A central theme in the exhibition The Quick and the Dead is the expansive idea of time. Represented by watches, a flip clock, a time capsule and various other forms, musings on the passage of time are found in several works in the show. Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movie 2/28/73 (1973) consists of white paint on white paper that slowly yellows over years of exposure to light. Rivane Neuenschwander’s digital clock titled 00:00 (2007) sits inconspicuously on the wall above a gallery entrance mechanically flipping to zero over and over again.
Stephen Kaltenbach uses a delightfully familiar symbol of a culture’s time passing in his piece Time Capsule (OPEN AFTER MY DEATH) from 1970. The directive of the work found in the title addresses another monumental subject tackled by this exhibition: our own inescapable ends.
These two fundamental notions–the nature of time and the inevitability of death–are key forces in the life and career of Dr. Ronald Mallett, a theoretical physicist who will speak at the Walker in July in conjunction with the exhibition.
You may have heard Mallett’s story featured on the radio show This American Life, or more recently, on a special Father’s Day edition of Good Morning America. Or perhaps you’ve heard word of Spike Lee’s interest in making a biopic on Mallett. Regardless, it’s the kind of life that inspires everyone—from filmmakers to science fiction fans.
When he was just ten years old, Mallett’s beloved father died of a heart attack. A year later he stumbled upon a comic book based on H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the famous science fiction tale of time travel originally published in 1895. Inspired by the seemingly magical ability to travel backwards in history, Mallett formed a secret plan that he hoped would one day allow him to reunite with his father. Decades later, as a tenured professor in the physics department at the University of Connecticut, he has developed his childhood dream into a working theory of time travel.
Using Einstein’s theory of relativity which states that energy equals mass, Mallett’s machine uses circulating lasers to create loops or warps in time.* It’s a bit much to explain here (especially for a museum educator with a high-school physics education such as myself; this article does a better job), but luckily you can get it straight from the source.
On Thursday, July 9 Dr. Mallet will take the stage to give a lecture on his theories, including a basic introduction to scientific thinking on time-space. He’ll also read from his memoir, Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality and will be available to sign books.
Join us for an evening steeped in the mysteries of the universe via science and art. Gallery admission is free on Thursday nights from 5 to 9 pm–come early to discover the shapes of time found in The Quick and the Dead.
*It would be disingenuous to end this post without mentioning that Mallet’s time travel experiments are currently limited to sub-atomic particles, although he believes that with enough funding and research, human time travel can happen in this century. Now if someone can just figure out a sure-fire method for human cryopreservation we’ll all be back to the future!