The Unseen Shows: No: Time

Martin Boyle, Time?, installation view, ‘No: Time’, Millennium Court Arts Centre; photograph by Simon Mills, courtesy of the artist and MCAC

DAVID HAUGHEY INTERVIEWS MARTIN BOYLE ABOUT HIS RECENT SHOW AT MILLENNIUM COURT ARTS CENTRE.

The photographic documentation arrives via a link in an email. The doors to Martin Boyle’s installation, titled ‘NO: TIME’, opened on 14 March at Millennium Court Arts Centre (MCAC), Portadown. Two days later, they closed. The photographs are my only visual access. A few days later, I talked to Martin through a screen.

David Haughey: I’m looking at a digital photograph on a screen of a black temple. It’s Grecian. A sculpture of wood and plastic. There are two rows of twenty-four Ionic columns, a hole from one end to the other. Is it Artemis?

Martin Boyle: It’s a recreation of a temple mantle clock. They were fashionable in the Victorian era, made in the style of Ancient Greek temples. The sculpture is based on a mantle clock I had collected, but with the clock face missing. I recreated two of these, then joined them up as one piece, creating the temple you see in the photograph. The aperture you look through is a drainpipe. The work explores the speculative scientific theory of parallel universes.

DH: The photograph shows a white circle under a silhouetted pediment. In the adjoining gallery, sixteen black circles appear suspended at various heights above the wooden floor.

MB: The sixteen circles rotate. It’s kinetic, motorised. The artworks in gallery one are titled under two categories: Measuring Time and Mastering Time. In Gallery Two, the artworks are titled Time? A category for all objects, with no individual titles. The astronauts in the International Space Station experience the 24-hour cycle differently; they see sixteen sunrises and sunsets. The circadian rhythm dictated by the sun that we all share. It is tough to recreate that 24-hour cycle and maintain it.

DH: A smooth gradient descends vertically from black to red, to yellow. The type in white capital letters reads: “LOVE YOU TILL ENDTIMES.” It could be screen-printed, maybe monoprint? The photographic exposure maintains the darkness of the gallery. Is this a rotated flag? From a photograph of the connected space, there’s a similar print with uncoloured debossed type. I have to enlarge the photograph. It reads: “I HAVE NO FEAR OF TIME.” The gradient is a spectrum running vertically from blue to red. Hot to cold. Bang to crunch.

MB: These two works are painted gradient backgrounds on silver foil with letterpress text. “I HAVE NO FEAR OF TIME” is a line taken from Sandy Denny’s folk song, Who Know’s Where the Time Goes? The song expresses a blissful autumnal melancholy. I had been looking at gradient skies in romantic landscape paintings. I didn’t consider the print, LOVE YOU TILL ENDTIMES, in relation to the German flag – but I can’t not see that now! Although it is orange, not red. With every piece, there’s a reference to architecture or representations of order, stability and certainty.

DH: There are four floor brushes in a quadratic arrangement. The pine shafts unworn. Liquorice-red bristles unbent. Each brush head is spot-lit. Leaves part in straight, ninety-degree wakes. I remember Beckett’s Quad – the diagram in The Complete Dramatic Works. The laptop screen is cluttered with hula-hoops, eagle mirrors and Denny is singing from a YouTube video clip underneath the pile. I should use a bigger screen. Behind the leaves and brushes, the print with the black-red-yellow gradient is suspended in a beam of light.

MB: The leaves were individually picked from trees in Autumn and preserved in glycerine. It was a long process. When you open the door to the gallery, there’s subtle sweet smell mixed with decay. The brush handles suspended in the air defy gravity. The brushes appear to be imposing order – it looks like they’re sweeping up. But the paths are counteracting each other. It gives an impression of order, but actually, it’s the opposite of that. Timothy Morton talks about magic, not in the supernatural sense, but in the very nature of our being. The work draws on the theory of entropy. I was nervous the accidental shape made in the leaves would be read as a swastika. I was worried that people wouldn’t see beyond it. Obviously, the swastika is an appropriated ancient symbol – the dharma wheel, symbolising constant cycling.

DH: The wall is 12 metres long by two metres high. There are what appear to be small metallic slashes in the surface. A cropped photograph shows that these slashes are second hands from battery-powered clocks. I’m sure I hear the sound, but Martin will tell me there’s no ticking. The metal arms appear like a constellation. I’m thinking of György Ligeti’s 1962, Poème Symphonique. Correction, I’m thinking of a YouTube video, showing the 100 ticking metronomes. No tick. No tock.

MB: It’s a strange place for both of us – talking about an exhibition, when you haven’t yet experienced it. Creating the work was a positive experience. We have so much space at Flax Art Studios, I got to be adventurous with scale. I first made the wall on a small scale. It was peaceful, very hypnotic. But at this large scale, the opposite happened – from a distance, it looked frozen. At first, I thought “this is awful, it wasn’t meant to do that!” I guess, because of the scale and distance, it appears static. People were surprised when they got closer and they saw movement, so it worked out. The wall is made up of ceiling tiles, all painted Midnight Blue. And then, that was it. Closed. I haven’t seen it again since.

DH: The eagle’s head is turned to the left, wings outspread. There’s twine stretched in front of the mirror. Both are illuminated by a single spotlight. Museums. Eagles. Empires. Broodthaers declares to the cat, “in that case, close the museums!” The museums are closed. The twine is stretched tight. The hula-hoops are stretched out in a candy-chrome cursive gesture, floating above and circumambulating the foyer of the gallery. It flows to the left, eddies to the right.

MB: The works in Gallery One were informed by our previous, perhaps older, circular understanding of time and the transition to our current more linear sense of time. The hula-hoops were broken open and joined together, and then pushed through evenly spaced bars across the perimeter of the gallery wall. It was an action piece which naturally refused to keep a regulated and controlled shape, a line. I think it’s important to say two things about all these works in the exhibition. Perhaps, that linear time is a construct we use to interpret reality. It’s not inherent in nature – and nature is something that we are hopelessly interconnected, intertwined with and unable to separate ourselves from.

DH: I remember Brian O’Doherty writing in 1976 about the temporal moat created around a work. A xeroxed PDF copy. The irrelevance of memory. “Two audiences: one which was there and one – most of us – which wasn’t”.1 Martin will tell me the three mirrors that hang over the glycerine leaves have been laser cut. They appear like different shapes, but if I look closer, they’re broken in precisely the same way. I miss this detail the first time. The order appears chaotic, momentarily. I wonder what Martin’s going to do after? What comes next?

MB: The MCAC exhibition feels like a lifetime ago. I feel removed from it now. So much, and so little has happened since. I was due to be exhibiting in a group show in the Glucksman, Cork, called ‘Home: Being and Belonging in Contemporary Ireland’, but it has been postponed. For now, participating artists have been invited to contribute an online response, reflecting our experiences of being confined at home. I’ve made a series of posters that consider environmental reports since lockdown. The backgrounds are taken from gradient colour bars from satellite maps that chart human activity. It’s a response to the inevitable battle between economic recovery and environmental recovery. I’ve since come to the realisation that this is not the time to focus on being productive.

David Haughey is an artist and researcher currently completing a PhD at the Belfast School of Art.

Martin Boyle is a visual artist based in Belfast. His exhibition, ‘NO: TIME’, was originally scheduled to run at MCAC until 16 May.