ReykjavíkStyrmir Örn Guðmundsson: The Thirteenth Month
The Thirteenth Month
In Ray Bradbury’s 1952 short story ‘A Sound of Thunder’ it is the year 2055 and time travel has become a practical reality. When Eckels, a wealthy adventurer on the hunt for a Tyrannosaurus Rex, enters the time travel machine of the company Time Safari Inc., he is being warned by the hunting guide: “We don’t want to change the future. We don’t belong in the past. (…) A time machine is finicky business. Not knowing it, we might kill an important animal, a small bird, a roach, a flower even, thus destroying an important link in a growing species.” And he continues: “Crushing certain plants could add up infinitesimally. A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion.” The trip – spoiler alert! – doesn’t go as planned and upon their return they find a weirdly modified world, a 2055 which is familiar yet strangely altered. Confused, Eckels accidentally notices that he carries a crushed butterfly from the past under the sole of his shoe…
One hundred fifty years earlier, German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte stated a similar thought: „You could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.“ (Die Bestimmung des Menschen [The Vocation of Man], 1800). Both Bradbury and Fichte describe what became later scientifically known as the Butterfly Effect, a concept of sensitive dependence applied in chaos theory, describing how a small change within a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large – unforeseen – differences later on. It is derived from the metaphorical example that the formation and path of a tornado can be influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings. The term was coined by the American meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz through a lecture with the title “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”, held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972.
Interestingly enough Lorenz initially used the flap of a bird instead that of a butterfly (we can only guess that he found the butterfly a more poetic animal, so he changed it), and birds are indeed our first encounter as we enter the exhibition space of ‘The Thirteenth Month’ – a foreshadowing title, but we’ll get to that later – a solo show with new works by Styrmir Örn Gudmundsson. Slowly and peacefully, the perfectly balanced birds hover over the ground, set in motion by the slightest draft of a door opening or a visitor walking by. These toxically green birds seem to be from a different world or time – from which place we cannot tell – and through their movement they too might set off a series of unpredictable events.
These alien yet somewhat familiar creatures function like hyperlinks to the mysterious world depicted in the works that surround them. There are large-scale and detailed ink drawings, a difficult-to-define intertwined steel object on the floor, an embroidered full moon made out of sheep wool, and, maybe the most profane, a rear-view mirror mounted on a stick. At first glance, all of these things seem to have in common a certain otherworldliness, or timelessness (in the sense that they are outside of time, of linearity).
Another aspect that links the sculptures is the fact that they need a visitor present, to set them in motion (which is strongly encouraged by the artist). Take for instance Gestaþraut 1 , a 3D puzzle blown up to an unusual size, so heavy that it takes two people to lift it in order to solve the puzzle. Or Huglægt Sjálfuprik [Mental Photography Selfie Stick], a homemade, low-tech version of a selfie stick, allowing visitors to look at the art works while simultaneously looking at themselves, thus enabling glances forwards and backwards and forwards andbackwards. What remains is the afterimage, a mental photograph.
The large-scale drawings of dark brick corridors radiate an almost gravitational pull, so that one fears to be sucked into them any minute. It is tempting to think that these drawings show the view from the time travel machine in Ray Bradbury’s story. How many years, decades, centuries will we pass, and most importantly, what awaits us on the other side of the tunnel? Another drawing shows objects orbiting around an invisible mass, a gigantic black hole, deep in the universe. On closer examination, these objects turn out to be shoes; billions of sneakers, boots, stilettos and flip-flops floating in space. Will we travel through space-time into the faraway future only to find that mankind has left its mark and that the entire universe is full of stuff, human stuff?
Being surrounded by these works, one cannot shake the feeling that something strange (as in unusual, remarkable, extraordinary) is going on and that our imagination and, as a consequence, our behaviour is ultimately challenged. Maybe it was this kind of imaginary space that the artist had in mind when choosing the exhibition title: ‘The Thirteenth Month’. The title suggests the concept of an additional month, a space or time-slot that exists outsideof our agreed-upon calendar system. It illustrates the randomness with which humans deal with the phenomenon of time, regulating and systemizing it, and brings to memory the countless calendar systems that have been or are still in place. 2 Simultaneously, a tempting thought is provoked: If we can make up time, can we, after all, step outside of it? It is on us to explore and make use of this realm of possibilities.
1 Gestaþraut translates to ‘guest puzzle’; a little game to entertain guests or visitors. The actual title of the work is Look at me. Touch me. Tear me apart. Then put me together again. Lovingly. Tenderly.,(2014).
2 There are lunar, solar, lunisolar, seasonal and fixed calendars. The most common calendar in use today is the Gregorian calendar established in 1582, which spaces leap years in order to make the average year 365,2425 days long (it takes exactly 365,2422 days for Earth to go around the sun). The calendar was developed in order to correct the pre-dominant and less accurate Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, which already considered leap years making the average year last 365,25 days, nevertheless causing a drift of the calendar with respect to the equinoxes. In order to correct the already existing drift of ten days (between calendar and reality) the date was advanced so that October 4 th 1582 was followed by October 15 th 1582. The ten days in between simply do not exist.Courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary, Reykjavík