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A Hair's Breadth in Time: An Encounter with recent work by Philippa Jones.

The Christina Parker Gallery
St. John’s NL

by Dr. Peter Trnka

ONE: ‘A Hare’s Breath in Time’ This is not a rabbit. Neither is it a hare. It's closer to a hare, perhaps. Perhaps closer to a hare to allow for the play with 'hair'. For 'a hair's breadth in time' is a secret translation or mirror of 'a hare's breath in time.'

To begin so an encounter with Philippa Jones’ sculpture ‘A Hare’s Breath in Time’ risks fetishizing the title over the piece. I do so for a local reason: the artist has in recent years been working in Newfoundland, where hares are called rabbits. That is, more often than not, rabbit here refers to an Arctic Hare. When I asked a small group at Brigus, in Newfoundland, what words came to mind when seeing an image of Jones’ sculpture, several said rabbit, but no-one said hare. So there are words and there are things, or so it appears.

A Hair's Breadth in Time :: Courtesy of Philippa Jones

'A Hare's Breath in Time'; (resin and ceramic, 12" by 4.5" by 8", 2016). :: Courtesy of the Artist

If it were something like a hare it would be two. Two hares somehow in one. Each in its own material, one ceramic, one resin. One is coming out of or being stuck on to the other, but within the shortest duration, a split-split-second in time. A hair’s breadth of time in the hare's breath. The beginning of an exhale. A becoming of another hare through a basic gesture. A basic gesture, a breath, but not so simple; in fact, a paradox, a real paradox, right in the middle of the basic and ordinary. As basic and paradoxical a gesture, that is, as the White Rabbit’s in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, when the Rabbit pulls out his pocket watch from his waistcoat-pocket and disappears down a rabbit-hole to another world.

A Hair's Breadth in Time :: Courtesy of Philippa Jones

'A Hare's Breath in Time'; (resin and ceramic, 12" by 4.5" by 8", 2016). :: Courtesy of the Artist

Inhale. Rise with the hare's breath into a world caught in the crystals of time. A drowned, frozen world, filled with slices of time, exceedingly slow, visible, traceable time.

Exhale. Descend from the imaginary to the real. See what kind of a thing you are, now, for a time. A hare's breath of time.

TWO: Down a Rabbit Hole In a frozen breath it is hard to tell an inhale from an exhale. Or a hare of the past from a hare of the future. The connection of times is made visible, difference is stitched together with difference.

The flow of becoming is a series of paradoxes concerning 'a category of very special things: events, pure events.' So begins Gilles Deleuze's The Logic of Sense, with an analysis of the event of Alice's becoming larger once she follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole in Carroll’s Alice:

'When I say "Alice becomes larger," I mean that she becomes smaller than she is now. Certainly, she is not bigger and smaller at the same time. She is larger now; she was smaller before. But it is at the same moment that one becomes larger than one was and smaller than one becomes. This is the simultaneity of a becoming whose characteristic is to elude the present. Insofar as it eludes the present, becoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or of past and future. It pertains to the essence of becoming to move and to pull in both directions at once: Alice does not grow without shrinking, and vice versa. Good sense affirms that in all things there is a determinable sense or direction (sens); but paradox is the affirmation of both senses or directions at the same time.' (1)

Now, put the hare in the place of Alice. Then consider the artist as the creator of the paradox of becoming, showing you the frozen coexistence of opposing senses at the same time. (If this is so, this is not ‘the sense’ or ‘the meaning’ of the work, but an analysis of parts of its apparatus, an apparatus of time and becoming.) The hare is not itself. It both is and is not what it is becoming. All around us are such knots of becoming in time. Rather, all around us we knot ourselves into such bunches and bouquets of time. This is but a flowery way of saying that each and every act, each gesture, is a tying together, a bringing together, of times, of histories and futures, memories and anticipations.

Image Courtesy of Philippa Jones

‘Specimens documenting the effects of slow time – entombment on life #s 1-8’ (oil paint, acrylic paint, ink and epoxy resin on panel, 11” by 9.5”, 2016) :: Courtesy of the Artist

THREE: The Effects of Slow Time

The sculpture of a becoming-hare happens to sit by a column in the middle of a room in the Christina Parker Gallery. On one of the walls of the same room hang eight small paintings of – what I propose should be considered – the hare’s friends: a couple of birds, an egg, a moth, a bee (or wasp?), a squirrel, perhaps a bat and a squid or octopus. The paintings are titled the same, varying only by number: Specimens documenting the effects of slow time – entombment in life #s 1-8.

Unlike the sculpted figure, the painted animals have something of a surround provided by the artist. The surround is minimal in the case of one of the birds and the egg, a shapeless, coloured background. Two figures have oval shaped spherical surrounds, in the form of bright sharp lines, like cages I suggest. The spherical cages house the bee and the bat. There are four paintings with cages of straight lines and sharp and right angles. The straight cages house the moth, the squirrel, the squid, and the second bird.

Image Courtesy of Philippa Jones

‘Specimens documenting the effects of slow time – entombment on life #s 1-8’ (oil paint, acrylic paint, ink and epoxy resin on panel, 11” by 9.5”, 2016) :: Courtesy of the Artist

The lines surrounding the animals in six of the paintings are the lines of time made visible by its freezing through slow-down, the effects of slow time. The cages surrounding the animals are cages of frozen time. Their visual precursors are Francis Bacon’s Pope cages (Bacon used such cages – my term – in numerous paintings of various forms, though the forms are usually human and what predominates is a series of studies of Velazquez’ paintings of Pope Innocent X: see, for example, Pope 1: Study after Pope Innocent X by Velazquez 1953.).

Francis Bacon: Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (oil on canvas, 60" by 46", 1953).

Crystal lines of time surround the figure-specimens. The Francis Bacon Pope cage is a visual apparatus of time capture. Past and future of the figure are frozen together in a moment of time, ‘both directions at once,’ as Deleuze said: a crystal moment in time. An ‘entombment’, as Jones puts it in her titles, for the visualization is made possible by decreasing energy: the stilling of things. The stilling of time makes it possible to show the basic paradoxes of life and becoming; Deleuze calls such a time the time of Aion (as distinct from the more familiar present of Chronos):

In accordance with Aion, only the past and future inhere or subsist in time. Instead of a present which absorbs the past and future, a future and past divide the present at every instant and subdivide it ad infinitum into past and future in both directions at once. … Aion stretches out into a straight line, limitless in either direction. Always already passed and eternally yet to come, Aion is the eternal truth of time: pure empty form of time…” (164-65)

Yes, these are still lives, ordinary and peculiar still lives. ‘Entombments in life'.

Image Courtesy of Philippa Jones

‘Specimens documenting the effects of slow time – entombment on life #s 1-8’ (oil paint, acrylic paint, ink and epoxy resin on panel, 11” by 9.5”, 2016) :: Courtesy of the Artist

FOUR: Time Crystals

A paradox of time in the idea of becoming, in art, philosophy, and literature, at least children’s literature. And science? Consider in closing, if you will, the picture of time offered in this description of the first ever created time crystal, given in MIT Technology Review’s report on the very recent work of Chris Monroe et al at the University of Maryland at College Park:

‘The basic process for making time crystals is straightforward. The idea is to create a quantum system, such as a group of ions arranged in a ring, and cool them until they are in their lowest energy state. In these circumstances, the laws of physics would suggest that the ring should be perfectly stationary.’

A common truth, then, more so than a unique perspective.

Included in this production of truth is the truth of the artist’s activity; consider, in this light, the self-reflexive aspect of the Bacon Pope cages, a self-disclosing of the artist’s apparatus by way of making a frame appear in the image. The image is framed, framing constructs the image. To contain a frame in a frame carries the hope, at least, of making the decisive act of framing explicit as such. Jones’ sculpted ceramic hare frames the resin hare, and vice versa. Framing in art and science, literature and philosophy.

Art that is friends with science, and with thought in all its various forms. An art that is friends with physical forces, friends with birds, squirrels, bats, and hares, and their environments, places, spaces, and times.

To criticize art is to engage with it, to note the becoming that the encounter occasioned, to transform the situation again to lead into the next and the next, a perpetual revolution.

Thank you, Philippa Jones, for showing the small things, a breath, a life….


Deleuze, Gilles. The Logic of Sense. Trans. C.V. Boundas. NY: Columbia UP, 1990. Orig. Logique du sens, Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1969.

Emerging Technology for the ArXIV. ‘Physicists Create World’s First Time Crystal.’ MIT Technology Review Oct 4 2016.

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