Of Time Frozen and Unfrozen
Death needs time for what it kills to grow in...
William S. Burroughs(1)

An errant journey
A horse and black rider advance and turn circles in a blizzard. Slowly moving into visibility, the couple seems to belong to an indeterminable period. Is this an errant rider of the apocalypse, a lost 20th century explorer, a future wanderer on a barren planet? No way to know, for these figures are fundamentally anachronistic, born of a time out of joint. The relentless snowfall blurs white on white forming a landscape without horizon. Shrouded in this boundless expanse the horseman has lost his bearings and has everywhere and nowhere to go. The horse’s and rider’s head armour offer no protection against the raging elements. Their only struggle is now for survival. Riding zigzags without direction they are pitted both against an unforgiving vastness and a devouring time. The time it will take to escape this open labyrinth of measureless space or the time they are granted before succumbing to the deadly cold. Guided by instinct the horse seeks survival in the moment, while reason still drives the horseman onward despite the dire circumstances. A glimmer of hope born of the capacity to foresee something beyond the immediate. With the imminent collapse of the horse and the rider’s continuing wanderings, the forceful alliance of man and beast is severed as they are abandoned to their separate fates. Each caught and frozen in a fraction of time. Fractions to mark one’s time, to battle on and live or to surrender to death’s devouring teeth. A vast expanse of white in which only minute variations and repetitions provide a foothold to move through this glacial spatiotemporal territory.

Time’s slippery surface
Isolated, an unusual chronometer: a black wristwatch consisting of a blank face and a single hand that will take a 1,000 years to complete one revolution. The incessant ticking of the watch leads one to assume that the timepiece is moving as it measures the indicated time frame with precision. A vertiginous temporal expanse in which the movement of the hand will have advanced approximately 4mm over an average human lifespan. One is here placed before abstract time, considered not as a material property but as the unconditioned condition underlying the emergence of any phenomena. Faceless, like the watch, time only becomes visible through the effects it imprints on its spatial masks, i.e. stasis/movement, growth/decay, order/chaos. Stripped of any perceptible movement, of any phenomenal effect, the watch presents time in an abstract and ungraspable manner: an icy black surface that stretches for millennia and which offers no grip for lived experience. The black watch induces a state that is echoed by Wittgenstein’s observation that: “We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!”(2). In this case the slippery ice is the smooth, frictionless unfolding of an unconditioned time which does not provide traction for a conditioned event to emerge. It is within the span of this icy timeframe that various fractions provide enough friction for an event to take hold. The event arises out of time as an irreversible becoming that marks the difference between the past and future and provides a rough ground for a story to step into action. Though the event’s primal condition is time, along the way it is conditioned by other factors among which temperature is a principle player.

A question of degrees
As the dark horsemen can testify, cold slows time down, brings things to a freeze, stops life dead in its tracks. The horse and rider are an island of heat in an ocean of foreboding cold. Their measure of survival is to conserve their body heat within the frozen environment. Like all physical systems they are subject to changes over time that are governed by thermodynamic processes and their variables (such as temperature, energy and entropy). In bio-chemical terms for life to emerge—as a very particular event—and to subsist it needs to maintain a very delicate balance between heat and cold over time. Motion in time generates heat, the cold dissipates it and ultimately signals the coming to an end of mortal time. Yet cold does not only obliterate and destroys, it also preserves from decomposition. Under particular conditions–such as the 77 Kelvin of cryogenics—life can hypothetically be kept in a dormant state. A sudden gallop back into the heat of time is thus not to be excluded under the right thawing conditions. Though this remains to be seen, for in the series of events unfolding around the mysterious horsemen’s journey there are for now only object fragments and time fractions indicating potential outcomes. Specifically, there are objects, images and sound works from which one may infer the colour of what is to come in due time.

Spiraling forward
In its course time gives birth to events that are irreversible, in which it is impossible to return to an initial state, to make a circular return to an ideal beginning. The arrow of time moves eternally forward as the dissipation of heat and energy effects its entropic work. Nevertheless, cycles return in a spiraling motion, always repeating yet always different. In an echo to the images of 77k, a live remix of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in which seven records slip into a friction groove and skip on a different note of the introductory aria. An eighth record plays an insistent drone that underscores time as a persistent condition of emergence. The resulting music resonates with the horsemen’s relentless circling in the polar wasteland. A variation on the variations in which Bach’s music is subjected to a never-before-heard recombination and transformation. A sculptural object further accentuates the multifaceted temporality of this open ended accumulation of narrative threads. The horse’s black protective helmet on display anchors the filmic images in a palpable materiality and triggers conjectures as to the animal’s origins and destiny. Is this a unearthed relic of a past event, or the indicator of something that has yet to occur. While a suitcase bearing a set of variously coloured neon lights adds an enigmatic twist. What is the purpose of this object within the series? Living colours to contrast the deadly arctic white? A signal from a time past that can not be reactivated? A hopeful beacon for a time to come? Here as elsewhere in Patrick Bernatchez’s extensive Lost in Time work in progress every element is open to multiple readings and needs to be considered as part of constantly evolving whole in which no single work can stand apart from the others. For the artist works according to a resolutely allegorical method in which various fragments are continuously reconfigured and juxtaposed over time without ever coalescing into an overarching and final work. In this project, as well as in his previous project cycle Chrysalides, both the process and the work are guided by a temporal unfolding in which meaning shifts constantly as the fragments are iterated and complexified. In working against the backdrop of the constant and harrowing rhythm of the millennial timepiece, his art does not seek to salvage things from a temporal flux, but rather to accompany that which grows ripe in time, both for life and death. In the interstice between time fractions and temperature degrees the artist thus continues to weave a fractal web in which only time will tell what patterns the threads will take.

Bernard Schütze
August 2012

Bernard Schütze is an independent art critic, curator, and translator. He regularly submits articles to various art magazines and has written numerous catalogue essays and artist monographs. As a speaker, he has been invited to give presentations at several art related events and universities in Canada and in Europe. He lives and works in Montreal.

1. William S. Burroughs, Ah Pook is Here, and other texts, Riverrun Press, New York, 1982, p.26.
2. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, part I, Blackwell Publishing, London,1953, p. 107.