Daniel Stempfer at bb15 / Linz, Austria

Daniel Stempfer / About Time

02/06/23 – 16/06/23

bb15, Linz, Austria

All images (c) bb15 & the artist

Exploding Time


Daniel Stempfer has been making clocks, but one cannot help but
wonder whether he is more interested in keeping time, or exploding it.


The artist brings our attention to an odd historical event, his
recent obsession, the enigmatic bombing attempt of the Shepherd Gate Clock at
the Greenwich Royal Observatory in 1894, resulting in a premature detonation
and untimely death of the short-lived terrorist Martial Bourdin. For Bourdin,
his time was up. But for the British Royal Observatory and its symbolic clock, universal time” moved on universally—unscathed and
indeed ever more internationally entrenched, to be exploded, perhaps, another
time. We are left with an event that, at once, marks ones finitude and everyone elses
continuity. That is to say, in effect, we are led to consider, what happens
when the singular challenges the universal? How might we reconcile the
immemorial continuum of Time against the significance of that one time
resurrected, stretched, frozen, and displaced beyond temporaneity? And how do
we conspire to kill the other, and pick up its pieces; to reassemble it, to
slow it down with the heat of our own contemporaneous presence? At the
exhibition space, we bear coeval witness as if at the scene of a crime for
which we are complicit.


The whole world is just one big
clock,” wrote Alfred Gell, the British anthropologist of time, but
it is one which different people can read very differently – because what we
can see, out there in the objective world, is only, so to speak, the hands of
the clock, but not the clock-face in relation to which, and to which alone, the
configuration of the hands assumes its particular temporal meaning.” In About
Time, what we can see are two clocks, or rather, two clock hands. On the one
hand, dissolving seconds tick ever slower across a spectral clockface. Its
design is reminiscent of the Shepherds clock of a past imperial age and
its mechanics is driven by an array of pinecone weights of concrete and ice—the
latter melting before our eyes—the weight of time slipping away. On the other
hand, the rigid carapace of a horseshoe crab—the exoskeleton of a prehistoric
fossil in its unhurried rotation through four hundred million years of
evolutionary history—is synchronized to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) by means of a
satellite calibrated to the resonance of a Cesium-133 atom accurate to three
billionths of a second. Put together, the time piece becomes the convergence of
opposite ends of time scales from billions of seconds to billionths of a second
within a singularity.


Between the two clocks, Stempfers other works present us with a
landscape concerned less on time lost or regained, and more about how to put
back together its timeless remnants. Three deployed airbags, two driver-side
and another passenger-side, spectral relics of three separate collisions point
to accidental, singular time—preserving, for each, that one time. In another
piece, the patinaed remains of an opened pod of the flame of the forest
(Delonix regia), a cosmopolitan arboreal species native to Madagascar, speaks
to the artists own immediacies. Electroplated with copper harvested
from local construction scrap metal outside his Hong Kong studio, the metallic
pod asks us what we make of a fallen organic body materially remediated—and
thereby preserved—through the inorganic growth of second-life copper crystals.
To put Stempfers various time pieces together is to oscillate between a
conceptual explosion of universal time and the quiet suspension of its more
intimate instances. In each case, the ends and beginnings are twisted together
in a play between immortalized death and vicarious life. And for a moment, the
brokenness of time passes us by.


It is said that the universe of all things, including time
itself, began with an originary explosion—one that has led up to now.
Everything since, in its unidirectional diffusion, we might say, is history.
Yet, Stempfers various time capsules seem to take us from history
back to the singularity. What gives a single moment its meaning? And what
memories can materials make? How might we rewrought the clockface of the world,
or should we simply stop counting and, freely, kill time? About Time leaves us
no answers, but continues to ask of us to capture that Kantian category, to
delve within history, to freeze it in its tracks, to find a face in its clocks
so as to grapple for its meanings, as a question for the now. In that sense, its
about time.


Chris Cristóbal Chan

2 June 2023