Life Maps (Tristram Shandy)



What should a map of the internal experience of time look like? Should it be an orderly chase over a metaphysical racetrack? Or something less mappable, measurable and comparable? These are the questions behind Life Map (Tristram Shandy) I-IV, above.

The four works are titled for The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767), the novel by Laurence Sterne. This fictional autobiography was published just at the moment that the image of history as a straight line becomes dominant. And the book makes a mockery of the accompanying idea that an individual life can be mapped and measured against a ‘cosmic line-rule’ — or, in our contemporary equivalent, poured into a linear sequence of containers labelled ‘Life Events’.

Instead, the narrative of Tristram Shandy is a self-proclaimed knot that can’t simply be untangled. And this is true of the book’s physical qualities too, at least in its original form. Most significantly the first imprint of Tristram Shandy included a hand-marbled page, meaning that every copy was different from the next. Shandy calls that page the ‘motley emblem of my work’. For me, it presents an alternative kind of time map.

When I look at the marbled papers in Life Map (Tristram Shandy), I see volcano plumes, river deltas, mountain ranges. Another time I see, fossil slices, microorganisms, Mandelbrot maps, snow storms, bubble gum, Pollock splatters, Kusama rooms, screen static, black holes… In this form of time map, if that’s what it is, there is no key, no scale, no dominant reading. This seems a far better picture of my internal experience of time than a line of containers that can be harvested like the output of a machine.

Materials & dimensions
* Unique hand-marbled paper framed in red perspex and mirror tape
* 30 × 30 × 3 cm

The marbled papers used to make Life Map (Tristram Shandy) are produced by experts using 18th-century processes to take a print from the surface of a moving sheet of water prepared with oil and watercolour. Each is an image of an unrepeatable moment in time.

Each work’s translucent red frame appears to emit a soft glow under ordinary room lighting. The frame’s inner side is mirrored. This produces a Rorschach-test effect at the print’s edges, adds to its unstable watery quality and leaves the dimensions it inhabits a little ambiguous.

Exhibition History
* Chronovisor: Archive, with Johann Arens, Verity Birt, Rowena Harris, Patrick Hough and Mirko Smerdel, South Kiosk, London, 2014
* Tenderpixel at Art Rotterdam, with Erika Hock, Fay Nicolson and Ilona Sagar, 2015

Images (from top left)
* Life Map (Tristram Shandy) I, II, III & IV, 2014