2 min

Time, gentlemen, please

It's last call at the solipsist saloon

SECONDS, ANYONE? The method is more interesting than the image in Karen Henderson's "Untitled." Credit: Xtra files

Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History Of Time, discusses how the theory of relativity abandons the notion of a unique, absolute time, instead suggesting that each observer has his or her own way to measure time.

Similarly, in the stillness of the Art Gallery Of Ontario’s Present Tense Gallery, time appears to be occupying its past and future tenses. Toronto-based Scottish artist Karen Henderson has pressed the pause button and invited us to not only think about time, but to experience it.

To appreciate the works, you have to slow your heart beat to a patient patter.

In subtle and differing ways, the three works in the room act as markers that fix the viewer in time and space.

“Untitled” is a large wall work comprised of 12 sheets of hard plastic covered in what look like oversized Rorschach ink blots. Henderson created each, successively, on the floor by pouring ink over the surface and allowing it to dry over a period of two days. Her system was to work with each plastic sheet from the pile in the order the factory gave it to her and to hang them on the wall in that same order.

Messy leakages and ink that has pooled on buckled and uneven surfaces has dried into swirling organic shapes and gradations of grey that invite projected readings and visceral responses. The resulting images are far less interesting than deciphering her systems and the consideration of time as a subjectively understood sequence that, when fit together end to end, give us a greater meaning.

In “Photograms Made In This Place With This Lighting,” time is presented as 10 simultaneous moments that bear a resemblance, but stand apart. The photograms are circular shadows that were formed when a water droplet on light sensitive material was exposed to light.

Each photogram is unique but uniform, different but the same. Their individual characteristics are revealed but their meanings are understood only in relation to each other. In the third work, “Water Video,” the image exists in real time and is more about duration and possibility, the passage of time recorded before our eyes in unedited footage.

Henderson again sets up the circumstances in which randomness comes into play against a system of controls. A stationary video camera records, over a period of four minutes, what appears to be a clear plastic wine glass. You don’t know how to locate the glass until jarring movements cause ripples that reveal the glass to be filled with water, as is the container it’s in.

Nothing more than this happens, but as viewers we watch the small incremental moments that make up the video’s narrative.

In this exhibition, Henderson’s project is to record the different ways we experience time – as linear, simultaneous or narrative moments – and offer them up for contemplation.

Her investigation points out how knowledge and experience are accumulated over time and reflects on a reality full of uncertainties, despite our efforts to impose order and control. It’s also about how we perceive, and the insight to be gained from sustained attention paid to the act of seeing.

Karen Henderson: Present Tense.

Till Sun, Jul 25.

Art Gallery Of Ontario.

317 Dundas St W.

(416) 979-6660.