Jim Newcombe contemplates time while reviewing Leffe’s film Slow Time at The White Rabbit in Shoreditch.
Philosophers have long meditated on the nature of time. Great poetry is underscored by the imperative carpe diem. The physicists now pose the possibility that the universe did not begin in time but that time itself resulted from that seminal supernova of matter in which all things originated. Even the lowliest flower is clock-conscious: every dandelion starts life as a sun before turning into a moon. Time tattoos the flesh with hieroglyphs which, if we learn to read them, spell “remember that you die”.
Modern psychologists now question the veracity of what Sigmund Freud termed ‘the death drive’, but for some it is demonstrably real. Given the inescapable onslaught, a forceful question presents itself: why am I here and for how long? Those who proclaim that youth is wasted on the young are, I feel, missing the point. Yet time is relative, and paradoxically can change speed, and this evening I have been invited to sit, savour, snap, sup and ruminate while watching a film sponsored and hosted by Leffe, the flavoursome and full-bodied Belgian Trappist beer, who gently encourage us to slow life’s pace in order to savour its essence.
The event is held at The White Rabbit at Dereham Place in Shoreditch, and the ambience here is tranquil and engaging. Against a lit mirrored wall is a banquet of appetizers consisting of salami and pickled gherkins, chunks of French bread sliced into gobbets to be dipped in a honey and thyme oil, and Mimolette, an expensive orange cheese traditionally produced in Lille at the behest of Louis XIV and procured from the milk of one breed of cow. These canapés are no mere diversion, for Leffe is a beer which is intended as a food accompaniment. The beer can well be enjoyed on its own, though with the Brune at 6.5% and the Blonde at 6.6% it is not for those with a delicate constitution. The Brune has a hint of apple and nut and roasted malt and the Blonde tastes smoothly of vanilla and cloves.
The film Slow Time has been commissioned of Gary Tarn, British film-maker and composer, who is here to speak about the film alongside a handful of the film’s subjects, for the film explores the practices of six artists and artisans, who in each case is exemplary of a kind of gradual, sensual and cerebral exposition of unique and personal time-bound methods of working.
The Quay Brothers, two of the world’s leading stop-frame animators, are identical American twins regarded as pioneers of their medium. Time could be said to slow down by the very nature of the animation technique, and, as can be seen from their thirty-second contribution animation to Slow Time, the meticulous intensity of the work is surgical in its exactitude and darkly arcane in its atmosphere.
Pete Lawrence is an astrophotographer and presenter of The Sky at Night. Astrophotography requires long exposures to the distant light of stars and heavenly bodies, so in a very literal way this process may be said to rediscover time. Studying stars means looking at them not as they are but as they were, time travelling within the vast delays. The Milky Way, like all constellations, is a gravitationally bound collection of stars. If a grain of salt were to represent the constellations of stars which we can see, he tells us, the grains of salt would overflow the Olympic Stadium.
Susan Derges is a British artist and photographer. Her most unique practice being the making of photographic prints without a camera, exposing paper immersed in the landscape, for instance beneath the surface of the river Dart, to let refracted light create a shadow print of the forms and motions of nature. Her intention is to reveal life’s emergence through time distilled, as frogspawn daily photographed is a means of fixing the flux of cyclical time.
Adriennne E. Treeby, a charcuterie chef at Crown & Queue Meats, shows how we can taste cured meat recipes from a hundred years ago, tasting history as it tasted to our ancestors. The meat is stuffed and hung for the accrual of “good bacteria,” the sugars that create a classic tang from lactic acid as it matures in controlled humidity after careful preparation. She wisely associates time lost with value lost, a notion from which many parallels can be drawn.
William Wigan, whose work I have seen before, is a British sculptor who works on a microscale. As a child he constructed houses for ants, and his mother’s advice was “the smaller you make it, the bigger you’ll be,” advice which he spends his life listening to, for Wigan’s is a painstakingly precise process, working between his own heartbeats and the exhalations of his own breath as he manipulates infinitesimal sculptures (smaller then a full stop in a newspaper) through the lens of a microscope.
Before, during and after the film I am encouraged to help myself to another goblet of beer. Leffe itself is some eight centuries’ old, so again we are implicitly being asked to relish the centuries of appreciated craftsmanship that goes into its making with its combination of malt, water, hops and signature yeast. On returning from work and in order to feel exalted, I used to drink a wine-sized bottle of Leffe in the evenings before going to a now closed, intimate and characterful pub in Chiswick called Pickwick’s, as a refusal to vegetate before the telly and sink into a torpor with the sinking sun (which I perceived as a foretaste of death). So it was, in other words, a conscious effort on my own part to thwart time, for I always feel much more alive when going out and engaging, rather than staying home and posting selfies on public platforms, or whatever people do these days. There is no adventure in comfort, and the great carnival of life cannot be experienced by staying at home. Which is why I may never be a prolific writer: I am not lazy enough to sit still; or so I facetiously say. In truth, I know very well that great art takes time, and the mental orgasm I get from great poetry outlasts any other.
Slow Time is short at eleven minutes, which in itself is a trick of time for it contains much substance for contemplation. No doubt it will give me pause to contemplate my own maturation through time, for the film is preoccupied with a theme which all feeling and intelligent people are concerned with. It doesn’t mention the outcome, the inevitable terminus, of time, and it is mentioned here due to the fact that this particular writer has, always had, an almost medieval sense of mortality. But then extinction is a natural part of evolution: we die to make way for our children. Quantum mechanics will more than likely find that undiscovered realities are coterminous and that all time is eternally present.
Against our present age of accelerated gratifications and vacuous self-adulation, the short film Slow Time serves as a wholesome tonic and a homage to the process of patient art and committed craftsmanship. It reminds me of William Blake’s enigmatic proverb: “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” I am sometimes tempted to leave the cityscape for a seascape, since the whole tempo of life is more elemental when living literally on the edge. Wherever you live, sooner or later silence, solitude and mortality will break across you like a wave: a confrontation with this trinity will ultimately decide who you really are.
I am starting to feel sufficiently exalted again and it is time to take my leave, to make my way home along a long road potholed with pubs. As a farewell I am warmly embraced by one of the hospitable girls in events I had been speaking to and handed a gift box containing a complimentary bottle, a Leffe chalice and Leffe-infused charcuterie in hog-skin casing. When I peeped inside the box I did not see if the bottle was Blonde or Brune. Does it matter? I never could decide between blondes or brunettes: though discerning, I am happy to engage with either, fully and over time.