In and Out of Time

Writer: Masahito Ono

 Photo: Central Park from last year. Most of the nature in this world is much much older than my age.

Photo: Central Park from last year. Most of the nature in this world is much much older than my age.

What time is it? Let's say you asked me. It's 11:00pm here in New York on October 21st 2015. That's how I would answer you. What is time? Say you asked me next. My answer will be, "I don't know what time is."

Time doesn't seems to have any appearance. Perhaps it is a representation of time (and also that of space) the world we live in or maybe the world including ourselves is what time itself is. We don't know yet the beginning of time and if there will be an end to it. I am especially interested in the beginning of time. What could exist before there was time or without time? Even to think about the Big Bang, the creation of our universe, could it have happened before there was time? Without time, how could anything can have any kind of movement or transformation? This week, and maybe from time-to-time, I would like to write a little bit about time.

 Photo: Space Shuttle Endeavor leaving the earth on STS-130 mission. I saw the night sky turns into a day.

Photo: Space Shuttle Endeavor leaving the earth on STS-130 mission. I saw the night sky turns into a day.

It has become difficult to star-gaze in many major cities today but there are places where the night sky still appears to your eyes as an unlimited blue-black space and it is filled with hundreds and thousands (and more) of shining stars. Why I mention the night sky and stars is because I think they are very interesting, especially in its relation with time. We don't think about it often but many of the stars are more than a light year away. What that means is that the light you see is from the long past. Even the sun we see is 8.3 minutes from the past. 

 Photo: Orion Nebula, also known as M42, one of my favorite place to observe in the night sky. M42 is where new stars are born.

Photo: Orion Nebula, also known as M42, one of my favorite place to observe in the night sky. M42 is where new stars are born.

Take the moon for an example. Sometimes you see the grow over the unlit part of a crescent moon and can see the full shape of the moon (this phenomenon is called Earthshine.) That is because the dimly lit side of the moon is illuminated by the sunlight that had bounced off the earth's surface. The light we see on the bright part of the moon is the direct light from the sun. The light on the dimly lit side of the moon is the light also from the sun but that had bounced off the earth surface and then reached to the moon.

There is a gap and delay in time between the two lights. The two lights travel at the same speed but for a different distance before reaching eyes. Therefore, we can say that we see two different times simultaneously on the moon. I sometimes think that the stars are the super-stars of conceptual art.

Now I leave the stories about the night sky and come back again to discuss time. Putting aside the theory of relativity (that tells us time does not pass at the same rate for everyone, also called time dilation), in general sense, time seems to move only in one direction, to the future. It is like a flow of river and never seems to go backwards. I have wished in my life a few times, that the time would stop and things and people will remain just the way they are and I believe many of you also have had this experience before. But time doesn't stop. Unstoppable and it is always passing.

I'm personally not keen for an eternal life and I am also not keen for being forever-young. I think it's nice to get old. You lose something as you grow old but I think you also gain something that young doesn't have. I am thankful that I am here right now and I have met people whom I love in this world in my life time. To think about time is maybe to think about one's life. 

Our member of MiA, Yichen talked about  Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Untitled (Perfect Lovers) in her article previously. It strikes me what he had written in this letter that I'm going to show again. It was written to his lover and is about time, existence and love. I would like to end my article with introducing the beautiful letter.

Lovers, 1988

Don't be afraid of the clocks, they are our time, time has been so generous to us. We imprinted time with the sweet taste of victory. We conquered the fate by meeting at a certain TIME in a certain space. We are a product of the time, therefore we give back credit where it is due: time.
We are synchronized, now and forever.
I love you.

The clock installation work was produced in 1991, 3 years after this letter was written. It is one of a few artworks that made me completely speechless.