Jennifer – Marrying some thoughts up: Time and Loops

Another bit o’reading which has been a companion on the journey thus far is the  rather perfectly titled “In Search of Time: Journeys Along A Curious Dimension” (Dan Falk, 2009, National Maritime Museum, London).  This one was mostly read post-Jerwood first time around, through travel and work in Norway (and one spectacular rail journey Bergen to Oslo)…

A clock in Salisbury is described as ‘what is very likely the world’s oldest working clock’ (p 60).  Built in the 1300’s, it has seen 600 years worth of the goings-on of this world and like many mechanical clocks, it depends on a sort of feedback system.  Although it needs a bit of help, essentially, the escapement regulates the continuous movement of the wheel being pulled by a falling weight (here is where the help comes in, as the weights have to be wound when they reach the floor) and thus, I like to imagine this clock having a very long, very drawn-out conversation (with quite a few pauses for deeper reflection along the way) amongst its components over the last 6 centuries.  The author offers the following from his conversation with the clock’s keeper:

“But my favourite timepiece is still the trusty medieval clock in Salisbury Cathedral – a clock that has stood its ground for more than six hundred years, bearing witness to all the highs and lows of English history from the fourteenth century until today (…)  As he runs through the milestones in the clock’s life, I think of its methodical tick-tock: a soft but persistent voice, oblivious to war and peace, famine and plenty, revolution and empire” (p 78).

This clock is my mountain!  That this clock has been on a steady, static journey for what we would consider a long time leads me to the idea that to wait, or to be still, to bear witness, patiently or not, inertly or ‘ertly’ (sorry, I know, not a word, but it sounds as if it would like to be) is also a displacement in time… and constitutes a journey.  This seems terribly obvious on reflection – but also imagine all those disposable times where we feel ‘nothing’ is happening and how frustrating they can be… If there is no primacy given over to ‘change-visible-on-certain-levels-like-for-human-eyes’ (or perhaps even urbanized-human-eyes) as a defining criteria of journey, then the 600-year-old clock is moving equally as much as the world is moving and although the clock might feel its time moving normally, relative to its world-bubble of ‘clock-time’, the world around the clock might feel its own speed no faster/slower than it has come to expect it to be in its world-bubble of ‘world-time’, but somehow, the clock perceives the world as going fast, and the world perceives the clock as going so slow as to be still, or inert… A little like what Einstein tells us what happens when we accelerate towards the speed of light, but in reverse – i.e, time seemingly slowing as acceleration increases towards c (from outside the frame of reference being accelerated).

This clock, and its relation to my mountain material (or more accurately, my experience of my mountain material), led me towards two areas:  one was Einstein’s Special Relativity and the other was to return to ideas previously noted concerning phenomenology, time and loops.  Firstly, the special relativity business…

For some reason or another, possibly made up, I have a distinct memory of having a solid understanding, a felt comprehension, of Special Relativity around about the time I was 17.  I can only qualify this as being similar to my experience of movement – and knowing, the kind of knowing that communicates on a pre-verbal, pre-reflective level, of when you, or someone in the same immediate space as you, has really connected inside a co-ordination – it has a hum like truth, like the refrigerator fan when it suddenly shuts off and you appreciate ‘ahhhh, that is what that noise was and this is what silence is actually’.  I have no idea why I believe that I ‘felt’ the connection in Special Relativity; since re-visiting it, I can only say that it both clarifies the intellectual waters whilst simultaneously making them very very deep, so that the bottom becomes blurrier and blurrier.  I also believe science/logic and numbers used to occupy the same amount of space in my experience as dancing and art now do, and since I tend to experience things primarily through a felt space, this ‘feeling’ of the truth of some math/science things makes a bit of sense.  Or I feel it does.


But this relativity business was also brought home by a conversation with Tom, whilst walking from Brighton rail station… the gist of it was as follows:

Me – relating an event earlier that day in London, having gone into Clapham South tube on my way to Jerwood to rehearsal and having noticed, for whatever reason, a particular woman.  I think I was taken with her shoes, or something.  Going down to fetch a coffee later that day at Jerwood, I notice again the same woman (shoes?), also in the cafe at Jerwood… and how much I enjoy those moments, particularly in London, where so many many people pass each other constantly, how rare it is, and how comforting, to see the same person you don’t know, and will most likely not ever know, randomly, twice in the same ‘day’.

Tom – (I am paraphrasing, or interpreting… this is what I heard of what he said…) That if we were able to get a handle on how this moment is not only our moment, but everyone else’s moment as well… not just our thing… and that these random fleeting glimpses are only happening when we happen to notice them – I think I saw that woman twice… but hypothetically, she saw me three times – four times… I am delighted with my version of events and yet this is really only a very narrow strand of all this stuff weaving in and out of itself.

So if I re-arrange the frames – I’ve found something I think is new (or familiar, seeing the same person twice, randomly) but it may always have been there.  In my selective experience (shoes?), I only just noticed it now.  In my naivete, I think it only just arrived, when in fact, it is me who only just got there… suddenly able to see, I think there wasn’t anything to see before I found these eyes.

This is so fundamental to individual experience – again, like loops of self-reference, just there, always, so submerged in our individual perception that it acts like a lacuna.  When I imagine I am finding something, I am maybe always imagining the finding and what I find has always been there, patiently awaiting attention.  So the clock, so the mountain, biding their time, whilst the world worlds around… a bit of Kafka that has always made me happy seems pertinent:

“You do not need to leave your room.  Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary.  The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked; it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

This also from Dan Falk:

“Each observer has his own list of events that appear to be happening ‘now,’ and no one person’s list is more authoritative than the next” (166).

And this, this is what Einstein says.  Or so my particular experience says, now… “… in order for the speed of light to be constant, time and space must be relative” (160).  This is a matter of faith, I reckon, for us mere mortals for whom the speed of light is not a matter of everyday consideration, but if we take it on faith that the speed of light is constant, will/has/is always been constant, then this is one of the most considerable statements ever made.  I really felt, suddenly, an intense desire to re-member this as I remembered I had understood it – as some kind of felt truth.

Time resides in each individual body and movement changes everything.

“In short, the two foundation stones of the special theory of relativity are the principle of the constancy of the velocity of light (the Michelson-Morley experiment) and the principle of relativity (Galileo).  Said more specifically, the special theory of relativity rests upon these two postulates:

  1. The velocity of light in a vacuum is the same in all frames of reference (for all observers) moving uniformly, relative to each other, and
  2. All laws of nature are the same in all frames of reference moving uniformly, relative to each other”  (159, The Dancing Wu-Li Masters, Gary Zukav)

It is the constancy of light that causes the most problems – or has the most interesting consequences:

“If the speed of light as measured by an observer at rest relative to a light source is the same as the speed of light as measured by an observer in motion relative to the source, then it must be that, somehow, the measuring instruments change from one frame of reference to the other in just such a way that the speed of light always appears to be the same”  (159, Zukav).

So I’m not so fussed that light is always a constant – no, it doesn’t make any sense in a Newtonian world view, but I’ll just leave that on the side – what I am really intensely interested in is that the ‘measuring instruments’ change… that is me, my perception, this whole world I experience through my own perception, changes… (it has to, to accommodate the invariance of light waves) and that the door to this change is motion and that underneath this door is the trapdoor of no-absolute-stillness.  And it doesn’t matter whether I happen to be the person moving, or the person ‘still’ – the effects of time dilation work both ways. My frame of reference is just my frame of reference and the other frames of reference are just the other frames of reference and finally, there is no big frame of reference in the sky that I can/should check the validity of my experience against.  Unless it is the speed of light.


And this brought me back to an earlier thought: “Now is a bodily-led field, opening up through my senses, expanding/dilating through my consciousness, my consciousness that isn’t my calculative/mechanical intellect.  It isn’t linear, it isn’t delineated, it isn’t – tied down to a world of things, but only my sense, my direct physical apprehension of that world.  Now is essentially mine.  I am continually evolving this field”  (quoted from earlier blog writing).  And this also ties in to the radical departure that Einstein made with special relativity – he opened up a view on the universe that was not to do with things, with objects and mechanics and explanations in terms of a hard-edged concrete world – and now we have fields without objects, of the electromagnetic variety, which although apparently removed from everyday pragmatic handling of things and forces, make so much more sense in terms of consciousness and bodied experience of concepts like motion and time.

I feel I feel the special relativity as I remember having felt it some decade and a bit ago; this now-ness that is constantly moving, in fact, is inseparable from motion, from space, this ‘now’ is the field of my perception.

Returning to the studio

One of the more recent themes that had been popping up in the studio was the calibration of intention in our ways of being with other(s) whilst performing – among the many wise things Elena shared was a little pearl concerning ‘inviting in’ versus ‘going out’.  If inviting in, then we share my bubble, my frame of reference, my measuring of time through motion and I am simply clear in what my measurements are, what my frame of reference is… but I don’t imagine that my frame is the only frame, hence the invitation rather than the imperative… in this work, as in most dancing, actually more generally, art, that I enjoy immensely, the invitation to join is the most generous and most appealing gesture that can be made. To go out and find the others, be they those attending to the performance, or those I am dancing with, seems to be tantamount to saying that my frame is the only frame worth attending to, that the performance, somehow, happens here and not-there.  Which also leans towards the ‘getting there’ idea of journey over the Journey-ing of the journey.  Part of the work needs to be the way in.  And this was also reflected in the decision to 3-dimensionalize the viewing surface, to have dancing be seen, and watching to happen from any/all sides (erm, apart from above/below… technical difficulties..).  This created a much richer texture, a different weave to the dancing, to attend to all the particles in all their individual orientations rather than those that constituted the primary frame of reference (or provided a viewable front surface)… the structure feels like it has married the ideas in a much more agreeable and sustainable way.  It feels a little bit like it is looping itself now, from the physical material to the ideas that first gave them shape to the physical material back to the ideas again… we are seemingly shifting between two differing planes, but each one, remarkably, gives back on to the other.

Which is exactly what Mr. Hosfstadter describes when he discusses strange loops:

“What I mean by ‘strange loop’ is – here goes a first stab, anyway – not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive ‘upward’ shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle” (101-2, I am a strange loop).

If I doctor his statement a wee bit – as firstly, this work is indeed a physical circuit as well as an abstract one, and secondly, I don’t reckon we are working with the idea of a hierarchy, but simply with different manifestations of the same web, one conceptual, one material, one energetic.  He expresses it more succinctly:

“That is, despite one’s sense of departing ever further from one’s origin, one winds up, to one’s shock, exactly where one had started out” (102).

The movement is ever-reinforcing the ideas from which it sprang, the ideas in turn re-generating the movement that then re-feeds the ideas… and so on.

The boundaries/edges, whatever it is that we thought divided concept and material, has become squishy, or perhaps soft would be a more poetic description.  Squishy has the right connotation though – I feel that if we squeeze on one plane, we get juicier on the others.  And this is most satisfying as it feels that an especially cohesive and integrated work is happening.  Hopefully the larger loop that is the world of arts funding has the same notion and this research will loop into a production plane…


I am strange loop - Jennifer-Lynn

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