Being There: Time and Memory in the Geoglyphs of Andrew Rogers

 

  © 2012 by Peter Gena.

 

 

We are constantly aware of certain duration—the specious present—varying from a few seconds to probably not more than a minute, and this duration (with its content perceived as having one part earlier and another part later) is the original intuition of time.

- William James, 1890

 

1. The present as we know it?

 

Physicists and psychologists alike have ceaselessly pondered the passage of time and the measurable present.  What is the present?  Why is it obfuscated by our perception and the cosmos?  The sunlight in which we bathe is already eight minutes from the past.  Moonbeams reach us a second and a half late.  To bewilder (or ease?) the senses, we hear thunder after seeing lightening, as sound travels immensely slower than light.  At what point does the past leak into the present or the present lapse into the future?  As human beings we are burdened with an ambiguous present.  Observers have attempted to quantify the least discernable present from .75 seconds down to the controversial time-atom—an indivisible non-zero particle of time.  The past and the future fare no better.  Lest the distinction gets garbled in our memory, Western languages grapple with several levels of time.  In addition to the simple present, there are gerunds and present participles to refine or pinpoint the measurable present.  Most grammar speaks and reads of several pasts: the composite past, simple past, imperfect, past conditional, pluperfect, and historical past, etc.  Worse yet, the future boasts several “instances” besides the conditional, and simple future, i.e. the future past, future conditional, and future perfect, etc. [1]  It is clear that there are no absolutes in measuring time between events in the present, let alone with the past or future.

 

The geoglyphs in Cappadocia (Fig. 1) from Time and Space by Andrew Rogers, as they sit motionless, are predestined to beg the question of time in the grandest sense.  The rough and often jagged textures of the basalt monoliths suggest Neolithic observational and ceremonial sites, taking on an essence that is at once spiritual and pagan.  Other groupings appear as civic ruins.  They witnessed the convivial atmosphere of hundreds and hundreds of hired local workers who, in a makeshift cooperative, placed each of the thousands of stones to form the figurative works.  These monoliths exude the wisdom of the past as well as confidence in the future.  They are fraught with memory and clairvoyance.  As an initiate walks through the park the already ambiguous species present is stretched beyond ordinary experience, save for the immediacy of legible text etched on a number of columns.

 

 

Fig.1, Andrew Rogers, Time and Space, Cappadocia (Satellite image from 279 miles)

 

When we speak of time in relation to memory, there are several considerations.  To be sure, our brain has the nano-speed capabilities of RAM (random access memory) not unlike the CPU of a computer.  While memory collapses time, i.e. we can remember incidents in temporal events, speeches or films, etc., non-linearly without synthesizing a reconstruction from the beginning to the point of recollection desired, it is also dynamic.  It is impossible to focus on the present without recollecting a bit of the past and anticipating the future, perhaps a simplified illustration of Harvard pragmatist James’s specious present, best explained by his original source E. R. Clay:

 

Time, then, considered relatively to human apprehension, consists of four parts, viz., the obvious past, the specious present, the real present, and the future. Omitting the specious present, it consists of three . . . nonentities -- the past, which does not exist, the future, which does not exist, and their conterminous, the present; the faculty from which it proceeds lies to us in the fiction of the specious present. (Clay as quoted in James, XV, p. 608).

 

Hence, while memory has the capability of flattening time, it depends on the temporal existence of the experience observed as it reconstructs thoughts.

 

In Time and Space, from Rogers’s global Rhythms of Life project (on seven continents), we are confronted not only with this dynamism, but further with an individual projection of time onto our personal reality in order to understand experience.  Surely it appears true that the construct of time is our own whether or not we accept that a noumenal experience may differ from a phenomenal one—our intellect can most certainly contradict the senses when it comes to the perception of time.  The basalt granite structures are presaged by the Neolithic tradition of ceremonial or measurement monuments in the form of henges, colonnades, and arches.  They bring to mind the enduring presence and timelessness of Stonehenge or the Callandish Standing Stones of Scotland (Fig. 2).

 

Fig. 2, Callandish Standing Stones, Lewis, Scotland (photo from panoramio.com: http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/9772162.jpg)

 

 

2. Time and Space and classical proportions

 

The precept of the time/space continuum is as old as architecture and the science of time themselves.  Like time, space is flattened in our memory.  While time is not the antithesis of space, one can understand, the quasi-dialectic that links the two.  The notion of non-space or non-time is problematic.  Rather, the reality of one is impossible without the other.  Organizing objects in space appears to be a three-dimensional task to the sculptor or architect.  However, time is an inseparable domain whether the object moves or not—there is an intrinsic temporal sense between distances whether observed in the real-time, or in the curious illusory space of a two-dimensional image.  Surely the Romantics in all disciplines recognized it as they exalted landscape painting in the nineteenth century.  Similarly, this is evinced in Rogers’s land art park.

 

When objects are grouped in space, the void between defines them as much as the physical components themselves.  With spatial intervals between multiple objects or symbols the human mind subdivides pacing and craves groupings.  Given that the brain favors simple proportions, the basilar membrane of the inner ear is stimulated by the natural harmonic series and aural reception prefers intervallic ratios from the low, farther spaced harmonics.  Likewise, classic architectural proportions are historically simple, perhaps the most famous reference being 6:4:2:3 from the Temple of King Solomon.[2]  Manageable groupings are also sought (as in facades, pulses, or in successive digits in telephone numbers, broken up to ease memorizing).

 

The thirteenth-century Pisan mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci (c.  1170 – c. 1240) introduced (but did not invent) the numerical series that bears his name in his writings (Fig. 3). Unlike the classic usage of proportions where components are divisible by twos or threes and higher prime numbers are avoided, it is a sequence starting with 0, 1, were each successive integer equals the sum of the previous two, i.e. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.  Nonetheless, applying adjacent numbers inherently provides classic formal proportions, as the Fibonacci progression increasingly approximates the golden section: 1: 1/2(√5 + 1) or 1.61803398874, where this same ratio is found between the sum of two unequal lengths and the larger one as the larger component is to the smaller length.  Golden sections and Fibonacci sequences are purported to be found in nature, plant life, human proportions (Da Vinci), and metaphysical phenomena.

 

Fig. 3, Leonardo Fibonacci, Campo Santo, Pisa. (photo by P. Gena)

 

Rogers employs a Fibonacci series in the title piece Time and Space in order to determine the spacing of the columns within the circle.  The arrangement, perched on the edge of a cliff, harkens an ancient ceremonial monument to time however vague the purpose, i.e. it points back to a henge without the trenching while lacking alignment of the entrance to the vernal equinox, summer solstice, or moonrise, etc.  The tallest monolith capped in 23-carat gold, separated by the largest numbers in the sequence, is positioned as head celebrant or a marker as if to cast a sun or moon shadow that points to the others (Fig. 4). 

 

 

Fig. 4, Andrew Rogers, Time and Space, Cappadocia (photo by Andrew Rogers)

 

Use of the golden section can be found twice in A Day on Earth, a “colonnade of contemporary street ruins.”  Here Rogers employ two distinct golden sections, though the larger grouping is not similarly proportional to the smaller one.  The outer dimensions of the rectangular structure (51 x 31.5 meters) demonstrate the iconic ratio, as does the relationship between the width of the street and the height of the pillars (12.5 by 9 meters).

 

 

3. Pillars of knowledge

 

Etched in the basalt columns of A Day on Earth (Fig. 5) are words in English and Turkish that hold special meaning for Rogers: “a deep yearning of every person - liberty, justice, integrity, truth, respect, peace, freedom, quiet, hope, optimism, history, heritage, tolerance, beauty, joy, rights, love, responsibilities, faith, compassion, goodness, kindness (Rogers, 2011).  Clearly they are meant to carry social, political and historical weight. The use of text in recent art as a means to evoke thoughts and meaning has been pervasive among contemporary artists.  Jenny Holzer is a master in bringing social-political messages to the surface by means of fixed or moving text, lighted, neon, etc.  Her work reads as a periodical journal, say a newspaper.  Her texts are loaded with currency, irony and social meaning.

 

In contrast to Holzer, Rogers chose a classic font that suggests a more prophetic, profound, commandment-like inscription, succeeding in giving gravitas to the words as timeless, universal truths.  While the granite arches themselves may appear as if to come out from the oblivion of nature—the primordial essence, the words in stone might suggest the growth of the conscious in man, a unique creature who stepped out of the natural unconsciousness and developed self-awareness.  Or as Richard Wagner put it:

 

From the moment when man perceived the difference between himself and nature, and so began his own development as man by breaking loose of the unconsciousness of natural animal existence and passing over into conscious life—when he therefore set himself in opposition to nature and developed the faculty of thought—from that moment error began, as the first expression of consciousness. (Wagner, 1849)

 

Rogers depicts these text selections or secular, one-word commandments as very important to him and aspires to arouse a moral sense of right and wrong, error and truth—a tall order in this day and age.

 

Fig. 5, A Day on Earth, Cappadocia (photo by Andrew Rogers)

 

Accordingly, the colonnade leads to an “altar of contemplation.”  Another arch in the park opens the long pathway to an amphitheater in Listen, a piece also set on a hilltop (Fig. 6).  Here, the participants are instructed as they enter to “listen to the silence of the land,” which is etched onto the left jamb of the portal.  This reminds us of a favorite mantra by John Cage, who had said throughout his life that there is “no such thing as silence.”  On earth the dialectic of sound and silence is easily questioned.

 

Fig. 6, Listen, Cappadocia (photo by Andrew Rogers)

 

While the monoliths in ceremonial circles or functional rectangles open up to the sky and are oriented to the sun or moon, the arches, as we have seen, placed throughout the park are generally meant to serve as portals to an implied earthly gathering place or road.  Some are set to frame an assembly or another geoglyph, others appear to be commemorative, such as the tallest one to be erected, just outside of the colonnade, which stands 19.5 meters.  These portals manifest the prominence of the monoliths as their jambs and lintels are cut from the same basalt stock.  In addition to the formidable beauty of the arches themselves, they share the history and memory of all those who passed through, perhaps in a way analogous to the mind’s flattening of time.

 

 

4. Collapsing Space from Space

 

Since the mid-twentieth century, artists became increasingly interested in art in natural settings that are meant to be viewed from above.  There is much in print about Rogers’s figurative geoglyphs.  Every writer is predestined to reveal that they look back to the Nazca lines of Peru.  They depict tales and images of folklore by their form, lacking the ambiguity of the monoliths as they hug the ground spanning over plains and inclines in contrast to the colonnade, or the running columns, communal sanctuaries, or clusters.  All of the geoglyphs use materials from the site.  Grind is unique in the Cappadocia collection because it depicts a functional object—“a millstone that belonged to the elders of the town of Göreme” (Fig. 10).

 

The agrarian reference of Grind, might recollect the work of the late American artist Dennis Oppenheim, whose work often used a canvas of wheat or grass fields, giving a more immediate though finite, time-sensitive existence.  Though on a much smaller scale, the 1969 earthwork installation, Branded Mountain, also a wheel thirty-five feet in diameter, is a supersized pattern of a branding iron etched in burned grass on a pasture (Fig. 7).  The brand is that of the actual cows that grazed on the land and gradually eradicated the piece.  Like Grind, it is placed on a slight incline.

 

Fig. 7, Dennis Oppenheim, Branded Mountain, San Pablo, CA, 1969 (Henri, 1974, p. 66)

 

Because his figurative geoglyphs are constructed for aerial viewing, where distance homogenizes the individual rocks and flattens the image, Rogers had to confront the crucial elements of placement, range, size and perspective.  In Renaissance architectural space, a curious application of Brunelleschi’s experiment with linear perspective can be seen in the construction of the Palazzo dell'Antella (second half of the 16thc.) in the Piazza Santa Croce (Florence, Fig. 8).  Viewed from a distance, the windows are gradually set closer together in the direction of the faćade of Santa Croce, allowing a concentrated sense of the foreshortening—the flattening of depth—when viewed from the west, pointing toward the church—a temporal “drive to the cadence,” as in Renaissance music, or a leveling of it as one looks out from the church.

 

 

Fig. 8, Palazzo dell’Antella, Piazza Santa Croce, Florence. (photo by P. Gena)

 

The Renaissance infatuation with linear perspective, spawned experiments and skill development with three-dimensional representation on a two-dimensional surface, through use of vanishing points of course, but it also forced artist to deal with foreshortening from a head-on view.  The difficulty of mastering this technique in drawing figures before the advent of photography, that is, having an image to work from that was already spatially collapsed, must have been daunting.  We can see how Michelangelo labored over the concept in a sketch of a foot (fig. 9), located on the wall of a tiny tunnel-like chapel below the Cappelle medicee (San Lorenzo).[3]

 

 

Fig. 9, Michelangelo, foot sketch, Cappelle medicee, Florence (photo by P. Gena)

 

In Grind, by raising the height of the walls on the upper part of the wheel and the outermost walls on the right, Rogers compensates for the foreshortening that occurs naturally from an aerial view (Fig. 10).  From this perspective the wheel, on a slight hill to begin with, appears to be standing up on its edge from the right precisely because of the raised walls.  Furthermore, the flattening characteristics of a photograph tend to enhance the trompe d’oeil.

 

 

Fig. 10, Andrew Rogers, Grind, Cappadocia (photo by Andrew Rogers)

 

The Sentinels reign supreme over the entire assembly of geoglyphs (Fig. 11).  At a distance, they are on a slight incline and each stand in a row at the same fixed interval from the next.  Rogers depicts them as “sentinels of responsibility for generations to come.”  If there is ambiguity of purpose in the alignment of the temples with the sun or lunar cycle, or lack of a specified linearity among the arches and other columns, these priestly sentries perched high above maintain universal discipline and order in the park.

 

Fig. 11, Andrew Rogers, Sentinels, Cappadocia (photo by Andrew Rogers)

 

Indeed, perhaps their uniformity regulates that delicate balance between past, present and future even more so than the informal, triangular group of the three columns entitled Yesterday Today Tomorrow, or Presence, a dignified group of seventeen “burghers of Cappadocia” who mill about in a communal assembly elsewhere in the park (Fig. 12).

 

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Fig. 12, Andrew Rogers, Presence, Cappadocia (photo by Andrew Rogers)

 

In the millennia ahead, as the geoglyphs weather and the inscriptions erode with time, perhaps the work will become increasingly mysterious and take on the ambiguity and timelessness of a site like Stonehenge or Callandish.  In any case, the “dynamic” past, present and future places Rogers in an admirable position.

 

 

References

 

Henri, Adrian.  Total Art: Environments, Happenings, and Performance.  NYC: Praeger Publishers, 1974.

 

James, William. The Principles of Psychology (1890).  Internet version, posted by Christopher D. Green: http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/prin15.htm.

 

Rogers, Andrew.  Press Release for Time and Space, March 2011.

 

Mccready, Stuart (ed.). The Discovery of Time.  Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2001.

 

Wagner, Richard.  The Artwork of the Future, 1849.  Translated in English by William Ashton Ellis.  London: Kegan Paul, Trenchy, Trübner & Co., Ltd, 1895.

 

Whorf, B. L.  An American Indian Model of the Universe.  In The Philosophy of Time.  Richard M. Gale (ed.).  NJ: Humanities Press, 1968.  pp. 378-386.



Endnotes

[1] It is often cited that in the Hopi American Indian language, where cyclical time is related almost solely to crop growing, there are neither verb tenses nor a real word for time (see: Whorf reprint, 1968).

[2] The elegance of these four numbers is that the larger ones are divisible by the smaller.  4 is divided by 2; and 6 is compound, subdivided by both 2 and 3.  Any combinations of these four form small, whole-number ratios, in harmony with each other figuratively and literally.  The ratios produce only the perfect consonances outlined by Pythagoras.

[3] The tiny, sub-basement chapel, discovered only ten years after the great flood of 1966 in Florence, is filled with similar charcoal sketches and renderings, including a profile of David, the face of Moses, and a self-portrait.  They date most likely from a time when the artist was allowed to live at the church in hiding from the Medici, around 1530.