Physics World, Fred Swist |

The Arche Time conference was completely unlike most meetings attended by physicists. Organized by conceptual artist Olga Ast, the June 2009 event brought together than 70 people from a wide range of backgrounds, including artists, philosophers, writers, photographers and filmmakers as well as scientists. Alongside the programme of talks and panel discussions, an accompanying exhibition showcased artworks, installations and moving images by artists such as the award-winning percussionist, composer and improviser Jesse Stewart, experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs and Ast herself. Such interdisciplinarity was necessary because the subject of the conference was time -and in the words of the science writer (and conference attendee) George Musser, “our experience of time i so fundamental and so mysterious that it takes all areas of human endeavour to come to grips with it”. Now, some three years later, Ast has produced a beautiful coffee-table book, Infinite instances:
Studies and Images of Time, which brings the numerous contributions to ArcheTime together in a single volume. Like the conference itself, Infinite Instances tackles the subject of time from many angles, incorporating the technical voices of scientists as well as the creative responses of artists and the ingenious experiments of designers. The collection of visual essays and text-based pieces appears to be organized in no particular order, but as you flick through its pages, a dichotomy emerges. On the one hand, time seems to be experienced as organic, living, moving, growing -for instance in Catinca Tilea’s My Time, which features a watch that contains living algae growing at different rates depending on the amount of heat and light it receives. On the other hand, time can be represented through complex graphs and diagrams, measurement apparatus and data-visualization systems. One exemple of the latter approach is found in the essay “Space-time imagery in art and science”. Here, the physicist Norman Zabusky shows how Eadweard Muybridge’s famous chronophotographs of motion inspired not only Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2, but also the physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey’s images of fluid flow and Zabusky’s own work (carried out with fellow scientist Martin Kruskal) ib “visiometrics”, or the visualization and quantification of evolving amorphous objects. For me, though, one of the book’s most fascinating entries comes from a graphic designer, Camilla Torna, who carried out an “experiment! in which she asked subjects -aged between 3 and 72 years- to draw their own interpretation of time. Their responses were organized into the Visualizing Time database, and a selection of 25 entries appears in the book. Ranging from a single dot on a blank sheet to carefully crafted networks of waves, lines and circles, the drawings (accompanied by captions) give an interesting insight into crative, metaphorical and conceptual responses to the experience of time. Torna’s contribution reveals both our tireless fascination with time and the complexity involved in grasping what it is in essence, and what it means as a concept. In eploring the various approaches presented in this book, one thing becomes clear. The central question in not so much about serching for a suitable universal definition of time. Instead, it concerns how time is experienced and how might engage with it from different perspectives. In bringing together voices from a spectrum of disciplines, the book invites readers to explore, investigate and refletc freely on the subject in a way that celebrates all of these different strands. Infinite Instances would appeal eqully to the specialist and the general reader, but will particulary interest those involved in multidisciplinary work and in dialogues between art and science.

Fred Swist is a senior graphic designer at IOP Publishing, which publishes Physics World

Infinite Instances: Studies and Images of Time, Ed. Olga Ast
2011 Mark Batty Publisher £32.00/$50.00