The manipulation of space and time is explored at the High Museum of Art in the exhibit “Hourglass” by New York-based Jewish artist Daniel Arsham.
Using installations on two floors of the museum, Arsham examines the relationship between the past and a manufactured future where humans are confused about their place on a timeline of events.
Upon entering the museum, a visitor’s attention is drawn by the bright blue of the sand, but further examination of each hourglass and the pile of sand in the middle of the floor reveals slightly covered objects that are recognizable fragments of present-day humanity, such as a keyboard, human hands in prayer and a digital camera.
The sand, made of blue crystal and sculpture cast, is a suggestion that time is running out or that the world is far ahead of us, leaving viewers to ponder their existence in what may be a parallel universe.
A child’s voice breaks through the silence as she explains a reality in which time has been forgotten. She describes the familiar objects of everyday use as anthropological discoveries. She struggles to understand the purpose of each item and how humans obliviously marched into the future and lost all recollection of the past.
“Sometime hundreds and hundreds of years ago, people stopped writing things,” the voice says. “As technology ebbed and flowed, we looked to archaeologists to tell us what happened. None of it was true, my parents tell me. It was all fake news.”
Fake news, the constant advancements of technology and discoveries about human origins blur the lines between our reality and what first seems like the distant future. The two dimensions presented in the installation confront us with a present where the truth is hidden among artifacts that are more like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle.
On the second floor is a complete Japanese Zen garden with a traditional pagoda, tatami mats and raked sand in a surreal bright blue. The sand can move only with human interference using a rake.
The pagoda includes a mannequin sitting on the floor with a kimono, vase and guitar. The female mannequin has a damaged face because she is a relic. In the home are a few items she may have held dear, but why?
Next to the pagoda is a cavern full of amethyst-colored balls. There are volleyballs, basketballs and soccer balls.
In a future lacking a past, objects have no cultural significance assigned to them, and we can only ask ourselves why are they here. This time, a male voice breaks through the dissonance created between time and space.
“All of humanity was engaged in this endeavor to uncover this dream we’re all involved in,” he says. “History has always foretold the end of time, but so far it hasn’t come.”
Arsham’s transformation of both galleries in the museum is influenced by his sci-fi film series “Future Relic.” Viewers walk into another universe where the present is questioned, resulting in deep reflection about the evolution of humanity.
Through the clever use of a lens from the future to examine the present as the past, Arsham manipulates the mind into viewing time on a continuous reel. The removal of man-made time frames puts the viewer in an omnipresent position to gaze upon human life and interactions. There is no past, present or future, only a series of events.
The one failure of the exhibition is that the installations alone do not convey the complexity of the message. If the museum is buzzing with patrons, viewers may have trouble hearing the analog that connects each piece to the larger theme.