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|[D I S C U R S I V E  S P A C E S ]| Residency project 

      [ Thomas J Brown ] - February 2020 |

| Research from our writer in residence |

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation

-T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


Shall we start by agreeing with that gloomy Prince of Denmark who, in appraising his university housemate’s grasp of metaphysics, was right to say that: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’?

Hamlet intuited, in his melancholy, what physicists were to later prove in fact and formula, that is to say that the time-space continuum, the universe, the very nature of what we consider to be our reality is ever shifting, fluid, and mysterious. Everything is happening at once, at all possible times and places, heady stuff. More concretely we can apprehend (you’re reading this somewhere) the fact that our lives are lived in three dimensions, over a certain measurement of time, and within a specific location/s. Further to this terrestrial experience our mental life provides us with the fourth dimensional quantity of memory, a type of auto-archiving in which:

‘'Place and non-place are like opposed polarities: the first [initial recollection] is never completely erased, the second [full comprehension] never totally completed. They are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten.’- [Auge, Marc, Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity (2008) p64]

Michel Foucault, developing his theory of Heterotopia, provides us with the paradigm of heterochronia; those spaces (libraries, museums, galleries, and archives):

‘in which time never stops building up and topping its own summit… the idea of accumulating everything, of establishing a sort of general archive, the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages.’-[Foucault, Of Other Spaces, 1967]

A bold and comprehensive realization of this aspect of heterotopic philosophy can be found in the work of artist Thomas J Brown

; the second Artist in Residence for Asylum Art Gallery’s Discursive Spaces series. In Brown’s installation the eye of the beholder is extended, magnified, and developed into a kaleidoscope of image technologies which serve to create an objective version of subjective experiences. Are the heterochronic spaces within a city, such as we can identify them, able to be curated? If so, who could be considered as the curators and preservers of these spaces?


He invites us to consider:

‘Heterochronic environments, containing images of ourselves in spaces we have visited in our past, are opened up to view, our reactions may well be similar to the reactions we have when we walk around a museum or gallery. A feeling of strangeness yet familiarity. A sense of wonder that the strange yet familiar person within the image, in the strange yet familiar location, is actually yourself.

Think local festivals; which re-imagine time and then disappear. Historical walking tours as political or sociological apparatus for learning. Even heritage sites preserved as living organisms (the Black Country Living Museum for example) which provide a pornographic nostalgia for those times when quality dental care and workplace health and safety didn’t exist. Old cinemas where the inter-generational experience of, say, a cinema building which was built in the 1930s, screening Jurassic Park made in the 1990s, and being watched by young adults who were born the year the film came out. All of these and more examples serve as instances of heterochronia. More than simply an exercise in remembering or meta-memory, Brown’s work raises an important political question, and one that we have seen make its presence felt in the opening Discursive Spaces exhibition, namely:

  1. How do the citizens, who live and operate within heterochronic environments on a regular basis, have a greater say on how their environments are curated for the benefit of themselves and other users and visitors to these spaces?

The writing of history is neither neutral nor democratic, and when the history of a city is shaped by those with the power to build or pull down, to alter not only the physical fabric of a city, but its psycho-geographic effect on those for whom the city-is-life, and past, and future; citizen participation is paramount.

The archival, artistic, and intellectual rigor of Thomas J Brown’s exhibition is a stellar example of just that.

Thomas Jack Brown has captured short videos of the features of Wolverhampton. He has edited these captured images together with old home video and instructional archive material from the City Archives so that he may show his view of the permanent features of the city as well as what may have changed over the course of generations. He has also used archive audio as well as the voices of residents and workers of Wolverhampton in order to gain some understanding of the people who use spaces within the city on a regular or daily basis. He is projecting his video art from three projectors, layering the sources of light on top of each other, distorting the images but keeping the ‘strange but familiar’ element of heterotopic thinking.


Finally, he directly projects onto the wall of the Asylum gallery, in order to create a link between images of the city with a direct physical location in the city environment.

|Writer in residence| [Nathaniel Grant]  February 2020

A special thank-you to Wolverhampton City Archives for their contribution to this artist.

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