Mark Manders

Why Do We Have Time to Think About Our Bodies?

MM: "Time keeps dragging me away from the sound I love.

I guess you can say without fear of contradiction that animals have a different perception of time than humans. Time as we know it arose with the birth of thought, and of course this new perception of time only really took hold at the point when language emerged. Thinking takes time. When the first anthropoid stood erect and picked up a stone to throw at an enemy, man took his first cautious step out of the here and now. The idea that, after its brief flight through the air, the stone could knock out the enemy can be seen as the moment when awareness of the future was born. In throwing the stone, man was in a sense catapulting himself out of the realm of birds, animals, and plants. Unlike when sleeping, mating, eating or building a nest, a crucial split occurred inside the thrower’s head a fraction of a second before the stone was thrown. One part controlled the body and was anchored in the present, just as it had always been, but the other small part unfurled out of the present to a moment just beyond the present, to a possible future event in the world—the stone striking the enemy’s head.

This must have started with a single individual, and if you pursue the idea further, the repetition of the throw, which was triggered by the success of the first one, opened the door to thinking as we know it—it staked out the beginnings of a big new area of memory. We acquired a consciousness in which, for example, there was time to think about our bodies, and this led to the separation of body and mind, which to some is actually painful.Something really did change inside this proverbial anthropoid’s head. Thinking cannot extend the moment of consciousness, so part of our consciousness was now preoccupied with thinking, with other matters that are not really anchored in the present. So man’s consciousness of the present was split up into three areas rather than one: it was henceforth in competition with the future and the past, with ideas conveyed in language.

This evolutionary process was continually spurred on by the expansion of language, and it created a new perception of time which was embedded in actual time. This thinking is fertile soil for melancholy, as well as for melancholic wonderment. We can now wonder at the ingeniousness of plants—the way they raise up their leaves to catch refreshing drops of rain and guide them down to their roots, and the fact that they have decided not to move around but to live in the same place all the time, which means they do not need to be able to see. Plus the fact that they have arranged for their fruits to be dispersed by animals or the wind. Plants have organized their existence so ingeniously that they do not even have to wake up.

Things that cannot wake up can never be jealous, either. We have created a huge area of desires that we can communicate, and as a result we can evolve at lightning speed, above all by making things. Ultimately, computers are ingenious in much the same way as plants are. They cannot really reproduce, of course, and no computer has ever woken up, but there is so much that they can do. As an artist I want to make something that is just as beautiful as a plant, or a computer. In my case it is a fictitious person in the form of a large building.

Visual art—except for the last few years—has constantly been preoccupied with the static. The static image is poetically related to our perception and our thinking, which take place in time. We want all these images to be anchored in a large, simultaneous, static present (or this is what we have more or less agreed on among ourselves), despite our awareness of their chronological evolution.

In that sense, of course, photography is an interesting, lucid new medium, which has recently been used as a metaphor by some who actually dispute our chronological perception of time: to them, each moment is its own universe and everything is simultaneous, so that even the green coffee cup remains intact after it has been smashed to pieces. It strikes me as an absurd theory. Just put a scratch on an LP and you will know for sure that something has changed in the world."

Mark Manders, 2004