Only when the clock stops does time come to life

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have heard my enthusiasm for the fair town of Middlesbrough earlier this week. It was my first time there; the sun was out; the people were friendly; and I tracked down two of life’s essentials: a comics shop and a Gregg’s (pasty-gate permitting).

The other thing I tracked down was MIMA – the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art – a great glass cube in the heart of town with a quirky and eclectic mix of art, sculpture and video installations.

One installation had me completely hooked. John Gerrard‘s video installation shows a Cuban school from the 1960s, now derelict and skeletal. You, the viewer, slowly orbit the school at ground level, one orbit equals one day. Nothing really happens.

So far, so modern art, eh?

There were all sorts of political, architectural and social meanings offered but what it made me think about was time. You sit, you watch, you circle this empty building. Progress is slow, but the slowness itself lets you watch the different corners and curves of the building unfold. Slowness lets you notice. Why is there a TV aerial when there are no power lines? Who owns the ladder from a balcony to the roof? Why are there no weeds in the playground? The very slowness of your orbit lets you breathe in these details, find these questions, create your own stories in response.

The slowness is made even more apparent when you read that the film itself was created using computer game software. That’s how you get immaculately rendered detail on a huge scale: the second of Gerrard’s videos at MIMA must be twenty or thirty feet across. In the world of a game, you would encounter a derelict building, gun in hand. You’d scout it out, check for the heat signatures of the soldiers, aliens or zombies inside, rush from room to room bullets flying, Hansel or Gretel trailing blood instead of breadcrumbs. You might linger for a minute on the roof, a good sniping position, but then you’d be on your way, off to find the next challenge, the next battle, the next treasure.

Imagine a computer game where you just stopped and looked at something. From every conceivable angle. Slowly.

Now imagine a day where you just stopped and looked at something. From every conceivable angle. Slowly.

It might not make for the best computer game, but it definitely helps your day. Promise me this: one day, over the next week, you’ll give yourself 15, 20, 30 minutes with a painting, a photo, a view, each other. And you’ll look at your chosen subject. Slowly. Deliberately. Nothing will happen. But you’ll feel better for the stories that will come.

Posting title is a quote from William Faulkner: “Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life”. (thanks to


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