The days of that bit of seasonal clock trickery, where we spring forward and fall back, may be numbered, but it always puts me in mind of the stretchy nature of time. You’re driving (or flying) west, you cross an invisible line, and suddenly it’s an hour earlier. You get up at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning and set your clocks back an hour (you do, don’t you? If not, you’re temporarily off tempo). My kitchen has two clocks—on the range and the microwave—both electronic—and though I set them regularly, in a few weeks the microwave is ahead, the range is behind, and neither of them matches my iPhone.
So, as the song says, “does anybody really know what time it is?” (Yes, the National Institute of Standards and Technology does, and if you have a shortwave radio, you can listen to their endlessly fascinating, though a bit repetitive, time code broadcast on station WWV, at 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz—end of nerdout).
The next line of that old Chicago song is the one I’m more interested in anyway—“does anybody really care?” The seasonal time shift reminds us that time is, after all, an arbitrary construct. Before railroads got widespread, and fast enough to require coordinated (“standard” or “railroad”) time to keep schedules and prevent collisions, every city, town, and village had their own idea of high noon. Somehow humanity continued to progress, and people showed up when they were supposed to for work, school, and church (maybe bells had something to do with that).
These timely musings remind me that the act of attending a performance or an exhibition puts us in a new relationship with time—for a while. Listening to a concert, watching a play or a ballet, strolling through an art show all interrupt our headlong rush into the future. We surrender a little bit of our temporal autonomy to the good hands of the artists, and let them set the clock for us.
I think this puts us into closer harmony with the way we, as living creatures, are meant to interact with the world. We do not always keep perfect time. We experience things in slow motion sometimes, other times at a Keystone Kops pace. Being in the presence of art is a safe way to turn off the WWV time signal in our heads and let other rhythms play.
So come fall back with us into some out-of-time experiences at the Hylton Center this month, as the days get shorter and the air gets crisper. We have what you need—light, and warmth, and…time!
Dean and Executive Director