As to journey west, adds the Rev’d helpfully, in the same sense as the Sun, is to live, raise Children, grow older, and die, carried along by the Stream of the Day, – whilst to turn Eastward, is somehow to resist time and age, to work against the Wind, seek ever the dawn, even, as who can say, defy Death.
Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon 1997
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The island of Taveuni straddles the 180th meridian, leaving the local Fijians to, in theory, travel forwards and backwards in time. This temporal limbo was actually settled in 1879 when authorities shifted the date line to the east; the ease with which the West creates and edits time. An arbitrary construct of Western politicians, scientists, and thinkers, the International Date Line was created in the 19th century to alleviate confusion amongst the multiple and contradictory time zones employed around the world and aid in streamlining the expansion of maritime enterprise.
In their attempt to rationalize time, the astronomers in Greenwich unwittingly created an absurd device ripe for exploitation. Apocryphal tales are told of 19th century plantation owners working their employees seven days a week by shuttling them to and fro over the date line. Well into the 20th century, stories were being spun about merchants building stores with entrances constructed either side of the meridian in order to evade closing Sundays, thus gaining an extra day’s business over their competition, while in the village of Waiyevo there exists a church built along the axis of the division, where it can be imagined parishioners slid across the pews in order to extend their period of worship through the next day. Thus time comes to be played upon like an accordion for purposes encompassing both the exhortative and the exultant. It becomes a property that can be adjusted according to need; a unit of commerce, subject to inflation and deflation.
Yet in their haste to manipulate the meridian financially, it is possible that the locals neglected the true potential of the line. There laid the capacity to transcend time, to invite Janus to bend the straight arrow of time into an ouroboros, collapsing the West’s dry, linear system into an endless coil.
The latency of the meridian leads people to treat it with curiosity, seeking assurance that it is there, this imaginary line, imbuing it with a physical presence that it is incapable of holding. Signposts and survey markers indicate its presence but cannot contain it. A series of dashes jotted down by a cartographer are as close to material form the meridian may ever achieve. It is a deceptive margin that lays claim to fixing a reference but can always be reframed to suit its purpose, and it is this quality that it shares with photography. As a disrupted temporal threshold, the meridian aligns itself with photography’s own failure to arrest time.
Through the depression of the shutter and the consequent interruption of the passing of light, photography attempts to delineate time into a before, now, and after, analogous to the International Date Line’s yesterday, today and tomorrow, yet the products of photography, being the negative, the digital file, the print, are all susceptible to the ravages of time, victims to fading, colour shifts, and digital corruption and obsolescence.
In its attempts to evade time, photography nonetheless falls prey, much the same as the Sun pays little mind to the calendar as it tracks the duration of another day, entropy eroding the marks and scribbles mankind has deemed adequate to record the passing of time.
Douglas Lance Gibson 2016