exhibitions

Time’s Tattarrattat

Posted on: August 12th, 2015 by libby

Looking Up

For the last month or so I've been thinking about time.  Not in the sense that I've been running late for meetings (although this happens frequently), or that I've been having another existential crisis, but rather I've been thinking about the nature of time while wearing my artist-scientist hat.  I've been chatting with a friend and scientist John Goold, who is fascinated by a famous law from physics called the second law of thermodynamics.  Basically, the second law explains why when I drop a wine glass on the floor it never spontaneously reforms itself, even if I continuously shake up the pieces for the rest of my life they will never at any point fit back together.   The second law leads to the arrow of time.

Piece on ceiling

In recent weeks, I've made an interactive digital installation responding to this.  It is called Time's Tattarrattat and I will be presenting it later today at the Aboagora festival in Turku, Finland.  Tattarrattat is not only a brilliant sounding word, but it also happens to be the longest palindrome in the English language.  A palindrome is a reversible word - it reads the same both forwards and backwards.  Tattarrattat, which was coined by James Joyce in Ulysses means to 'knock on the door'.  So this project, in some sense, is about knocking on time's door.

So what is time?

There is still no consensus.  John explains that "it is very mysterious, I don't know what it is.  It's a very difficult question to answer.  Depending on the era you live in, it's a very different thing - and it could be both subjective or objective depending on who you talk to.  I would say now, it is seen as (to some people at least) an emergent phenomenon resulting from the underlying microscopic complex world... maybe...".

Later today, John is talking at length about these ideas and explaining the fascinating relationship between information and time: that if we could keep track of all the information about the movements and interactions of all the particles of our universe, we could in principle reverse time and instantly reform that broken wine glass.

test

While scientists and philosophers are still split about whether this is really the case, I took it as the initial inspiration for my projection, which takes the form of a digitized cloud, whose evolution is driven by the information in John's words.  It works by analyzing the words for their 'relative palindromicity'.  For instance, the word 'Dad' is reversible - it reads the same forward and backwards and the word 'tad' is pronounced in a similar way forwards and backwards, so it is close to reversible.  Whereas, on the other hand, 'time' reads 'emit' backwards so it is irreversible.  The irreversibility of most words in the speech randomizes the artwork, we can never predict which direction the triangles will move.  For however long John talks, like the wine glass dropping on the floor, the pieces of my cloud will never move back to their original positions, no matter how long the installation is run.   Like the clouds continuously changing their form in the sky, for each different text read into my piece a previously unrealised art work will be created.

Setting up