Please Note: below is our original submission to cSPACE King Edward‘s Call for Public Art. We’re still researching, experimenting, and developing our techniques. Some details will change over the coming months, but this blog chronicles our early intentions. Stay tuned to follow our process!
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow is a kinetic installation visualizing the complex passage of time as it relates to the site-specific concepts, people, and materials of the historic King Edward School. The installation takes the form of 105 suspended hourglasses, filled with sand crushed from sandstone bricks collected onsite during cSPACE’s renovations (pending experiments). Hourglasses will float through the Historic Grand Entrance and rise in a glassy cloud up towards the contemporary interior of the multi-use art space. A steady stream of sand will rain down against the glass in a silent cacophony of movement. Every 5 minutes, a different assortment of hourglasses will flip, creating a complex visual aesthetic appearing at once both random and mathematical. Viewers who frequent the space will eventually learn to read these movements as the ticking of an intricate clock, mapping universal time in relation to abstract, personal measurements of time. Mysterious, experimental, and multifaceted, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow utilizes the hourglass as a powerful symbol of progression and momentum, drawing a direct relationship between the sandstone school’s past, and the future to come.
Like many growing cities, in our early history Calgary suffered a great fire. In 1886, our cityscape saw the blazing destruction of “more than a dozen buildings,” prompting the redesign of many public institutions from locally-sourced, inflammable material – most notably sandstone (Creb Now, 2014). Thus emerged the “Sandstone City” era in Calgary’s history, a phase lasting several decades, wherein major public amenities from hospitals, churches, schools, banks, and courthouses, all the way to City Hall, were crafted from sandstone. Alongside a handful of other schools, King Edward School gleaned its stone from the now-defunct 17th Avenue Sandstone Quarry, and subsequently weathered over a century as South Calgary High School (Johnson, 2007).
Sandstone, while malleable and adaptable, comes with inherent problems. The stone is porous, and susceptible to moisture, deterioration, and cracking (“Sandstone: Characteristics, Uses, and Problems,” 2016). According to Calgary Heritage Authority, the west wing of King Edward School suffered a fatal crack in 1978, resulting in the preventative demolition of an entire wing of the building. This is the future location of cSPACE King Edward’s glass theatre wing, a fascinating assemblage of historic and contemporary architectural aesthetics. However, in order to build the new wing, contractors will need to painstakingly remove a large sandstone wall. The intention is to maintain as many blocks as possible for future repairs, but inevitably some will crack and break (as is the characteristic of sandstone). These are the bricks we intend to grind to dust and mathematically syphon into pristine hourglasses that will be suspended in the school’s historic main entrance.
Sandstone forms over hundreds of years of compression, charting layers of minerals and rock deposits in “earth time.” In relation to “people time,” sandstone is immortal. In crushing the stone, we are facilitating a magical, alchemical transformation, accelerating the passage of time into comprehendible intervals. When related back to the hourglass – a symbol used by medieval pirates and painters to symbolize mortality (“History of the Hour Glass,” 1999) – how are we changing the essence of that material? How does the volume and flow of sand tell us something different than the ticking of a clock? Is it possible to capture multiple units of time at once? Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow proposes a complex visual chronology, illustrating a beautiful, ghosty, delicate, and ever-changing relationship between past, present, and future.
ENGAGEMENT OVER TIME
In 2017, King Edward School will be 105 years old. Tenants will begin to move into the building, altering its rooms and establishing ownership over internal spaces. Relationships will develop between artists, organizations, neighbours, audiences, and the surrounding community, re-establishing a rich network centred around the school. In essence, King Edward School will be resurrected from a state of latency; its clock, currently frozen, will begin to tick again.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow uses 105 hourglasses as a reference to the age of the school when the artwork is installed in 2017. The hourglasses themselves will be arranged in intervals of time – the biggest hourglass, mapping the longest period of time, will be suspended in the mouth of the building facing the neighbourhood. This hourglass will flip only a few times a day – drawing a direct visual connection between the sand and the surrounding sandstone building. As a viewer moves beneath this arch and into the arctic entrance, two slightly smaller, faster hourglasses will float above them, counting 3 hours each. Entering the main stairwell, 101 hourglasses will hang overhead, arranged in groups counting from the longest increments of time, to the shortest (closer to the rectangular entrance).
Time is relative: while many of the hourglasses will measure universal time (60, 30, 15, and 5 minute intervals) a selection of approximately 50 hourglasses will measure relational time. Especially before the advent of accurate timekeeping devices, people measured time based on the sun in combination with personal activities. Especially for artists, who often work outside the regimented confines of a traditional schedule, time is measured in alternative intervals:
the amount of time it takes to paint a base coat,
drink a cup of coffee,
visit a studio mate,
rehearse a particular scene,
frame a photograph in the viewfinder,
write a paragraph of text,
procrastinate beginning a grant…
These are insignificant periods of time when it comes to universal time, but significant to the artistic process. Approximately half of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow will be dedicated to mapping these very personal and hyper-specific periods of time. Tenants of King Edward School will be invited to self-timed and record these moments, deciding on their own significance. Once these hourglasses have been suspended, a circular brass marker will be inlaid into the floor directly beneath each hourglass. Text on the markers will cryptically implicate what the overhead glass is measuring (ie. Time between having an idea and dismissing it as impossible). It will be left to viewers to make the intuitive connection from floor to ceiling. By drawing a relationship between universal and personal time, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow illustrates the subjective and relative nature of time.
Creb contributor. “Sandstone City: A series looking at the people, architecture and culture of Calgary’s sandstone glory days.” Creb Now. 2014. Accessed: August 2016. www.crebnow.com/sandstone-schools/
“History of the Hourglass.” Online Clock. 1999. Accessed: August 2016. http://blog.onlineclock.net/history-of-the-hour-glass/
Johnson, Kristi. “A History of King Edward School: Part One.” Kristi’s Heritage Corner. 2007. Accessed: August 2016. http://www.chinookcountry.org/kristi/KingEdward%20Pt%201.pdf
“Sandstone: Characteristics, Uses, and Problems.” General Services Administration: Historic Preservation. 2016. Accessed: August 2016. http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/112582