Ruth Barker

3º of Separation - Time






How can we write about Time? How can we ever even think about it? Perhaps we can only ever approach it through the space opened up by conversation. Perhaps we can only catch a glimpse of it by sitting around this small table, with the eight of us leaning forward into the space between ourselves.

We take time to be together. Together, our voices pick apart the time we are given into tiny chunks, and we share it out between ourselves. I have a notebook. Some of you have china cups of coffee. Together, we pull at the pieces of time that are handed to us. We stretch the pieces out until they pop and tear into moments. And as we touch these separate moments, handling them and holding them up to the light, we ask how they each behave and what they do and what they might be made of.

We pass the moments around, feeling their textures, and wondering what they will taste like. We will share them with you, one at a time.



The First Moment (histories, and the past).


The first moment is sandy coloured and dry, stratified like sedimentary rock. As you pass it to me, the pressure of our hands dislodges tiny flakes from its surface and I wonder, how long does it take for dust to accumulate?

Our histories are linear, but they come from a single perspective, and many stories are written out, or unrecorded.

Our histories are linear (are they?) but they may not be fixed.

Events as yet in the future may rewrite our history of Now.

Two kinds of nostalgia: one is reflective, non time-specific, and non monumental; the other is restorative, and may start wars.



The Second Moment (the Now, and where we might be).

The second moment is pale and warm, reflecting the heat from our hands.

We are present.

We are making work in the moment of time that we occupy and take responsibility for.

The work we make now exists in time, and cannot do otherwise.

We are within our time and we cannot see past it, or out of it. It is subsuming.

And yet it is not regular. The time we are in goes now quickly, and now slowly (where does it go?). 

We grow our beards and shave them off again, feeling the smooth skin of our chins with our fingers.



The Third Moment (that some things must happen pior to others coming to pass).

The third moment is smooth, as though concrete has been cast from a mould and then clad with a thin and ineffectual façade.

I find it difficult to tell time apart from narrative.

Time is the process by which things happen one after another.

Narrative is the way we see or tell these things, one after the other.

Things that have happened (or merely been thought) in the past can be re-presented or re-imagined in the present.

The narrative has curves and loops and repetitions but it never gets ahead of itself. Parts of it are invented, and parts of it have never been seen.

Sometimes we feel that that which was utopian, quickly becomes recognised as failure.



The Fourth Moment (dreamtime).

The fourth moment is many coloured, and we cannot agree on its shape.

How does time feel when you think about a dream?

Dreaming removes our perceptual inhibitions. What does it do to our dreamtime?

The dreamtime of the world is the moment before all things, the moment before time, when things had not yet begun to happen in their proper order, when the past was not located before the present. This is wild time, un-owned and un-broken to harness.

It’s too mysterious for me.

Then someone says ‘You know, John Cage never got up before twelve noon,’ and everybody laughs.



The Fifth Moment (the collage of taxonomies).

The fifth moment is growing and still malleable. There is something vulnerable about its unexpected youth.

You tell me that the fort was here before it was built.

Together we build a collage of time, drawing together the contested traces of things that have happened, in order to try and understand.

Taxonomy melts as narrative looms.

Time exerts itself in all its subjectivity and, though we cannot help but look for motive, we know at heart that conclusions may not always be present.

We tell stories through the wounds we find inscribed.



The Sixth Moment (entropy).

The sixth moment is infinitely fragile. It falls apart event as I pass it to you, who are sitting next to me. I try to rescue it, pressing its sides together in order to preserve its former shape, but I know that my efforts are hopeless.

This moment has no prescribed ending.

A seam of unpredictability runs through it so that it cannot help but erode, decay, and fall apart.

To disintegrate over time is this moment’s normative state.

I know that there is some small perversity in my efforts to interrupt the natural order, and yet I cannot help myself.

I do not want this moment to end. I find it beautiful, and I regret its passing.



The Seventh Moment (the time of bodies, beating, breathing, bleeding, birthing).

The seventh moment is a small torso, soft and wriggling.

This is the moment of time’s cycle, of things growing and decaying and growing again, of our limbs growing stronger and weaker, or the stars rotating in the planetarium of the heavens.

This is the moment that authors everything: our births, and our deaths.

It is a moment of marking time through the shedding of our skins and the meter of our heart beats.

Every month we bleed.

We have our body time and we know it like the pulsing of blood in our ears, like the way we (hope to) see our parents age and our children grow up.

As we pass this moment back and forth, feeling its weight, we realise that all other moments seem to stem from it.



The Eighth Moment (the clock).

The eighth moment has some parts that need fixing. We touch it and it is easily marked, and we realise that we can make it ourselves, constructing this moment into a tool that may be useful.

We draw divisions on its surface and we decide on how long each should last.

The moment becomes, in our hands, a clock, a calendar, a standard.

It is regular and we use it as a guide.

Its rhythmic sounds are reassuring, and we realise that we can use it as a lens through which to pass all others moments, and to arbitrate their subjectivity.

We find this comforting, as we realise that this one moment can make all the others seem more manageable.


               We turn to one another and relax.

                                    We know now that the meeting is almost over.

                                                     And I have to go soon, as I have a train to catch.






We gather the moments of time together, and we bring the fragments back towards one another to make a messy and confusing whole. And then we look at the messy and confusing hole that we have made.

And perhaps we are none the wiser. Or perhaps there is something very subtle that we have learned, but which we cannot quite grasp yet. We will think it over. It will come to us, later.

And all at once we can hardly see the time at all, and it is all around us.

We share our time. But we can never be sure whether my time is the same as yours. It probably isn’t the same at all. But does that matter?

How can you write about time? I don’t know. Perhaps you can’t. But you can always speculate.





3 Degrees of Seperation / Time

Republished in mag issue five