Placing Time, Timing Space: Dismantling the Master’s Map and Clock



Playwright Tennessee Williams referred to time as “the longest distance between two places.” To think about or refer to time (in the English language) often involves its spatialization; a tendency known in linguistics as space-time mapping. For instance, we speak of temporal domains of the past and future as being near or far, as being in front of us or behind us, and often as destinations, i.e. “returning to the past.” In the present, the “now” is “here” (spaced and placed), when you are here instead of there, you are at this point instead of that one, again invoking a sense of space or place. Albert Einstein only reinforced this sense of spatialization of the temporal when he declared time to be intimately bound up with space creating “spacetime.”

A map is an object/phenomenon that allows for the re-presentation of this fused space-time. As much as the map re-presents a geographical territory, landscape, or space, it is infused with time and temporality, usually at the intersection of the distance between two points on it. The map is also infused with several intersecting and conflicting temporal domains. There are the past(s) — of the mapmaker, of the mapped territory that lies inert on the map — the present(s) — of the map user, of the mapped terrain’s changes in reality — and the future(s) of all of those events. These interactive temporal domains fuse together as a 3-D invisible hologram layered over the body of the map.

Phillips Funambulist (1)
Journal Notes 1 / collage on canvas (2016).

Philosopher Henri Bergson found a fundamental incompatibility with “representing time by space,” since it is not possible to “follow the process of psychic activity […] like the march of an army on a map.” (Time and Free Will, 1889). Bergson’s argument follows in the ancient wisdom that the mapped image is not the reality or the territory itself: it is merely re-presentation. The map is not the land itself, it is not the rivers, it is not the place; it can only ever be a symbol of those things. You have to walk the land to know it. Maps do not account for experience and lived knowledge. They do not account either for how many paces it takes for you to walk somewhere, or your own experiences and memories of where a thing used to be or not be.
And in that way, argues Bergson, you cannot go back in time in the way you are able to turn around in space, making them ultimately unequivalent:

“If I glance over a road marked on the map and follow it up to a certain point, there is nothing to prevent my turning back and trying to find out whether it branches anywhere. But time is not a line along which one can pass again. Certainly, once it has elapsed, we are justified in picturing the successive moments as external to one another and in thus thinking of a line traversing space ; but it must then be understood that this line does not symbolize the time which is passing but the time which has passed.” (Time and Free Will, 1889.)

Time and temporal experience are too dynamic to be re-presented after the fact, embodied and frozen into a mapped space. But even the idea of time “moving” and “passing” implies a spatialization. As Giordano Nanni notes “[T]he conquest of space and time are intimately connected. European territorial expansion has always been closely linked to, and frequently propelled by, the geographic extension of its clocks and calendars.” (The Colonisation of Time, 2012). Clocks are themselves maps, offering another way of spacing time and timing space. Like maps, clocks are objects that embody certain ideas, politics, notions of time, and boundaries. For example, we find that clocks, time, and slavery are also intimately bound. Nanni describes how “the science of horology was instrumental in the exploration and charting of the oceans and in the ‘discovery’ of the so-called New World.” Some of the very first acts of slavery and colonial terrorism were necessarily mediated by time, as an accurate timekeeping device was crucial to maritime navigation and determining longitudinal measurements.

Phillips Funambulist (3)
Community Futures Lab Event Map (2017).

Further, the inscription of linear space-time can be discerned in slave ownership in the American South. 36°30’ North is the parallel of latitude that divided the United States between where slavery was allowed (U.S.) and prohibited (Confederate States) under the Missouri Compromise. The idea of slave and master even extended into the development of mechanical clock time technology as clock makers in the early 19th century created systems of synchronization, with the concept of “master” clocks to “slave clocks.”

And just as we take for granted that a map is a true representation of the territory it is depicting, we assume that clocks can capture the true nature of time and reality or subjective temporal experience. However, clocks do the opposite; they objectify time and render flat all experiential notions of time. Bergson’s critique of maps could be made of clocks, in that they are merely symbolic of moments rather than the moments themselves. For Western society bound to the Master Clock, mechanical and digital clock time becomes the synchronizing mechanism — instead of the subjective duration of your “now” interacting with other nows. Trauma and dissociation happen in a society that negatively qualifies a departure from or disruption of mechanical clock time.

To the extent that Einstein coupled time with space and created spacetime, BQF is seeking to explore that coupling, and decouple it through that same exploration. White men have conquered both time and space and then said they were the same thing, and what that has meant for Black people is a colonization of the temporal space of the future and the future of man in the universe. It has meant futures that are “too far away” for us to reach on the linear progressive timeline. Black Quantum Futurism reappropriates clocks and maps to deconstruct hegemonic Western Spacetimes and dismantle the master’s clocks. We create maps that embrace the inherent tensions between space and time that provide opportunities for reconfiguration of the same.

Phillips Funambulist (2)
Quantum Event Map and Time Travel Experiments in Black Quantum Futurism “Alter-Native Time Portal” installation at Philadelphia Museum of Art (2017).

Our practice includes quantum event maps, housing journey maps, sonic mapping, and communal memory mapping. The quantum event map mimics African and Asian diasporic cultural practices and perspectives on time and space, bringing together the micro (or quantum) events that like to “happen in time together” to construct future moments/events or re-examine past moments/events as individuals or as groups and communities. Through this method of mapping, event memory (both future and past memory) is not attached to a specific calendar date or clock time, and memories are not formed in regard to a specific date or time. Rather, time and date are made a part of the memory, so it is embedded or weaved in and controllable in future memory. The date or time of your choosing is embedded in the map as a part of your memory, which means you can forecast or backcast events. Time becomes something remembered, not something that defines and predates the memory. The quantum event mapmakers become the active agents in the synchronicity/focal point, instead of time defining the synchronicity. In our workshops, groups create communal quantum event maps that allow them to struggle through the ways in which a community constructs communal time around a past, future, or present event, composed of diverse and intersecting temporal rhythms and other event textures and features. Personal quantum event maps help mapmakers revisit personal pasts to encounter new features of a past event, plan and create personal futures, or explore and recontextualize personal “nows.”

Questions to Consider When Encountering Maps & Clocks ///
• Who is the mapmaker or clockmaker?
• Who is the intended map/clock user?
• What is the purpose of the map or clock?
• What, if anything, on the map or clock is up for question?
• What is being taken for granted if and when you use the map?
• What temporal landscape does the map/clock embody? What year was it made? Does it still stand the test of time? What has changed? What has remained?
• Where are you in time when you are using the map or clock? What are the intersecting and conflicting temporalities are pulled into your NOW/present when using the map or clock?
• Imagine the boundaries and Contested Boundaries that the map or clock contains. How can they be remapped/redrawn/re-envisioned to be more equitable in time and space?
• What unspoken agreements, understandings, contracts, social constructs, and negotiations are embedded in the map or clock?
• Once we dismantle the master’s clock, what clocks or timekeeping practices will take its place? What already exists that we can learn from? What can we communally create?