Hilma Af Klint’s Vision of the Future

I am no art historian, and I wouldn’t even call myself a passionate amateur, but I do like to visit art museums from time to time. On a recent visit to the Guggenheim during its pay-what-you-will night, I took in an exhibition entitled, Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Walking into the spiral halls, I had no idea who Klint was. By the time I left, I was deeply conflicted about the structure of time.

I usually spend more time reading the placards than looking at the paintings, but there was something about Klint’s work that drew me in. At first, it was her story. Klint created abstract paintings in her native Sweden in the early and mid 20th century. Her odd shapes and erratic colors came long before greats like Kandinsky did it.

However, her abstraction came from a spiritual place. Klint engaged in seances from an early age, and had an obsession with the supernatural. She joined a group of female artists who called themselves “The Five,” and engaged in spiritualist and occult practices. In her early work, she allowed the spirits she encountered to flow through her as she painted. In her later pieces, she began to intentionally reconstruct what she saw on her spiritual journeys.

At the start of the exhibition, I thought Klint’s art and use of color was beautiful, but I dismissed her spiritualist practices. I imagined silly situations reminiscent of children using ouija boards where “The Five” would claim they hadn’t moved the paint brush yet a painting appeared. However, as I ascended the Guggenheim’s spiral, I began to feel more uneasy. Klint’s later work, in which she tried to communicate what she supposedly saw in her exploration, was beautiful but unsettling. I began to take her story more seriously and wonder if she really did see the future, and if so, what did she see?

The New York Times’ review categorized some of the eeriness of the exhibit:

“In their wit, ebullience, multiple references and palette, “The Ten Largest” seem utterly contemporary, made-yesterday fresh. But prepare for label shock: they were created in 1907.”

Six of Klint’s “Ten Largest” hang in their places at the Guggenheim museum. (Guggenheim)

And most of the journey up the spiral evokes these feelings. There is something alarmingly out of place about Klint’s work in the context of her time. It doesn’t leave you with the impression she was ahead of her time, a forerunner of abstraction, but rather that she stepped out of it and dropped a piece of the future into her own year.

She also made interesting predictions that parallel today. Klint envisioned a spiral temple in which her “Ten Largest” would be displayed – a temple that bears a striking resemblance to the Guggenheim, which had yet to be constructed in Klint’s lifetime.

I exited the exhibition feeling uneasy about my understanding of time. While I don’t know if I hold with Klint’s spiritual beliefs, it does seem she saw something of the future while she lived her present. Whether that occurred through careful study of her present to guess where the future would land or if through revelation, I don’t know. But, I left the exhibition thinking about how there may be cases in which we see something of the future and steal it back to live in our present, only to be fit in the context of a greater timeline decades later.

“The Universe as Primal Scream” Reflection

In her 2011 poem “The Universe as Primal Scream,” Tracy K. Smith reflects on the vastness of the universe and the cyclical nature of time. The poem opens with the shrill screams of children in the early hours of the morning. While the poem’s title describes these screams as “primal,” they originate from infants who are new to the universe. The timelessness of these screams, the notion that an infant could evoke something so primeval, leads the speaker to reflect on time itself.

The subsequent stanzas take on a theological tone as the speaker alludes to Elijah and “Old Testament robes” (Smith 19). One of the most striking lines in the poem comes from the end of the second stanza: “Let the heaven we inherit approach” (Smith 18). Here, the speaker merges different conceptions of time— past, present and future. “Let” refers to the poem’s present moment, “heaven” and “approach” evoke the future, and “inherit” references the past. At first glance, the narrator’s syntax engages with past, present, and future in order to challenge the reader’s conception of time. The speaker suggests that, rather than being strictly linear, time is cyclical. The past, present, and future meld into one another in the same manner that the same matter that formed the universe preceded and will out last humans.

This line also contains fascinating theological undertones. The mention of “heaven,” a fundamentally Christian concept, lends the line an air of gravity. It implies that the speaker’s musings deal with such serious matters as life and death. Furthermore, the notion of inheritance refers to rich religious tradition. The speaker is perhaps suggesting that ideas such as heaven are passed down generationally, and thus we come to inherit our futures (heaven). Religious/cultural narratives like heaven come from the past but dictate the manner with which we regard our futures.

The speaker appears to welcome time’s cycle: “I’m ready/ To meet what refuses to let us keep anything/ For long” (Smith 22-4). This line is situated in a stanza that deals largely with God or the concept of a higher power. The speaker despairs over the “mean” brevity of life and is prepared to meet the force responsible for this (Smith 27).

Smith’s poem demonstrates the great cultural, emotional, and theological importance that humans place on time. The speaker ponders the nature of time, ultimately conceding that his/her place in the universe is miniscule.

Toaster Time

I have found people outraged at a common misconception in the world of kitchen appliances and I have found it both extremely nonsensical but also highly intriguing. This misconception is that the toaster dial features numbers to display which degree of toasting you would prefer- the intensity of the toasting experience. In reality, while it does sound nice, the numbers actually correspond with the amount of time you would keep an item in before it pops. Now, this is not a misconception held by all people. There are some young scholars who grew up with the knowledge already. How did they know? I wish I could say. If you fall into the category of those who grew up with open eyes, then I congratulate you. I grew up believing the dial and the numbers were a gauge for toaster intensity. I don’t blame myself. Maybe because it felt like a stereo amplifier that displays the range of volume, or that I wasn’t sure how to account for time in such a vague range of whole numbers. Whatever it was, I was duped by Big Kitchen (the companies that control my cooking and other meal prepping experiences).

But, despite the outrage I have seen over this discovery (a discovery that comes at some point in everyone’s life), I think it could make for an interesting view on how we value time and what time is supposed to do for us. In my experience with this topic, it seems that people are frustrated with the truth of it: they would rather the toaster dial reference the intensity of the toasting experience instead of the time it is spent being toasted. But what is the difference there? It seems like people are bored by the idea that it is just numbers and not a more magical toaster experience. Maybe they were afraid of the toaster getting even more boring than it was before. Maybe it is the fear of life becoming more monotonous, even for the toaster; the mystique was done away with. But the truth is, we would rather think of the effort and journey of life’s fruits than we would the time spent to yield them. Setting your toaster to “3” will make your toaster “3-ier” and it will take “3-ier” time to do it, but the moment you consider that the time spent being “3-ier” the more daunting it becomes. We don’t like thinking of the time we have to spend doing things. Just as we don’t like hearing how much time we spend a year being asleep, or at a stop sign, or on public transportation. And, for that matter, how long we spend making toast. It’s uncomfortable, but this bridge between the implied effort and the known time-put-in could be an enlightening discovery. If we have a daunting project ahead of us, and we want to do it well, we may decide to set our internal “toaster dial”, so to speak, to a 5, or a 6. But, the more well you would like to do your work, the more time you have to be willing to put in. It’s a difficult truth to face sometimes, but it is also a hopeful message for those who are willing to put in the time.

Sunday Sauce

Every week throughout my childhood, and now when I come home from school in the fleeting Summer months, my mother makes “Sunday sauce” for our family. This meal consists of rigatoni, “Grandmom peas,” which are from my Great-Nona’s recipe, and, of course, the sauce, which is not as sweet, not as smooth, and not as quick and easy to serve as the typical jar pasta I empty onto pasta late at night and shovel into my mouth mechanically as I cram hurriedly for an exam the next day. My mother’s sauce, (which her mother-in-law once taught her how to make, and her mother before her, and probably my Great-Nona’s mother as well, and this likely continued further back for who knows how long,) is made laboriously from chopped and peeled tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes, and it simmers for hours before dinner. This is a tradition that has been carried out with love and care over many generations, before in Sicilia and now in America.

Everyone in my family is busy with hectic schedules of work and school and household tasks all day, but all of this ceases for a time when we gather to the kitchen table each Sunday night to share a meal together. There is comfort in this ritualistic consistency, in stopping everything one is doing to be with loved ones and converse with and listen to them.

After my brother grew up, graduated from college, and moved to a different city, my family slowly adjusted to the empty space at the table; at least six months passed before I finally remembered to set out silverware for only four instead of five people. When I left for college nearly two years ago, the remaining number at the Sunday dinner table shrank to only three: my parents and my little sister. Still, my family continues this simple tradition, and when my sister will inevitably grow up and leave the house, and when I am still faraway at school or at work, I will imagine my mother and father eating together at a table that is far too big and too empty for only two people.

There is a little bit of sadness in the truth that children must grow up and leave home and make dinner at their own kitchen tables and break away from old traditions to make new ones. However, although the years have already begun to pass too quickly, and my childhood has flown by, no matter where or when or in what context my family gathers to spend time together, we will be able to recall memories of long ago Sunday dinners.  

Medical Timekeeping

By Kavita Kumari

The concept of time plays a major role in medical practices. Physicians are able to record patient and family histories as well as predict future health risks. Today’s practice of monitoring patients and illnesses can be traced to how ancient doctors recorded medical information. In the article entitled “From Critical Days to Critical Hours: Galenic Refinements of Hippocratic Models,” Kassandra Jackson Miller discusses how ancient physicians related fevers with the natural world as a way to record time.

In terms of medical timekeeping, it is fascinating to think about how ancient physicians thought about time in their practices. According to Miller (112), sundials and water-clock technology existed during the late Classical and early Hellenistic periods. Although it is uncertain, it may be possible that these physicians used the natural world as a basis for their timekeeping. Using Galen’s On Critical Days as a case study, Miller explains how Galen records medical records. Galen often states that “a medical event occurred at a numbered hour of the day or night, or that it lasted for a specific number of hours” (Miller 113). Here, Galen describes the concept of time and duration. It gives an overall view of a patient’s illness on the basis of hours. However, there is a shift in timekeeping through Miller’s concept of “‘intra-day’ timing” (118). Charting “the whole temporal progression of disease” interested ancient physicians such as Galen (Miller 118). Similar to today’s medical timekeeping, ancient physicians recorded what occurred within the duration of fevers as well as what occurred overall.

As a biology major interested in the medical field, medical timekeeping is very important for both physicians and patients. Today, the medical field has a systematic way of keeping patient information. Such a system has developed out of ancient medical timekeeping. Hence, medical timekeeping helps understand past histories as well as predict future possibilities in an ever-changing field such as medicine.

Johannes Brahms and Lost Things

A mere couple of days ago I was writing about the ways in which I feel I impede myself with my conceptions of time. I mentioned a book called No Boundary and a theory of an infinite present, and talked about how I build partitions into my mindset and then become frustrated when I run into them. 

Now I’m here to talk about Brahms.

Yesterday, I seized the lovely opportunity of the Philharmonic’s Free Fridays. Anyone 13-26 can sign up Monday at noon for a ticket, gratis, on a first-come-first-serve basis for their Friday performance. Last week a friend of mind who is an organist and can hum entire symphonies off the top of her head, informed me of the chance for tickets, and lo, we got them and went. While I am not quite as classically trained or educated in the works of great composers as my friend, I love a good orchestral performance. There’s something alive about it. 

SO. I am sitting in seat G21 of David Geffen Hall, and while I am told by my companion that it would actually sound better to be elsewhere in the hall, due to inconsistent acoustics from design flaws, I am transported. The swelling crescendos of the choir crashing into the tide of the cellos, the harps, the brass section, the soloists, the all of it. Music such as this makes an hour without intermission feel like five minutes and a thousand years. That was one way this made me reflect on time, this experience’s ability to bend it and fold it back. 

However, what I am truly struck by about live music—the kind that takes a village of completely in-sync musicians and a collaborative consciousness, the kind that doesn’t tell you but takes you—is its ability to free up old, tethered down memories like a good therapy session. While I wasn’t able to point out tiny technical nuances that are communicated better in person, I found myself overwhelmed by a resurgence of old memories I forgot that I’d forgotten. Somewhere around the middle of the second movement, I remembered the grain on the dresser in the spare room of the home I grew up in, the oxidized brass knobs, the way sunlight caught in the dust on top of it. I remembered the smell of Marlbolo Reds and Fresca on my uncle’s back porch in the summertime. I remembered my fourth grade classroom and a family trip to a tiny bed and breakfast in South Dakota. I remembered dead friends and caught frogs and wet dirt and the way my Easter dress looked when I spun. I remembered a red wagon, I was crying.

This all sounds very dramatic and maybe I was projecting nostalgia onto a moment of meditation that I don’t always find space to allow myself in the course of a week. However, I think it is a very human thing to remember, and I oftentimes find that I remember far more of my life than I give myself credit for. In fact, the ease with which the music elicited the memories…it didn’t feel like remembering at all; it just felt like having. 

And thus we are back to the idea of a limitless Now. How lucky I was to have caught a glimpse of the ever expanding phenomenon of consciousness. If Brahms isn’t your thing, try another form of music, or staring at some painting for a while, or lying down in the dark and listening to yourself breathe. I don’t know. Whatever strikes you. But I encourage taking an inventory of self that exceeds beyond a current understanding of yourself in the context of whatever it is you consider to be this current time. Allow yourself to wander to the obscure and buried, and find thrill in your ability to surprise yourself with a wealth of mentally stored minutia. It was moving and strange. Yesterday, I was not focused on the amount of light time let reach me, but rather how much I saw when I stopped fixating on that and let my pupils adjust. 

Aging and Society

Two years ago while searching for courses to take for the first semester of my junior year, I felt elated to find a psychology course called Aging and Society. I have always been interested in aging, and psychology is one of my foremost passions. The class not only met but exceeded any expectations I had for that semester: I learned a lot of valuable information and I left the class with an entirely different outlook on the aging process. Now that I am taking a class revolving around the idea of time itself, it is interesting to think about what I learned in Aging and Society and see how I have interacted with that knowledge over the past two years.

Prior to taking Aging and Society, I often thought of the aging process in a negative manner. Aging frightened me due to the fact that many people in my life had told me that they enjoyed their high school and college years more than any other time in their lives. This often led me to feel as if my life was going to be in a continuous decline beyond these years, which were coming to an end for me. I often felt myself thinking that if these are the best years of my life right now, then what do I have to look forward to? Thankfully, after sifting through a myriad of research done on older adults in my Aging and Society class, I found that in reality older adults were objectively happier than their younger counterparts. We also debunked the stereotype often portrayed in the media that older adults are usually mean and cranky — consider the Pixar movie “Up” for instance. Looking back at the past year and a half, I feel that I have been worrying less than I did before about aging. It used to be on my mind a lot and it was a pretty big stressor for me; however, I do not think that this has been the case lately. I find this especially interesting being that I am a second semester senior; now more than I ever I should be feeling the anxieties I had about aging, but I do not.

One of the assignments we had to do outside of the classroom for Aging and Society was to interview an individual over sixty-five years old. I chose to interview my grandma’s then seventy-four year old best friend Gina. I have known Gina my entire life and I see her about once a month. Gina told me a lot of interesting information about her life, and she gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me to this day. I asked Gina, “if you could give your younger self or a younger person in general one piece of advice, what would it be?” After a short pause, Gina responded. “Don’t worry so much. When I think of all the little things I worried about when I was younger I realize that it didn’t even matter in the end, so why was I even worrying about it? I had so much stress and anxiety from these little issues I was facing and in the end, I think I’m doing just fine.” For some reason, this really resonated with me. Over the past two years, when I found myself panicking about a little mishap and I remember what Gina told me, my anxiety levels went down to a much more tolerable level.

Aside from what I learned from Gina and from my Aging and Society class, I have learned so much about the world and about myself in the past two years. When I was in Aging and Society I was terrified of the fact that I had no plans after college and did not even know if I chose the right major. Since then, I have discovered my passion and decided to pursue a law degree. I can see now why it is important to trust in Gina’s advice. All the worrying I did about not knowing what I wanted to do in life went away, and in the end everything worked itself out. Even though I have only gotten two years older since I took Aging and Society, it is intriguing to consider all that I learned and how it has applied to my life as the time has progressed. I am happier now than I was two years ago, and I do not believe my life will continually decline after graduation. In addition, after I considered our class discussions and the readings we have done for class so far, I realized something interesting: we can learn from people so much older than us, and even though their pasts are different than our futures will be, we can still apply what we learn from them to our lives presently. Not only is this possible, but looking back at my past two years, I find it important to do so.

And now I just sit in silence…

“And to be awake is for us to think/ And for us to think is to be alive/ And I will try with every rhyme/ To come across like I am dying/To let you know you need to try to think”

These are some of my favorite lines from a song that I have carried with me since its release in 2011. 21 Pilots’ “Car Radio” has a very thought provoking and deep meaning behind it. It’s a song that teaches individuals to face the difficult emotions that are holding them back. Most, if not all, of us can relate with the difficulty of confronting our demons and facing those mistakes that we feel may be unforgivable. However, doing so is necessary to heal and grow. The message of this song is to find the strength to face your demons, to recognize that doing so will be worth it, and to be unafraid of asking for help. Just because the battle is happening within you, doesn’t mean you have to face it alone.

When I first heard this song, I didn’t think about it as deeply as I do now. I related to its general theme. When I drive, I sit with my thoughts. Driving helps me think and, sometimes, clears my mind. Other times, I overthink and these thoughts about events, people, or memories that I’d rather keep buried than actually deal with creep up on me. When I drive, I space out and my mind roams to mistakes of the past, struggles of the present, and fears for the future. Nonetheless, I’ve dealt with some difficult emotions in my car and I’ve made some important decisions on those many rides home. When I’m driving, I have no choice but to confront those thoughts and doing so helps me heal, even if it does so a little bit.

As I have mentioned, I’ve carried this song through different stages of my life. It reminds me to live in the present and to face whatever I may be struggling with at that time in my life. At one of the lowest points in my life, this song has guided me and reminded me that there is always a tomorrow and that there is always someone to guide me and help me. It reminds me to look within myself for the answers and the light that I fail to find elsewhere. Regardless of the time that may pass, I will always listen to this song to remind me to stop whatever I’m doing and re-evaluate myself and my life.

Time as a Boundary

The founder of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schroedinger, once said, “…Now, today, every day, [Mother Earth] is bringing you forth, not once but thousands of times…For eternally there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”

I came across this quote most recently in a book called No Boundary, by Ken Wilbur. The book looks at many different philosophies and religions, from both Eastern and Western traditions, in his conversation advocating for unity consciousness. Wilbur describes unity consciousness as a framework of the mind free from self and societally imposed boundaries. I won’t go much more in depth about all of the particulars of this book. There’s too much in it to talk about. But the way the book approaches time is one that I have come back to again and again. 

Wilbur explains how our concept of time is often very linear—so much so that we often think of the past as being to the left of us and the future as being to the right. Time is that linear to us, that constrained, that real. Yet he persists that this linearity and structure we project onto time is just that—a projection. The boundaries we create between past and present and future are only there because we put them there. Flowers would still bloom and Earth would still turn if the words past and future had never existed. 

Still, we put so much weight on these words. I keep using an ambiguous “we”. I put so much weight on these words. I lose sleep over them and feel like I’m drowning under them. And why? Do the ways I try to name time give me power over it? 

Even my version of eternity—the anti-time—is the kind of time that contains all time. In No Boundary, Wilbur says “eternity is not an awareness of everlasting time, but an awareness that which is itself totally without time. Wilbur quotes another esteemed thinker Meister Eckhart: “Time is what keeps the light from reaching us.”

I’ve been thinking lately about the way I let time keep the light from reaching me. How do I self-impose names and ideas to create my own obstacles? Perhaps my reason for impeding myself is because I am afraid of how I’d see things if I freed myself from limitations. Sometimes I think I beat myself up with time and time lost just because it’s what I’m used to. How would the way I greet my rotations of the Earth change if I didn’t? I don’t know! But it is an idea I am journeying with, and I’ll have to keep you updated throughout my subsequent posts. In the interim, I hope I’ve offered you something to think over, or play around with and if you can get your hands on No Boundary (it is an old, weird book), I highly suggest it! Until our next meeting…

Time and Music

I’m sure as most people can relate listening to music or podcasts makes time go by much quicker than you would think. It can make a long car ride feel like only minutes have passed or make a long day seem shorter. Personally, my favorite genre of music is hip hop.

I enjoy many different sub-genres of hip hop music for different times in my life. When I am lifting or training, I will turn my focus to more industrial and hardcore hip hop, with artists such as Death Grips, and Future. However, if I am with friends I prefer more mellow music to pass the time, such as Drake, Travis Scott, etc.

Personally I find that when driving or traveling listening to music makes my commute seem much shorter than it really is, especially if I am listening to music I like. Music has the ability to affect one’s perception of time and make time feel as if it moves quicker. To me this is one of the most interesting phenomenons about everyday life.