A load of old bricks at suitably named Brickbat Bay and their historical significance prompted artist Ziggy Lever to think about some of the big questions: Time, memory and metaphysics.
T S Eliot was thinking something of the same when he began writing the Four Quartets in 1935.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
The backstory for Lever is the site of what was once a thriving business; Amalgamated Brick and Pipe, a nineteenth century pottery factory that was later deliberately destroyed in the twentieth century when the company had depleted all he clay reserves in the area. The remains of the works, huge chunks of the kiln and other detritus were simply discarded, dumped on the beach and for the last 100 years the sea has gradually reclaimed them, becoming home to mangroves, crabs and molluscs.
It gets one thinking.
It got Levers wondering about subjectivity, perception and time.
The rocks become, in the artist’s hand, reimagined as meteorites or asteroids, the exploded kiln, a sort of local Big Bang, linking cosmological time to more abstract notions of duration.
It was Einstein who said that time was an illusion and the French philosopher with a mystical bent, Henri Bergson, roughly concurred. Time, the philosopher claimed, was not, as normally perceived, made up of discrete numerical units. Such musings about the non-linearity of time has found recent expression in a model of the cosmos called “Crystallizing Universe” and Lever appropriates that as the title for his show currently running at Skinroom Gallery, Hamilton.
Such theories combine the Alice and Wonderland world of relativity and quantum mechanics that postulates the dissolving of time where past and future coalesce into the present, a single entity, a fixed space-time block.
Lever responds to these theories in a parallel way that saw the advent of Cubism respond to the shattering of classical physics in the early twentieth century. Here Picasso and Braque began constructing figures and objects, presenting multiple facets of time simultaneously in a single image, using different cubic picture planes.
These esoteric and paradoxical ideas are the things on which Ziggy Lever builds his conceptual installation pieces.
The first installation is placed on upturned pieces of carpet on the floor as a base. The grey/brown textured look of this ground reminds one of arch conceptualist, Joseph Beuys and his use of felt. On this support are set randomly arranged lumps of rock (pieces of debris from the exploded kiln). These are the artists asteroids at the centre of which a Len Lye type mechanism (long steel rod with rock and foam rubber attached each end) rotates. It gives the appearance of some astronomical model of orbiting planets. Time on a loop, perhaps.
The second installation consists of a very large roughly configured white ball suspended inside a contraption that allows it to turn, run by a motor on a long elaborate belt. The ball, or planet, slowly rotates. If this is a revolving planet in a solar system, it is a phenomenon that marks out the primordial division of time for any inhabitants. It may also may connote something of Nietzsche’s “eternal return”.
The third gallery space contains a slide show worked by an old rotating slide projector throwing up images of the beach setting (flora and fauna) accompanied by a spoken text (quotations from various sources on the theme of time, space and their coordinates).
Circularity is the controlling trope in this series of works.
The foundation of Western metaphysics hinges on the attempt to escape time, flux, change and mutability. The realm of stasis first offered to humanity was the world of Platonic Forms, that later morphed into the Christian Heaven, where in T S Eliot’s words, “all time is eternally present”.
The new Crystallizing Universe model posits something similar; the notion of past and future equally present in a Zen-like now. We are on a carousel that denies times arrow, a great wheel that turns but at the centre there exists a motionlessness and stillness.
The circularity of things that happened at Brickbat Bay, where fired clay and brick returns back to clay, was for the artist, an object lesson, a prompt, a microcosm of larger realities.
The installations are an attempt to realise these concepts that challenge conventional perceptions. It’s a place where modern physics and imagination intersect. Conceptual art has become a site of show and tell and Lever has constructed worlds and mechanisms that both resemble and abstract the site of historic events.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that reality was a sliding door. Lever posits more of a revolving one in this interesting and complex show. Such complexity however needs some helpful introductory explanatory material for the gallery viewer to facilitate full appreciation on their part. That none was on offer was a miscalculation on the part of the artist.
Photos courtesy of Geoff Clarke