Tracey Clement is an artist and writer based in Sydney, Australia. Her artworks are diverse and tend to incorporate labour intensive techniques. She exchanged time writing about the project in exchange for one of the ‘Year of Time’ vessels.
Making Time Manifest
When I go to meet Bridget Kennedy to chat about participating in her A Year of Time 1:30 project I’m running early (as always) and she arrives right on time; an appropriate start, it seems to me.
I’ve just finished reading (for the second time) Kate Atkinson’s 2004 novel Case Histories. As Kennedy attempts to explain to me the complicated mathematics which underlie her project (a process which reminds me why I work with images and words, not numbers) I
become slightly befuddled and my mind drifts to one of the characters in Atkinson’s novel who has also been struggling with getting the numbers to add up; in her case the limited number of hours in each day:
Michelle had been setting her alarm five minutes earlier every day. This morning it had gone off at twenty past five. Tomorrow it would be quarter past. She could see that she would have to call a halt eventually or she would be getting up before she went to bed. But not yet… She needed more time, there simply wasn’t enough of it. This was the only way she could think of making it. Not making it exactly, if you could make it from scratch––brand-new time––that would be fantastic. Michelle tried to think of ways you might manufacture something so abstract, but all she could think of were examples from her own small-scale domestic economy––knitting and sewing and baking. Imagine if you could knit time. Christ, her needles would be clacking day and night. And what an advantage she would have over her friends, none of whom knew how to knit (or bake or sew)… And anyway, where would she ever find the time to make time? There was no time. That was the whole point. What if she stopped going to bed altogether? She could shut herself away like someone in a fairy tale, in a room at the top of a tower and spin time like gold. She could stay awake until there was so much time, lying in golden hanks at her feet, that it would last her the rest of her life and she would never run out again. The idea of living in a tower, cut off from everyone and everything, sounded like heaven to Michelle.
Although fictional Michelle is a woman on the verge, and the real artist in front of me clearly is not, this passage resonates with Kennedy’s A Year of Time 1:30 project. It highlights the positive generative nature of traditional womens’ work––all that crafty knitting, spinning, and baking (or in this case basket making) which is so often taken for granted when it is not being openly maligned. And it also draws attention to the abstract nature of time.
These days, even those of us who don’t understand Einstein’s theory of relativity (and frankly who does, I mean really?) have probably watched enough science docos or sci-fi epics to know (without really comprehending) that time isn’t matter fixed in precise unchanging increments. It is, ummm, relative. It stretches and compresses depending on where you are and how fast you are going. And (in theory at least) it is possible to travel backwards, forwards and sideways in time through the vast reaches of the infinite multiverse.
Yet back in the real world, outside the rarefied field of theoretical physics, we continue to talk about time as if it was a quantifiable physical substance. We say things like ‘Time heals all wounds,’ an aphorism that pictures time as some kind of medicinal unguent, or ‘Time flies,’ a metaphor in which time shoots off rapidly like an arrow, in just one direction. Or, perhaps mostly commonly these days, we
say ‘Time is money.’ And, never mind jaunting across the space-time continuum in the Tardis, this is where things start to get really weird. In saying that time is money we assign value (an inherently arbitrary judgment) to an utterly intangible concept.
Even Atkinson’s character Michelle, poised as she is on the verge of postnatal psychosis, knows that you can’t actually define time, grasp it, pop it in a box and save it for later. And you most definitely cannot whip-up a new batch as required. But you can, as Kennedy has done, make both time and the value we attach to it visible.
In her A Year of Time 1:30 project Kennedy has made an entire year of time manifest as 60 finely crafted vessels stitched together primarily from textiles. She has then traded each one of these diminutive baskets for either services rendered by others for an amount of time equal to the minutes spent on each vessel, or cash, or a combination of both. This process of exchange has been documented, making transparent and tangible the normally arbitrary process of assigning value to both goods and services.
In being willing to do a straight minute for minute swap, Kennedy draws our attention to how unusual this equity is in our hierarchical culture. Normally there are wild discrepancies in the values assigned to labour: doctors, lawyers, plumbers and CEOs can charge amounts per hour t
hat cleaners, nurses, teachers, waiters, artists (and arts writers for that matter) can only dream of.
Some participants in A Year of Time 1:30 felt that they had nothing of value to exchange, or they just preferred to pay cash. But Kennedy left it up to each individual to decide what her time was worth, again highlighting the arbitrary notion of value. For example, she found that while someone might be willing to pay her $85 per hour for jewellery making lessons they only valued her vessel creation time at $25 per hour. I’ve exchanged words for minutes: 827 shiny new ones (in addition to Atkinson’s burnished old ones and a quote from the artist herself) for my lovely little vessel titled, 827:24810.
Kennedy fashioned the 60 vessels for A Year of Time 1:30 over the course of one calendar year (another way to measure time). She assigned the project a scale of 1:30, and that’s where I started getting confused. I’m still not sure why she settled on 1:30, but as the artist pointed out to me there are 525,600 minutes in a year. And, demonstrating that she’s not going mad, she realised that she couldn’t weave vessels 24/7 (if she could she really would be like a woman in a tower in a fairy tale.) As Bridget Kennedy patiently explained to me, “So that’s why I did a scaled down ‘time map’ of 1:30 ratio. This equates to 17,520 minutes. It would be really cool to find 29 other people to also work making vessels for 17,520 minutes each– then I could literally show a full year of time in one show. But that’s another project still in the planning stage.” Something to look forward to, at another time.