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Atemporal Memory: Time perception and Media Temporality

Atemporal Memory: Time perception and Media Temporality


The experience of time is one of the most fundamental human experiences and is deeply related to human consciousness. However, time is still a mysterious and notoriously difficult concept with many unknowns. The English Oxford dictionary defines time as ‘The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.’[1] Time is an indeterminate concept, yet we distinguish time in the past, present and future based on a linear timeline in our daily lives, using clocks, calendars and so on. The notion of time in everyday use is a social construct of time, which is measured by numerical values. According to Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Understanding Media: The Extension of Man’ (1964:157), the division of time depicted by the mechanical clock has created a visualization of time in our senses which can be numerically quantified. But this numerical value of time cannot fully describe the existence of time that we experience. Thus, the ontological question of time has been incessantly asked in numerous academic fields and has received many different answers. Albert Einstein emphasized that the distinction between past, present, and future is an illusion. However, our perception of time cannot deny the linear time structure. Thus, I will first examine the notion of time experience based on the distinction between past, present, and future, by researching prominent theories from the 20th to 21st Century in physics, psychology, and philosophy, on the existence of time in an ontological sense. In the second chapter, McLuhan’s technological simulation of consciousness will be examined. McLuhan (1964:11) argues that current electrical technology has extended our senses and central nervous system, similar to how mechanical developments have extended our bodies in space. McLuhan (1964:159) stated that, ‘Our new electric technology is organic and non-mechanical in tendency because it extends, not our eyes, but our central nervous systems as a planetary vesture.’ The change to an electrically instantaneous world has impacted our consciousness and influenced our central experience of time and space. Thus, the second chapter – Time, Memory and Consciousness in Media Experience, explores the new notion of time and perception generated by our interaction with digital technology. Following this, I will examine the spatialization of time in media art practices in the third chapter- Spatialized Time. Here, I will investigate new temporal experiences through visual images as well as mediated time perception. Finally, my design project, Atemporal Memory will be discussed reflecting on the notion of spatialization of time, and will consider the aspect of time as a medium in interactive design and in an immersive virtual environment.


What is time? How do we experience time?


Einstein’s Relative Time


“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”. – Albert Einstein


Albert Einstein argues that the separation between past, present, and future is an illusion, and that time is not absolute but relative. Unlike Einstein, Newton believes that there is a universal and mathematical framework of time, in which events happen sequentially, suggesting that time is capable of being measured objectively. However, Einstein’s notion of time is relative and subjective, and is influenced by an observer’s frame of reference. Thus, in comparison to absolute time, relative time can vary depending on the observer’s point of view and is independent of time measured by a clock. This is a key observation in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1905-1916), whereby every event is happening simultaneously and present, past, and future are coexisting in a space-time continuum.


According to Einstein’s theory, this simultaneity is not an absolute concept, so the time occurrence can be observed subjectively, depending on the perceiver’s position. This means that when events happen at the same time for one observer, they could be observed at different times by another. Particularly, in regards to the notion of time dilation, Einstein emphasizes the relationship between the speed of light and the velocity of an observer’s movement, which causes the time experiences of different observers to vary. Following from his statements, regardless of an observer’s movement speed, the assumption of the speed of light is about 30 kilometers per second, which synchronizes the same speed of the space-time symmetry for every observer. However, the velocity of individual observers differentiates the relative phenomena of time experience, despite the speed of light appearing for all observers to travel at the same speed. This is because the coordinate of time is projected by the different speeds of each observer. Therefore, depending on the observer’s speed of travel, the simultaneous space-time continuum can be observed flexibly with different time frames and velocity, and this is the main principle behind time dilation in our subjective and relative time experiences.



Hawking’s Time’s Arrow

Einstein’s mathematical model of the fourth-dimensional space-time continuum has become one of the most influential scientific theories in the twentieth-century about the concept of time, having significant influences on a variety of research fields such as philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and phenomenology. However, in spite of our wide acceptance of Einstein’s theories which are supported through numerous scientific proofs, we are still fixated with the illusion of time passing in a chronological order that flows forward from a fixed past to an unknown future. Stephen Hawking, one of the most influential theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein, characterizes the perceptual and cognitive sense of passing time in his prominent book, ‘The History of Time’ (1988). In his chapter titled ‘Arrow of Time’, Hawking argues that there are three different notions on the arrow of time, namely: thermodynamic arrow of time, psychological arrow of time, and cosmological arrow of time.


  • Thermodynamic arrow of time – The direction of time in which disorder or entropy increases.
  • Psychological arrow of time – The direction in which we feel time passes given that we remember the past but not the future.
  • Cosmological arrow of time – The direction of time in which the universe is expanding rather than contracting.

The thermodynamic arrow refers to the direction of time’s arrow towards a state of disorder from a state of order, whereby entropy trends to increase with time. The thermodynamic arrow depends on the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time and the process is irreversible under the law in nature. For example, once glass is broken, then it cannot go back to an unbroken state, and we never see it repairing itself. Similarly, once ice melts, the melting process will never reverse without the input of cooling energy. Thus, in modern physical theory, the arrow of time is grounded on the one direction of time that evolves toward the future, which is determined by the closed system of entropy in which the arrow of time never goes backwards.


Stephen Hawking further emphasizes a relationship between the thermodynamic and psychological arrows of time, arguing that the psychological arrow is influenced within our brain by the thermodynamic arrow. The psychological arrow is a direction that makes us feel the sense of time passing. He attempts to analyze the psychological arrow of time, comparing the human brain memory process to computer memories.


‘I think it is reasonable to assume that the arrow for computers is the same as that for humans… A computer memory is basically a device containing elements that can exist in either of two states… Before an item is recorded in a computer’s memory, the memory is in a disordered state, with equal probabilities for the two possible states. After the memory interacts with the system to be remembered, it will definitely be in one state or the other, according to the state of the system. So, the memory has passed from a disordered state to an ordered one. However, in order to make sure that the memory is in the right state, it is necessary to use a certain amount of energy. This energy is dissipated as heat, and increases the amount of disorder in the universe. One can show that this increase in disorder is always greater than the increase in the order of the memory itself. Thus, the heat expelled by the computer’s cooling fan means that when a computer records an item in memory, the total amount of disorder in the universe still goes up. The direction of time in which a computer remembers the past is the same as that in which disorder increases.’ (1998:145)


This argument asserts that when computers store something new in memory, the entropy rises in the direction of time during the computational process in the computers. This means that our brain memory, like that of computers, require an increase in entropy in order to memorize something. Thus, following Hawking’s statement, the foundation of this subjective feeling of the psychological direction of time is determined within our brain by the direction of the closed entropy system, which grows forwards not backwards. Therefore, both human and computer memories remember things in order, and only remember the past, as opposed to the unknown future, based on the thermodynamic arrow of time. In other words, quoting Hawking’s statement in ‘The No-Boundary Proposal and The Arrow of Time’ (1993:561), if entropy decreases with time in a universe, ‘computer memories will work backward. They will remember the future, and forget the past.’


Feeling Present

The Arrow of Time theory has made a significant contribution to understanding our subjective sense of the direction of time, helping to answer the question of why we feel that time moves forwards from past to future. However, several questions still arise around the division between the past, present and future. Particularly, in regards to the perception of “the present” feeling, we perceive and are aware of the present moment as something happening right now. Why do we distinguish the present moment in time’s arrow, and how do we identify the awareness of present? We can remember the past and expect the future based on what we remember. But, the present is a concept that directly relates to our consciousness. Our awareness of the present cannot be simply described by our concept of the flow of time and chronological order. According to Hawking’s statement above, an identical direction of time can be observed in human and computer memory processes. If so, what is the meaning of “presentness” in the computational process, and how do computer memories distinguish the present moment from the past and from the future? Do computers recognize the present as a period of time between the past and the future? Or, is it the moment that new data records are made or when the status of existing data is updated? Otherwise, there is nothing to clearly describe the concept of present on the arrow of time for computers.


With regards to the awareness of the present, William James, one of the founders of modern psychology, dedicated himself to developing the concept of ‘specious present’ – a term first coined by psychologist E.R.Clay. James defines specious present as the duration of time itself, which we directly perceive as instantaneous and temporal extended in time. He refers to, (1886:396) ‘The specious present, the intuited duration, like the rainbow on the waterfall, with its own quality unchanged by the events that stream through it.’


James regards the awareness of present as a temporally durational experience, and he describes this time perception as the ‘specious present’. The concept of time as a ‘durational experience’ was first introduced in philosophical studies by Henri Bergson, a renowned French philosopher. In his earlier work ‘Time and Free Will’, Bergson illustrates that there are two forms of time which he called “pure time” and “measurable time”, challenging Einstein’s theory of the relativity of simultaneity.  According to Bergson, the pure duration and succession of time belong to the conscious mind, and it is more about the quality rather than quantity of time, thus involving the internal ego. On the other hand, mathematical time is a quantitative and enumerative concept that stems from the external world, and has homogeneous space and time. Bergson argues that pure duration is the real time which continuously moves through our consciousness and instinct. Pure duration is a succession without externality that exists in both our internal mind and heterogeneous time, so that the real time cannot be spatialized. Thus, for Bergson, the reality of time is about interiority and intensity which is incessant consciousness, unlike the concept of the measurable time and mathematical time. Therefore, “real time” is a pure duration in Bergson’s theory, which is an internal consciousness and intuition that is indivisible, a ceaseless change that cannot be divided into past, present and future.


“The essence of time is that it goes by; time already gone by it the past, and we call the present the instant in which it goes by… No doubt there is an ideal present-a pure conception, the indivisible limit which separates past from future. But the real, concrete, live present-that of which I speak when I speak of my present perception-that present necessarily occupies a duration… Quite evidently, it is both on this side and on that; and what I call ‘my present’ has one foot in my past and another in my future. In my past, first, because ‘the moment in which I am speaking is already far from me’; in my future, next, because this moment is impending over the future: it is to future that I am tending, and could I fix this indivisible present, this infinitesimal element of the curve of time, it is the direction of the future that it would indicate. The psychical state, then, that I call ‘my present’ must be both a perception of the immediate past and a determination of the immediate future.” (1913:177)



Conversely, William James argues that the specious present are very distinctive moments and the immediately-intuited awareness from the continuity of the past and future, even if Henri Bergson and William James influenced each other and agree that the human time experience is established in our stream of consciousness, internality and durational experience. However, with Bergson’s perspective of pure duration, there is no division between past, present and future because pure duration cannot be separated from constant consciousness. But, in James’s view, the “specious present” is an instant moment that has a certain duration, contained by a vanishing fringe both forwards and backwards in time, which varies in length form a few seconds to not more than a minute.  He further compares the “specious present” with the concept of a primary or elementary memory system, which is equivalent to the modern term, “short-term memory” in contemporary texts.



Memory and Time Perception

William James was the first to propose the separation between primary and secondary memory in the human memory system. On one hand, since primary memory is directly related to our intuitive consciousness, and not the remembered past, it does not require much effort to recall these memories. Thus, the “specious present” interacts with this primary memory, which arises from the immediate experience of the present. The psychological phenomena of feeling present itself is neither a remembered nor conceived sensation, and thus it is more of an immediately apprehended feeling within the present time.


“An object of primary memory is not thus brought back; it never was lost; its date was never cut off in consciousness from that of the immediately present moment. In fact, it comes to us as belonging to the rearward portion of the present space of time, and not to the genuine past.” (1890:609)


Influenced by James, Edmund Husserl, the principal founder of phenomenology, examined the primary memory in his work ‘The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness’ (1928). Husserl regards the primary memory as the “Primal Impression” and “Retentional Modification” which constitutes the actual now of consciousness. According to Husserl, the “now” changes constantly from retention to retention through modification; ‘the impressional consciousness passes over into an ever fresh retention consciousness’ (1928:51). The primary memory is therefore the immediate experience of impressional consciousness, which is considered to be a short momentary perception of what we have just experienced.


On the other hand, secondary memory is a long-term memory that has boundless duration, which can be recalled and is associated with the remembered past. William James argues that primary memory is the initial repository in which instant experience can be stored and made available to conscious attention. From there, primary memory passes into a secondary memory repository that comprises of countless records of the past. However, unlike primary memory, information in the secondary memory has to be recollected and retrieved from the stored memory because it is not presently held in our consciousness. Thus, the secondary memory are past memories that need to be recalled.


“An object which is recollected, in the proper sense of that term, is one which has been absent from consciousness altogether, and now revives anew. It is brought back, recalled, finished up, so to speak, from a reservoir in which, with countless other objects, it lay buried and lost from view.” (1890:647)


Henri Bergson also elucidates the multiple memory system in his book ‘Matter and Memory’ (1896), with a c perspective comparable to James’s secondary memory. According to Bergson, there are two fundamental forms of memory: one where the past survives as a bodily habit memory, and another where past survives as an independent recollection.


Firstly, the habitual memory is a bodily memory that is stored through a motor mechanism. Bergson describes this motor mechanism memory as connected to past efforts of repeated actions, like a habit. However, the motor mechanism memory does not represent the past; it represents the accumulated efforts of the past in the present and looks only to the future. Thus, habitual memories are not simply recalled memory images; they are more spontaneous acts themselves.


Secondly, when the past survives as an independent recollection memory, it is stored through personal memory-images which are preserved from past events. Pure memory does consist of representation, which records and stores the events of our daily live. Thus, in contrast to motor mechanism memory, which is based on automatic responses, the recollected memory is based on the mind’s efforts to recall memories into the present, because it is absent from attention and continuous consciousness.


Bergson, furthermore, examines the process of memory in relation to present perception through an inverted cone diagram. He describes that our general thoughts as always moving between the plane of action and that of pure memory. In addition, the essence of a “general idea” is this ceaseless movement that goes back and forth between action and pure memory.

                                                                   Fig.1 Bergson’s cone of memory


Here the cone explains how the present perception (Vertex ‘S’) and past memories (AB, A’B’, A”B”) coexist and interrelated. According to his description, the plain ‘P’ represents for the actual universe and ‘S’ is the present perception, which consists of a certain sensory motor equilibrium.  The cone ‘SAB’ symbolizes the totality of recollections accumulated in memory, and is divided into three different degrees of translation, converging around the present perception. Depending on one’s attention to the present perception, the memory layers shape around that point of attention and move constantly. Thus, this process is the continuous movement that present perception and past memory cohabit throughout our consciousness, never to be separated.



Time, Memory and Consciousness in Media Experience


Virtual Time

Technological advancements have profoundly impacted modern life and the human temporal experience. Todays, we live in a world where we are able to access information every micro-second and can communicate instantaneously, regardless of distance or physical proximity. High-speed invisible signals have become the foundation of human communication in a modern technological society. In the Age of Information, ‘real-time’ becomes a vital requirement for our communication.


Time in the Information Age has been transformed into a globalized flow that has absorbed our local time into the global virtual time. French philosopher Sylviane Agacinski points out in ‘Time Passing’ – Modernity and Nostalgia (2003:5) that ‘Globalization is the unification of the world’s rhythms, all adjusted to the Western clock, that is, to contemporary chronotechnology’. Globalization has compressed time into a global time zone, and the globalized network time has decoupled us from the primitive time cycles of solar and biological rhythms. The current time system of the Internet is based on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and is the international time standard in contemporary technological culture. However, it is important to note that the GMT is not virtual time itself, in the same way that time on a clock cannot represent our perception and conception of time.


Paul Virilio, one of the most provocative cultural theorists explores the technological transformation of time in The Lost Dimension (1991:15), where he states that ‘the new technological time has no relation to any calendar of events nor to any collective memory. It is pure computer time, and as such helps construct a permanent present, an unbounded, timeless intensity that is destroying the tempo of a progressively degraded society.’ He asserts that chronological and historical time has been replaced by instantaneous time, and that a computer time’s urge to shape a perpetual status has broken down the natural rhythm of society.


In the Information Age – Economy, Society, and Culture (1996:491), sociologist and cybernetic cultural theoretician Manuel Castells has similarly characterized the transformation of temporal experience under the information technology paradigm, dividing it into two different forms: ‘Simultaneity’ and ‘Timelessness’. Following from Castells observations, the simultaneity of the network system provides a sense of immediacy that conquers physical boundaries and time barriers. Unlike the telephone which requires people to be available at the same time in order to communicate, current network communication offers users greater flexibility to choose their own time for the interaction. Furthermore, given how technological developments have rapidly increased the speed of information exchange, real-time interaction, faster communication, and sense of immediacy have become core features of the network culture. Moreover, through elimination of the traditional sequential rhythm of time, the notion of timelessness has developed into a fundamental component of the network society. Thus, a non-sequential temporal order is defining aspect of culture in the Information Age, leading society into an eternal ephemerality. For Castells, the ‘space of flows’ produces timeless time, which governs the network society by disordering the sequence of events and making them simultaneous. The ‘space of flow’ is a concept coined by Castells to describe the emergence of spatiality in the network society, in which interactivity is made up of a fluid network of exchanges from spatial patterns of behavior. He argues that current society is constructed around these flows of technology, of capital, of communication – which consist of an ensemble of elements rather than a single element. These flows have resulted in social practices which are more focused on material time-sharing in the network society – that is, the space of flow that dominates movement in the network society, towards a social non-sequential hyperspace, imposing multiple temporalities, ahistorical space of flows, and segmented places.


Computer time is fundamentally composed of digitated data that is recorded in computer chips. Thus, the digitated data system represents computer time, and is associated with the notion of passing time in the computer space. According to computer scientist David R. Jefferson, ‘The virtual time paradigm is a method of organizing distributed systems by imposing on them a temporal coordinate system more computationally meaningful than real time, and defining all user-visible notions of synchronization and time in terms of it.(1985:1)’ He illustrates that virtual time itself is a global, temporal and one-dimensional coordinate system which functions as an imaginary virtual clock to measure computational progress and to define synchronization. In his view, the virtual time system is aimed at synchronization for users, and the virtual times are real values in computer programming. For example, he describes that there are four values in all messages we exchange; the name of the sender, the name of the receiver, and the sent and received times. Every message is stamped with its assigned values in order to process the communication within the virtual time system, and the messages follow the numerical order of timestamps, which is inclined to go forward toward higher virtual times. However, these timestamps occasionally jump backward because they are loosely synchronized to local virtual clocks that fill the gap between programmer’s semantic point of view and implementer’s point of view. In short, as David notes, computer time is not a real time. It is a mediated time that can be asynchronous. Therefore, virtual time can be much more easily manipulated and artificially constructed compared to the real-time we feel in the actual world. Thus, the notion of real-time and live time in contemporary technological culture, better describes the synchronization and seamless interaction between the virtual and physical worlds. Moreover, it has a simultaneity which is beyond the normal time and space constraints.


Digital Memory

Paul Virilio and Manuel Castells both observe the temporality of timeless intensity in the virtual time paradigm. Virilio underlines that computer time installs a permanent present in a society, which evokes thoughts of Castells’ eternal ephemerality of timeless time. These two timelessness notions are closely aligned to fundamental aspects of digital memory. David R. Jefferson argues that there is an extended analogy between the virtual paradigm and virtual memory phenomenon. Similar to human memory and time perception being deeply interrelated to each other, the virtual timeless time is also interrelated to the virtual memory and its temporality.


“Electronic memories do not admit to forgetfulness… the conceit of electronic communication is that nothing can ever be forgotten… everything is recoverable at mouse click without the aid of psychotherapy”- Michael Punt (1999:42)


Compared to the metaphysical body of memories, virtual memories are generated on an electronic hardware system within the digital regime. Human memories are inexplicably unpredictable and complicated, so it is extremely difficult to conceptualize the human memory process in a single sentence. However, the digital memory process is incomparably concise. Unlike the complexities around the human memory framework, the electronic hardware memory system is distinctively unblemished, and is composed of a simultaneous processing system with saving, recalling and deleting functions.


The notion of timeless time in digital culture is closely interconnected with the instantaneous processing of digital memories. Faster processing has compressed the typical temporal experience of human memory. Compared to human memory retention and recall processes, the digital system does not require as much effort to store and retrieve past memories. Once the information is recorded, all digital data is processed simultaneously under a real-time framework. From this, the past memory itself becomes a delusion and abandons the linear time direction. Futuristic poet, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, forecasted the annihilation of temporality in his work ‘The Manifesto of Futurism’ (1909:11), where he argued that; ‘Time and space died yesterday. We already live in the Absolute because we have created the eternal velocity omnipresent’. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, had a similar view point concerning the extinction of history, and he stated that, ‘There was history, but there isn’t anymore’ in the ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ (1994:45). In regards to the disappearance of memory, French historian, Pierre Nora also noted that ‘We speak so much of memory because there is so little of it left’ in his work ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’ (1989:7). Memory, has thus lost its temporality. The historical past and the sense of memory has been displaced by the ephemeral digital media memory.


Sense of Presence


‘In an age of mixed realities, the body performs beyond the boundaries of its skin, and beyond the local space that it inhabits extruded into non-places of virtuality. The body experiences itself as its phantom to others, online it appears flickering on and off as digital noise as glitches in biological time excess generates radical emptiness, ambivalent, uncertain and anxious.’ – Stelarc


In a digitally mediated world, our body is no longer limited to our physical body – we are living in a non-biological digital time with impalpable forms and shadows. Once the body converts to the digital format, the virtual body instantaneously exists beyond the physical body’s constraints, regardless of physical proximity.


The topic of presence was first introduced in academic papers by cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky through his notion of ‘Telepresence’. He defines telepresence in the context of teleoperation as the ‘feeling like you are actually ‘there’ at the remote site of operation’ (1980:120). After his introduction, the feeling of presence has become an important aspect of human and computer interaction, and numerous studies since then have investigated this sense of being. Although there are some different perspectives on the notion of presence, the concept has commonly been described as the sense of being which is generated through interactivity with the digital environment.


According to Jack M. Loomis (1992), a research professor at the University of California, Department of Psychology, the phenomenological sense of presence is profoundly connected to the perceptual experience, distal attribution, and externalization. This phenomenological experience elucidates the way we perceive external space as beyond the limits of sensory organs. This notion is related to the central idea of Cartesian Mind and Body Dualism, which divides the mind ‘self’ from the flesh body. However, Frank Biocca, (2001) professor at Syracuse University, rejects the dualistic Cartesian view of the concept of presence in his paper, ‘Inserting the Presence of Mind into a Philosophy of Presence: A Response to Sheridan and Mantovani and Riva’. He identifies the concept of presence as a perceptual presence, rather than a divine presence. Thus, the key elements in understanding the concept of presence is based on the questions, – what is determined as me and what is determined as not me, rather than the sense of being here and being there. Following his assertion (2001:553), “When the user reaches out to touch an object in an immersive virtual environment, the computer graphic hand is not something “out there,” but is temporally accepted as part of “me” and within the boundary of the body”. Therefore, the sense of presence is associated with the boundary of the body rather than a separation from the body.



Spatialized Time

The development of media technologies is revolutionizing our sensory perceptions and cognitive experiences of time. According to Sylviane Agacinski (2003:15), image in movement form, from film to digital video, has become the central technological model for temporal experience in modern society. From the history of photography to current Virtual Reality, visual media technologies have become an essential medium for our experiences.


Furthermore, as digitization becomes the mainstream in contemporary culture and history, most of our memory forms and mediums have been transformed from physical into digital formats. The shift to digital format has not only influenced the structure of human history and culture, but it has also impacted human consciousness and memory. Lev Manovich, in his work ‘The Language of New Media’ (2001:27), observed that digitization is the transformation process that converts continuous data into a numerical value. Thus, digital media is a numerical representation, which is composed of mathematical functions which are programmable.


“As we will see, changes in conception of time within contemporary technological culture, including the nonlinear paradigms of computer, have emphasized a new sense of pre- medieval “mythic atemporality”, which may be theorized not only as challenge to chronometric time but also as a type of return to earlier notions of time as static, mythic or sacred.” – Steven Dixon, Digital Performance (2007:516)


Steven Dixon, the author of ‘Digital Performance’ (2007:516) argues that time has not only become less linear, but has also become renewable in digital performance practice through the nonlinear paradigms of the computer. As digital media has a timeless intensity and a plasticity that can be manipulated, the notion of time has been explored as a spatial and quantifiable substance, not only in the digital performance practice, but also in numerous visual art and scientific practices.


In this chapter I will explore the aspect of spatialized time as a medium which has been experimented through artistic and scientific practices, I will also examine how spatialized time has been produced through visual media technologies, and investigate the temporality of mediated time.


Extended Time

The first moving image was discovered by pioneer English photographer Eadweard Muybridge. His work ‘The Horse in Motion’ (1878) was regarded as the first moving photography in film history. The horse’s movement itself was too fast for human vision and thus it was not possible to analyze its motion using the naked eye alone.

 .                                                               Fig.2 Eadweard Muybridge Galloping Horse

In order to capture the imperceptible rapid movement of the horse, Muybridge set up twenty-four cameras parallel to a race track and connected the camera shutters to trip wires laid across the track. The shutters were triggered by a galloping horse such that the horse’s movements would be captured as it passed each line. Later, the sequences of ‘The Horse in Motion’ was projected through a ‘Zoopraxiscope’, an innovational lantern invented by Muybridge using a rotating glass disc.


        Fig.3 Eadweard Muybridge, The ‘Operating Room’               Fig.4 Eadweard Muybridge The Zoopraxiscope


Muybridge’s experiment not only challenged photographic technique, but also human visual perception. His moving pictures created a new temporal experience and became an extension of human vision. Images were now able to capture passing time rather than just frozen points in time. The sequences of the frames created an illusion of movement through the rate at which each frame changed from one to the next. Thus, the speed of the frame rate is the central aspect of image movement and temporal experience. Depending on the frame rate, we can experience time differently.

Artist Bill Viola uses extreme slow motion video n his artistic practice to create the sublime. In his artwork, extended time sequences are transformed into emotional affect and create a dramatic experience of time. His exploration of the passage of time and the perception of reality helps to examine the cognition of time that we typically perceive.


                                                                                                       Fig.5 Bill Viola, The Raft


For instance, his work ‘The Raft’ (2004), a ten-minute experimental video presenting the motion of a group of people struggling against the onslaught of a water jet through a stretched time sequence, evokes the images of natural disasters and acts of war. By extending the time sequences, the video images present a hidden dimension of space and time, de-familiarizing our perception of the original movement.


The extended passage of time in Viola’s video art stimulates our sensory perception by slowing down the frame rate. The slow-motion video is a signature of Viola’s artistic practice; however, the slow-motion effect is one of the most common video editing techniques.

 .             Fig.6 Slow Motion technique- Overcranking              Fig.7 Slow Motion technique- Time Stretching

The above two illustrations show how slow-motion images are created. By reducing the frame rate, the motion of the images become slower and the time in each frame is stretched. In other words, the temporal experience of time in media varies depending on how time is spatialized. Therefore, time in a video is a mediated duration produced through the spatialization of time frames, which can be stretched or compressed.




Simultaneity is one of the key painting techniques in visual arts. It is particularly used in futurism art, such as in Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase (1912)’, a work which illustrates the simultaneity technique of superimposed successive moments of time. The simultaneity technique not only appears in paintings, but it is also used in numerous media arts. The French scientist and photographer, Etienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotograph gun which a camera that records 12 successive photographs per second, capturing the sequence of movement over time in a single image.


                                                                                                                Fig.8 Etienne-Jules Marey, untitled

The motivation of his photography stemmed from his interest in the study of human and animal locomotion. Thus, he invented the chronophotograph gun to capture rapid movement – an objective he shared with Eadweard Muybridge, as discussed above. While Muybridge’s motion photos depicted the passage of time through a sequence of photographs, Marey’s chronophotograph captures the passage of time in a single scene, creating simultaneity. Thus, multiple temporalities are overlaid in Marey’s photography.

                                                                                                                                                Fig.10 Erdal Inci, Clone Project   

                                                                                    Fig.11 Erdal Inci, Clones Project                                   


Erdal Inci is a contemporary media artist who is well known for his work ‘Clones Project’, which presents multiple clones of the artist himself moving through public spaces in a GIF-format short looping clip. The duplicated passage of movement results in bizarre looping performances being shown simultaneously. His works evoke Muybridge’s chronophotograph in that they compress time sequences into one frame; but Erdal’s ‘Clones Project’ is composed of more complex multiple temporalities by using the moving sequences. Thus, in his art work multiple passages of time are moving through a fixed space.


Another way simultaneous time can be observed is illustrated by Andrew Davidhazy’s ‘Peripheral Photograph Series’. Davidhazy uses slit-scan photography techniques in his artistic practice.

                                                                                                Fig.12 Andrew Davidhazy, Untitled


The slit-scan is a photographic technique which creates static images through time-based phenomena. This technique was first invented by Henri Latique in 1913, and since then various visual projects have used the slit-scan technique. In analogue photography, slit scanning images are created by exposing a film slide as it passes behind a slit-shaped lens aperture. The slit-scan technique creates a new aesthetic form in visual photography, in which mosaic images that show a sequence of time converging into a singular form.


                                                                               Fig.13 Zbigniew Rybczynski , Fourth Dimension


Zbigniew Rybczynski made this effect critical to his artistic film ‘Fourth Dimension’, creating surrealistic movements in the scenes. Paul Virillio underlines this new optical phenomenon in an article on Rybcznski’s Fourth Dimension (1989), “That slippage and the baroque elements are truly the product of a geology rather than a geometry of the image. The horizontal lines are to him what the layers of sedimentation are to a geologist and this, in my opinion, is highly original. He no longer plays with the plots, but with the horizontal lines, like a musician that lets his notes glide through the musical staff”.


Real Time and Liveness

Real-time and liveness has become a crucial concept to interactivity within Internet culture. In the history of media art, the first real-time TV shows were trialed by media artist, Nam June Paik, “Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984)”. In collaboration with around 100 interdisciplinary artists from music, fine arts, performances, comedy and so on, Nam June Paik interconnected New York and Paris live via satellite. This show was broadcast live in many cities, including New York, Paris, Seoul, and Berlin, and was viewed by over 25 million people around the world.


                                                                Fig.14 Nam June Paik, “Good Morning, Mr. Orwell


Since his experiment, real-time electronic transmission and live interaction have become one of the most dominant mediums in media art, and have helped bridge the relationship between the physical and virtual space. Another example of a real-time interaction project can be seen in Blast Theory’s ‘Can You See Me Now? (2001)’, which is a mixed reality location-based game, using real-time GPS data and live feedback video. This game simultaneously took place in an online virtual city and on the actual streets of the city, by transmitting data via the Internet.


                                                                      Fig.15 Blast Theory’s ‘Can You See Me Now?

Real-time interaction and sharing liveness is not just for visual arts – they are key activities in the instantaneous world. Live streaming, real-time GPS data, Internet, YouTube and other online networks, have become ingrained in our lives, crossing boundaries between physical and virtual space. Thus, instantaneous interaction through media is a fundamental transition in the human temporal experience, and has been driven by digital media technologies. Moreover, instant interaction has become a new format in media art.


Delayed and Repetitive Time

Dan Graham’s installation, ‘Present Continuous Past(s)’ (1974) consists of a room with a live camera, mirrored walls, and a large video monitor, to represent time by using a delay effect. The live recorded video is transmitted to a monitor with an eight-second delay. The delayed video is then reflected into a mirror placed opposite. The reflection in the mirror shows present time and the multiple layers of past time in the space, which is presented via the monitor. Thus, the camera captures not only present time but also past images which have been presented through the monitor. Consequently, there are three layers of time which can be observed simultaneously on the monitor screen.


           Fig.16 Dan Graham‘Present Continuous Past(s)                       Fig.17 Dan Graham‘Present Continuous Past(s)


This video installation allows spectators to see many versions of themselves on the monitor, splitting their body into the repetitive past and present time layers. The present moment is absorbed into the past memory continually, interacting with the accumulated past, and at the same time, past moments are recalled to the present under the repeated circumstance, thus allowing past and present to coexist in the installation. Dan Graham uses this structure of a delayed feedback loop to create the multiplicity and simultaneity of time in the space.


The Clock’ is a twenty-four-hour-long loop collage video which is produced by Christian Marclay. The video is composed of thousands of clocks and watches in scenes from various films and television shows, following the chronical order of a clock. Wherever it is on display, the clock time in the film is synchronised to the actual local time. Thus, it creates a temporal experience in which real-time and image time are overlapped.

                                                                                                    Fig.18 Christian Marclay, The Clock


Marclay transforms the reel time of film into real time, by synchronizing it to the present time. The passage of time in the film passes in sync with the local clock time. Thus, it creates simultaneous moments where present time and past -reel time are aligned and questions the present time.


Atemporal Memory

Atemporal Memory is my Virtual Reality project that explores how virtual time influences our conceptions and perceptions of time and space. Atemporal Memory uses time as a tangible, interactive substance that can be grabbed, touched, and manipulated, creating a virtual space where the past and present can coexist. The project is set up using a Wireless HTC Vive headset, two Intel Real-Sense 3D depth cameras, and a computer running Bonsai-Rx software to record the real-time volumetric video. The two 3D depth cameras transmit the captured volumetric point cloud data into an immersive environment through real-time rendering. This real-time recording and rendering system enables users to interact with their own virtual presence, and play with their past virtual self simultaneously, allowing users to self-record and create multiple virtual presences. Moreover, users can control the playback of the captured volumetric videos, by enabling the users to rewind and fast forward the video at different speeds.


Virtual Mirror

The initial design concept for the Atemporal Memory project was developed through experiments with virtual mirrors in VR. These experiments aimed to explore the interaction between physical presence and mediated time through delayed mirror image feedback in an immersive environment. I constructed multiple mirrored walls in the virtual space, programmed such that one mirror gave real-time feedback and the other five mirrors gave feedback with different time delays. This design was inspired by Dan Graham’s video installation, ‘Present Continuous Past(s)’ (1974) and Bruce Nauman’s video installation ‘Performance Corridor’ (1969).


 .                                                             Experiment.1 Virtual Mirror in VR, Screen Capture Image


I constructed the system using a webcam camera for recording the video, Unity software, and an HTC Vive kit. My initial idea was to program delayed mirror with longer delayed feedbacks, such as over an hour or even over a month of delay, in order to build, in essence, a time machine which contains diverse time delay videos. With this setup, I was proposing to experiment on how delayed feedback could influence present consciousness and time perception, by allowing viewers to observe themselves through objectified their self-video images that recorded via camera perspective. However, due to hardware capacity limitations of my computer, I could only program delays up to a couple of minutes.

This experiment taught me that the capacity of computer hardware, including the graphics cards, are a critical constraint on creating virtual memories. Furthermore, I observed that flat camera images do not provide a sufficiently immersive environment for the interaction with viewers in the virtual space. This is because the mirror images are displayed on a flat screen in the virtual space, which results in the user’s spatial experience and movement being very limited.


Double Body

In the next experiment, I examined a 3D mirror image of the spectator, which allowed them to interact with their three-dimensional digital body. Accordingly, I undertook the experiment with 3D depth cameras to produce volumetric body image, in order to construct an immersive environment, by using point cloud data.


                                                                       Experiment.2 3D Mirror in VR, Screen Capture Image


The point cloud is a collection of three-dimensional data points which are generated by 3D scanners. The 3D scanners capture a large number of points from the objects’ surface. Each point has its own set of VYZ coordinate values, thus it creates a volumetric depth image in the virtual space. By using the point cloud data from 3D depth cameras, I could set up a virtual space with real-time volumetric images of the viewer’s body.


From this experiment, I found that even though I included the volumetric data information, the image was still enclosed on a flat screen rather than providing a spatial experience. Thus, I added a Vive tracker to the system in order to relocate the XYZ axis of the point cloud data. I attached the Vive tracker to the top of the 3D depth cameras and this resulted in showing the augmented actual space with its dimensional information.


 .              Atemporal Memory, Installation Sketch.                          Atemporal Memory, Installation View


The first image above shows the final installation plan. In this set up, I used two Intel Real-Sense depth cameras, two Vive trackers and a HTC Vive kit, along with Bonsai Rx software. With this setup, users can see their three-dimensional body with their own body location. This allows them to view their pixelated hands and body through their own eyes in real time. This resulted in an increased sense of presence for the user compared to other experiments I undertook, as it allowed users to observe the body image displayed as their own body in an immersive digital environment.


Playback Memory

After developing the base system for the Atemporal Memory project, I developed additional functions for the system, which allowed users to record their digital body and playback and forward the captured video loop through GPU programming. The intention here was to build a place where past body and present body can simultaneously coexist.



                                              Atemporal Memory, Installation Sketch     Atemporal Memory, Installation View


Thus, when users press the record button, the system records their present movement in the actual space, using point cloud data from the 3D depth cameras. Thus, the past volumetric body image and the present body-self exist in the virtual space simultaneously, once the recording has finished. This process also creates an out-of-body-experience by capturing the present body into the video loop. Thus, users can view their two bodies:  one being their left body in the past shadow and the other being their present body. Moreover, by being able to rewind and fast forward the video at different speeds, users can control the playback of the captured video, allowing them to see the passage of time in their past movement.



This thesis sought to examine the transition of temporal experience and the concept of time within the non-linear paradigm of computer time. Technological developments have impacted our experiences and consciousness, creating new temporal experiences and concepts of time. In the first chapters, I explored the concept of time and time perception through the theories of Albert Einstein, Steven Hawking, William James, Henri Bergson and Edmund Husserl to examine the distinction of past, present and future in human temporal experience. As I researched above, this distinction of time as past, present and future is grounded on the memory and consciousness that William James, Henri Bergson and Edmund Husserl studies observed. Furthermore, these distinctions are interconnected with the thermodynamic and cosmological arrows of time discussed in Hawking’s theories. Thus, the human temporal experience is a relatively subjective psychological phenomenon, in particular, the time perception that correlates with human memory. As McLuhan noted, the current electrical media technologies have extended human senses and the central nervous system through the transition of fundamental human temporal experience. The changes of temporality in modern society have been closely associated with the instantaneous speed that has compressed the linear time structure. Thus, eternal timeless time becomes the central temporality in this Information Age. Furthermore, the sense of being becomes the foremost consciousness in the experience of human and computer interaction. In the third chapter, I researched the Spatialized Time, examining examples of existing media art practice in order to understand the temporality in media. Consequently, I could characterize the representation of time in four different forms; Extended Time, Simultaneity, Real-Time and Liveness, and Delayed and Repetitive Time. Lastly, I examined the working process of my project and analyzed the different experiments I undertook to help develop the design approach for Atemporal Memory, in the pursuit to explore how virtual time influences our conceptions and perceptions of time and space.





Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, London: Routledge & K.Paul, 1964, p157, p159


Albert Einstein, Quote,


Albert Einstein, Relativity, London: Routledge, 2013


Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, Chapter 9, Arrow of time, p145


Stephen Hawking, The No-Boundary Proposal and The Arrow of Time, Vistas in Astronomy, Vol. 37, 1993, p561


William James, The Perception of Time, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol. 20, No. 4 (October, 1886), p 396


William James, Classics in the History of Psychology, 1890, p609, p 647

available at


Henri Bergson, Matter and memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer, 1913, p177


Edmund Husserl, edited. Martin Heidegger, trans. James S. Churchill The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1928, p51


Paul. Virilio, Tran. D. Moshenberg,. The Lost Dimension, Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents, 1991, p15


Manuel Castells, Power of Identity: The Information Age – Economy, Society, and Culture, Blackwell Publishers,

1997, p491


David R. Jefferson, Virtual Time, ACM, Volume 7 Issue 3, July 1985, p1


Roy Ascott, Michael Punt, Reframing Consciousness – Memory, Casablanca and Men in Black, Consciousness, Remembering, and Forgetting, 1999, p42


Marinetti Filippo, Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo, Le Figaro, 1909, p11

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981, p45
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Stelarc., Constructing Realities Lecture Series Spring 2018, Lecture from Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, London, 22 March 2018

Marvin Minsky, Telepresence, OMNI magazine, 1980, p120


Jack M. Loomis, Distal attribution and presence, Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments

Volume 1 | Issue 1 | Winter 1992 pp.113-119


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Sylviane Agacinski, trans. Jody Gladding, Time Passing-Modernity and Nostalgia, Columbia University Press, 2003, p15


Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, The MIT Press, 2001, p27


Steven Dixon, Digital Performance, The MIT Press, 2007, p516


Paul Virilio, Le phenomene Rybczynski, Cahiers du Cinema, 1989



Fig.1 Bergson’s cone of memory


Fig.2 Eadweard Muybridge Galloping Horse, Motion Study 1878, 19 June Collotype 9 3/16 x 12 ins   George Eastman Museum


Fig.3 Eadweard Muybridge, The ‘Operating Room’, 13.8 x 23.2 cm Royal Academy of Arts


Fig.4 Eadweard Muybridge The Zoopraxiscope: 1. Athlete, Horse-Back Somersault 1893 Book illustration University of Pennsylvania – University Archives and Records Center


Fig.5 Bill Viola, Tempest (Study for the Raft), 2005. Color high-definition video on flat panel display mounted on wall, 66 × 109 × 10.2 cm, 16:50 minutes. Photo: Kira Perov.


Fig.6 Slow Motion technique- Overcranking, Wikipedia, Created by Plowboylifestyle


Fig.7 Slow Motion technique- Time Stretching, Wikipedia, Created by Plowboylifestyle


Fig.8 Etienne-Jules Marey, untitled,1890


Fig.10 Erdal Inci, Clones Project- Camondo Stairs, Full HD, 5+1 ed., 2013,


Fig.11 Erdal Inci, Clones Project


Fig.12 Andrew Davidhazy, Untitled,


Fig.13 Zbigniew Rybczynski, Fourth Dimension, 1988,


Fig.14 Nam June Paik, “Good Morning, Mr. Orwell


Fig.15 Blast Theory’s ‘Can You See Me Now?, 2001,

Fig.16 Dan Graham ‘Present Continuous Past(s), Sketch Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris


Fig.17 Dan Graham ‘Present Continuous Past(s), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris


Fig.18 Christian Marclay, The Clock, single-channel video installation, Photograph: White Cube / Ben Westoby



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