About Time Machine (2013 – ongoing) by Malte Bartsch
Time Machine. A small grey-silver box. At the push of a button, it produces a small piece of paper, a record with the time of the exhibition and the location of the machine. The original idea of the time machine – time travel – is thus counteracted. It does not travel into the future, not into the past; the machine and with it its users remain in the now. The literal receipt of the Time Machine serves as an objective proof; and as a subjective souvenir, a “record” for the personal archive. In each act of issuing, there is a sender and a receiver. The recipients are openly recognisable. But who is exhibiting here? The machine? Without a will – drive – of its own, it can only be seen as an intermediary, or means. The “will” comes from the recipients. So what is being exhibited here: Time?
According to Immanuel Kant, time is “merely a subjective condition of our (human) view” (KRV, B51). Like space, it is an ever-present, a priori condition of our perception and its reflection, Anschauung. The latter is based on the affection of perception, i.e. the senses, by the objects in the world and is therefore sensuous at all times. It is impossible, according to Kant, to apprehend an experience and its underlying object outside the condition of time: Time is a condition and property of things (B52). Nevertheless, it does not possess an absolute reality, since its existence only becomes relevant in connection with human sensuous perception. It possesses a “transcendental ideality”; without the human senses it is nothing (B53).
The question of what or whether time is exhibited by the Time Machine results in a punning follow-up question: Whose/who’s time? After the “who” is roughly outlined – or simply cannot be answered conclusively – the “whose time” seems immediately evident: my time, i.e. the time of the users. To the question of whether time is something real, Kant answers as follows: “Time is indeed something real, namely the real form of inner perception (ibid.). It has subjective reality in relation to one’s own inner experience; the individual thus has a conception of time and one’s own location in it (B54). Objectively, externally, it does not exist.
What happens when this necessarily internal of time meets an external, the machine?
Location, machine. The Time Machine objectifies something subjective without absolute reality. It – supposedly – manifests the intangible. Is its concern, thus, the machine itself a perversion; and the artistic act an ultimate pun? The form of the Time Machine picks up on the contrast: its objective, sterile, machine-like exterior is antithetical to the “transcendental ideality” of time, with all the connotations that these two words carry. At the same time – no pun intended – time travel seems to find its way into the subject matter via the form: Echoes of early machine/computer technology (past) are just as recognisable as those of visions of space or the future. The exhibited receipt, with indication of the place, becomes an – ideal – point of reference and means of retrospective localisation for the viewer at the moment of the exhibition. “My” time becomes abstractly imaginable and physically tangible for others.
Location. Like time, space is for Kant a condition and property of the Anschauung. While the former represents the pure form of inner perception, the latter refers to outer perception and outer appearances (B50). “One can never form an idea that there is no space, although one can quite well imagine that no objects are encountered in it.” (B39) Space is thus a necessary conception and condition for the possibility of external experience. Set up in different places and connected to each other via a server, the Time Machine brings together outer spaces and inner times. The subjective experience is brought to a shared form – the bon – and thus becomes comprehensible for a counterpart. Although this comprehensibility necessarily remains abstract – subjective time cannot be recreated or relived – the pieces of paper (artworks) form a starting point that provides the possibility for exchange and “shared experience”. As a decentralised act carried out simultaneously in different places, the operation of the Time Machine potentiates this “shared moment” and experience.
Art makes time longer (quote from the author), or: shared joy is doubled. The Time Machine generates testimony and record (memory), paths into the past and future, to the subjectively inner and objectively outer. Transcendentally-digitally united.
Find out more on Malte Bartsch’s website or his Instagram-account @malte.bartsch!