Friday, 13 November 2009

The Shape of Time

Time appears to pass more quickly as we become older. Talking about this poignant phenomenon with designer Anastasija Tarana, I discovered that she had explored time's fickleness in book form. Tarana thinks the human obsession with measuring time is somewhat incongruous, a fool-hardy attempt to impose definite rules on an abstract force. Why should a minute be a minute? Our instinctive feelings - biological clocks - often bely this measured parcelling out of lives in hours and years.

Tarana's ideas were given scientific backing via the 'Logtime' principle - a logarithmic time perception scale developed by James Main Kenney in the 1990s to express why units of time seem shorter the older we become. Logtime theory is based on the law by which the apparent length of an interval at a given epoch of life is proportional to the total length of the life itself. A child of 10 experiences a year as one-tenth of their life, and a person of 50 sees a year as one-fiftieth of their life. Elderly people may seem very slow to the young, but they are walking into the storm of sped-up time.

Tarana interviewed individuals of different ages, asking them to describe their impression of time and encouraging them to draw a coloured geometrical symbol to reflect their views. Particular age groups responded with uncannily similar symbols - circles from the children, triangles from the middle-aged. Tarana published these responses but also sought a design by which "the book form could be a container of this complicated data on its own."

The book that resulted from her research represents three different perceptions of a year at the same time. At 400 pages long, with each page standing for a day, it incorporates and extends the traditional 365-day calendar. It is a substantial object, but also possessed of a delicacy that suits its subject matter. Hand-incised holes in each page layer into tunnels representing the experience of a 10 year-old, a 40 year-old and a 70 year-old respectively. The book implies a longer narrative: the elderly person's year gets smaller and smaller, finishing in a point mid-way through the book, whereas the child's continues right through the book block to the back cover, and by implication beyond. Tarana used geometric shapes to symbolise the individual lives: the child's circle implies a simple level of experience, the elderly person's multi-faceted hexagon the complexity, and perhaps the wear and tear, of a long life. As Marcus Aurelius said, 'every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity.'

1 comment:


Since seeing Tarana's work, I've been reading the great Irish novelist John McGahern's memoir. The following sentences resonated with me strongly, and I thought I'd add them here as they seem related to Tarana's discussion of time.

'We come from darkness into light and grow in the light until at death we return to that original darkness. Those early years of light are also a partial darkness because we have no power or understanding and are helpless in the face of the world. This is one of the great miseries of childhood. Mercifully, it is quickly absorbed by the boundless faith and energy and the length of the endlessly changing day of the child. Not even the greatest catastrophe can last the whole length of that long day.'