map. The dimensions of the project make us understand, via sight, the magnitude of the past. It helps us understand the scale of one life, of a kingdom and a culture in proportion to the history of humanity.

John Sparks sold the design of the Histomap to Rand McNally, who continues to sell it to this day. Part of its success is undoubtedly due to its aesthetic merit. In Histomap, history is not static, but flows like a multicolored liquid.

The Future / The Long Now

The Long Now Foundation is a project founded by Brian Eno and Danny Hillis, among others, which seeks to recover a vision of the future. During a certain time, perhaps with the year 2000 as the most immediate reference, humanity began to ask itself about the future. TV series, books and films were produced about how the future would be, what flying gadgets and robots would we find, and there were still many optimists regarding what the year 2000 held in store for us. But everything seems to point to the fact that that vision of the future belongs to the past. The present exhausts us with catastrophic news and apocalyptic predictions, and it has become increasingly more difficult to imagine the future. On the one hand this leads to a kind of carpe diem that leans toward the extreme, the squandering and the abandoning of all responsibilities. On the other hand, it can manifest itself in apathy, a lack of purpose that paralyzes humanity.

The Long Now Foundation has various projects related to this. One of hem is a giant clock that is being built in Texas and that will eventually be taken to a cave in Nevada. The clock is programmed to survive with little maintenance and to be guided by the sun. The idea is that it will last for 10,000 years. The Rosetta Project is a disc that has more than 13,000 pages of texts about all the world’s languages. The Panlex project seeks to create an enormous database that contains all of the world’s words in all languages. Long Bets promotes long-term thinking, encouraging predictions about the future. And lastly, Renew & Restore seeks to promote genetic research to recover extinct species and conserve those in danger.

The Long Now projects may appear utopian and unachievable, but many of the incredible achievements attained by humanity also appeared impossible. The idea they promote is to never give up on what in the short term appears impossible because maybe in the long term it isn’t.

The Present / On Kawara

Japan’s On Kawara (who currently has a retrospective at the New York Guggenheim Museum) is an artist of the present. One of his most famous projects consists of painting a painting every day with only the date that it was created. The painting fits perfectly inside the boxes made from the newspapers of that day. Humans are made out of time, and which we only know how to measure with repetition. On Kawara has various works that stand as testaments to the constant rhythm of the present. One of them consists of a series of postcards that he sent to a friend with the time at which he had woken up. He also has a series of lists: I read, I met, I went, in which he noted the people he had met each day and what he had read in the newspaper. A human being can represent a combination of repetitions. A person’s identity can be reduced to data: the people you encounter every day, the route you take, the time you wake up, the earth’s revolutions around the sun while you live.

On Kawara’s work makes us aware of those patterns that we follow every day and how our life is constructed as a continuous present. Perhaps On Kawara’s most beautiful piece is the series of postcards he sent to a friend every day for a month with the phrase I am Still Alive. He writes it each time as if he were communicating very important news. But we frequently forget the improbability and importance of that fact, of staying alive. Life is very different with full awareness of the moment. It’s probable that we live better this way.

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