We have now completed the artist labs in Juliet Robson’s studio and garden in Oxfordshire. A beautiful late Spring/Summer day allowed us to consider time as a situated, living experience of this beautiful place. Taking the garden and studio as record of time and seasons changing.

Four records of time have now emerged from this work.

The Story of the Watches Part III
We continued our work with the buried watches, determined to find the wooden watch that we had buried under the Magnolia Tree in the Autumn. We started with digging up this one first in our excitement to find it, revisiting our photo documentation from the first session. It was still nowhere to be seen, despite our systematic approach to digging around the area. In the end we had to admit defeat and and relinquish the watch to the worms, the soil and the roots of the tree. The watch and it’s zinc plate with the time and date of it’s burial had mysteriously vanished.

Next we returned to the metal watch. It was exactly where we left if at the beginning of Spring. More rusty and filled with droplets of condensation, we finally removed it covered in mud. We dug it up at 3.32pm. It had stopped 10.20 some day in the few months since we last dug it up and then re-buried it.

We moved onto the plastic watch by the decking. Again, it was exactly where we left it. It was also dead, although it flickered to life when the button was pressed, it’s final last breath. It was dug up at 4.13pm, there was no way to see what time it had stopped. A couple of snails were living on it and we returned them to the place we found them.

We put the two remaining watches in a bag and I brought them back to London, with the idea that we could put them on display alongside the photographs as part of the ‘When the Future Comes…’ event.

Our plans were scuppered when last Friday I had a break in and one of the few things that were stolen was our beautifully rusty, mud encrusted and warped metal watch (they left the plastic one of course).

Time lost, time regained and time stolen. 

They will find out in monetary value it’s worthless however to us it’s been gathering marks of time spent in the earth since last winter and giving us sources of inspiration. We don’t know how old or what its journey was before it found us and I wonder what its journey will be now. Maybe someone will wear it and carry on marking time with it, maybe it will lie in a drawer, maybe it will be thrown away and end up quietly ticking unseen and eventually run out of time. 

The Water Clock
In the last session we started to make a water clock, the glueing process was very fiddly and so we left it to be finished in this session. We quickly managed to apply better glue and left it to dry overnight. In the morning we tested it. What a beautiful thing it was despite the ugliness of the plastic bottles and straws, the waste products piling up in our oceans that many are promising now to avoid.

juliet glueing the water clock

The Sun Dial
We had spent some time also researching sun dials and how the ancient Greeks used a combination of sun dials and water clocks to tell the time over day and night. Juliet also talked about the ways the light moved across her garden as she watched from the terrace and the movement and contrast of the shadows.

Instead of making another object to sit with the water clock Juliet proposed we followed the sunlight around the garden throughout the day by tracing around the shadows in chalk pastels. This was quite a big undertaking.

We managed three drawings:
12.30 Drawing one in white chalk
3.15 Drawing two in grey chalk
5.15 Drawing three in blue chalk

We followed the shadows on the decking leading to the studio and then followed them into the studio and up the walls. The act of drawing became a dance around the shadows, the difficulty and labour of bending over and down, following the movement, avoiding your own shadow. At times Juliet drew the shadow in the air with her finger for me to draw on the floor, at times the shadows moved faster than we could trace them, each of us starting at one end of the shadow and meeting in the middle. Decisions had to be made, how much detail, what colours do we use, how precise should we be.

Eventually the decking became a coded place, a wriggling mess of lines, circles and leaf shapes, a pattern of time passing, a record of our labour, marking our human perspectives of this time and place.

The Ice in the Pond
Our last session, in early Spring took place just after the first of the two big snow storms that we had unexpectedly late this year. The ice was still melting in the pond as the Spring flowers emerged. We filmed the pond as the ice shifted and melted, resonating with the research from the Antarctica and the discussions from the British Antarctic Workshop. The colours, light and sense of seasons changing had a beauty and stillness to it, even as the melting ice shifted, cracked and popped in the icy cold water.

We have been thinking about a place as a measurement of time, human presence and sense of home. Looking towards future work that tracks changes in Juliet’s garden, tracing the shadows across the garden for a day, a week maybe. Burying more things, tracking the water ebb and flow and watching as the seasons change across a year. Then taking this notion of time and place to other places that we love and want to protect. Does this recording of time passing create something sacred? Or by enacting this ritual are we simply able to celebrate that which is sacred to us?

This work has brought up ideas about our feelings and love of home (oikos), our land, our island, roots and place. For Juliet this is her home and her point of navigation to the world. For me a point in time of rootlessness, also coming from a background of being a third generation secular British Jew. Land, navigation, home and place often seems complicated. This was a way to stop and celebrate our place in the world for a day or three and enjoy the abundance of wherever we are in it.

Written by Rachel Jacobs and Juliet Robson