“Søren Kierkegaard speculated that the mind might function optimally at the pedestrian pace of three miles per hour”
Raymond Tallis, Reflections of a Metaphysical Flaneur
Raymond Tallis, Reflections of a Metaphysical Flaneur
As one might well expect, Alison Unsworth’s ‘Things to think with’ consists of several objects, the spaces between them, and whatever time one sets aside to stroll amongst them.
Among her objects, we are invited to spend a little time exploring the miniature spectacle of souvenir ornaments turned inside out. Tiny ceramic cottages, designed to remind their owners of some village or seaside idyll, are demolished. Upon their now vacated sites, Unsworth crafts memorial plaques to unseen and absent monuments; a skip containing the bricks of a broken down house; minute traffic cones warning invisible trespassers away from the dangers of continual demolition and rebuilding. Here, something permanent has passed. Kitsch little shrines to a world that never was have fallen into disrepair. Giants looming over these fragile isles, we sense the sadness of landscapes which never cease to cease. One can almost taste a salted breeze.
Rubbish – say the rubble in a builder’s skip or the fragments of a shattered ceramic – has a tendency towards disorder and towards the horizontal. As if fearful of such chaos, Unsworth places her cottages in conversation with a vertical monument of her own devising. Standing tall, a precisely drawn and rendered seagull perches upon a lamppost. With its underbelly reflecting the lamppost’s orange glow, the seagull appears part and parcel of this image. And yet, we cannot help but know that ornithology is the study of objects that live and breathe in verticals, horizontals and durations beyond our grasp. Despite the serendipity of the seagull’s landing, soon it will have flown the picture’s frame.
The deceit of Unsworth’s image lies in its apparent claim to stop time and to have forever captured a merely fleeting moment in the life of her seagull and her lamppost. Which is no deceit at all because we might, for as long as this exhibition lasts, return time and again to her image and find that this monumental moment has not yet changed. But what if we have changed in the meantime? And even if we haven’t, Unsworth’s exhibition is itself constantly changing. In one corner, her Promenade video plays and fills the room with peculiar sounds and a different rhythm. Have we a spare forty-eight minutes to watch this moving panorama of the South Shield’s promenade and Sandhaven beach? Have we entered the gallery at a suitably auspicious time? Does it matter if we watch from beginning to end? Whatever the case, however quickly we might walk amongst Unsworth’s other objects, this one has its own ambling duration and refuses to be hurried along.
Time is a problem for Unsworth, and her demolitions and rebuildings, her birds and her promenade, invite a sense that time is a problem for us in turn. Having left her exhibition, the author found himself thinking about thinking about time. Thus far, this thinking about thinking about time has produced 1003 scores for temporal displacement activity. The following is a wholly arbitrary selection from amongst them:
Score # 72: How to discover a monument and to subsequently discover that this monument has been ruined
Step 1: At as close an approximation to 3mph as possible, walk from the Vane art gallery to South Shields promenade. This will take approximately 3 hours and 36 minutes. Do NOT take the ferry.
Step 2: Find a lamppost.
Step 3: Wait for a bird to land upon it. This may take anything from 0.0001 seconds to the end of time.
Step 4: Once a bird has landed, contemplate the monument thus created and wait for bird to depart. This may take anything from 0.0001 seconds to the end of time.
Step 5: Once the bird has flown, know that the monument is ruined.
Step 6: At as close an approximation to 3mph as possible, walk back to the Vane art gallery. This will take approximately 3 hours and 38 minutes. Do NOT take the ferry.
Step 7: Repeat until incapable.
Score # 256: Act without words (after Beckett)
Step 1: Write the following words upon a piece of paper and in the following manner:
1. Søren Kierkegaard
3. the mind
4. function optimally
5. three miles per hour
Step 2: Roll a six-sided die. If the die lands on 1-5, go to Step 3. If the die lands on a 6, go to Step 5.
Step 3: Aloud, repeat the words that correspond to your dice roll for three minutes. Enunciate as clearly as possible. Pay close attention to the manner in which words reshape lips, tongue and teeth. Imagine meaning to be an ice cube slowly melting in the gorgeous wet heat of your dark and beautiful mouth.
Warning: so savoured, the words Søren Kierkegaard may prove highly addictive. Don’t start.
Step 4: Turn aside; reflect. Go to Step 2.
Step 5: Go on with your life.
Score # 572
Demolish your house. If you do not own your own house, ask a friend or relative if you can borrow theirs for the duration of this activity. If resistance is encountered, attempt to bribe said friend or relative with offers of exquisite chutneys, book tokens or foot massages.
Score # 875: How to murder and mourn the passing of a traffic cone
Step 1: Arrange to meet three companions at the Monument in Newcastle upon Tyne. Ensure that each participant is equipped with a telecommunication device.
Step 2: Depart from one another and stroll down different streets. Remain alert to the possibility of traffic cones.
Step 3: Once a participant discovers a traffic cone, they must transmit their location to each participant as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Step 4: Gather around said traffic cone and wait until nightfall, for murder tastes so much sweeter after dusk.
Step 5: Nominate one participant to be the murderer. The murderer may now push the traffic cone over. A vertical will become horizontal. A thing will become rubbish.
Step 6: Savour your infamy.
Step 7: Mourn the traffic cone’s untimely sacrifice by repeating, together, the following prayer:
“She sells sea-shells on the sea shore / She sells sea-shells upon the sea shore / She sells sea-shells upon the sea shore / She sells sea-shells upon the sea shore…”
Eventually, this shared lament will deform itself and start to sound like the distant roar of an uncalm sea. Eventually, a seagull will appear.
Step 8: Wait for the seagull to depart…
Daniel Koczy is a writer and academic. At the time of writing, he is completing a PhD at Northumbria University. His work has appeared in the journal of Deleuze Studies, The Beckett Circle and the Critical Contemporary Culture journal.