MIT Keller Gallery
Opening February 6, 2014, 6:00-8:00 PM
Space-Time captures one third of one millionth of a second in a twelve-hour re-enactment of Harold Edgerton’s historic laboratory experiment at MIT, conducted in 1964, in which he successfully photographed a supersonic bullet travelling at Mach 2.39 through a Macintosh apple. The re-enactment pursued historical fidelity in everything but its title—Edgerton called it Bullet Through Apple. The title change is meant to shift attention to the reception of Edgerton’s work within architectural discourse as an early scientific visualization of Space-Time, a modernist concept articulated by Sigfried Giedion, and other prominent architectural theorists in the late 1930s, who were interested in the effects of high-speed motion through space on the human perception of time. They were influenced by Einstein who theorized that, paradoxically, the faster one’s relative speed through space the slower one’s relative experience of time. That is perhaps why Edgerton’s retrospective monograph of high-speed photographs was titled Stopping Time.
Movement can be a physical or a conceptual act. Physically we can change our location in space, mentally we can project ourselves in time. Preservation is an attempt, if not to stop time, then at least to slow down our experience of it by stabilizing the appearance of things over time. But the logic of Space-Time suggests that we may have been going about preservation in entirely the wrong way. Counterintuitive as it might seem, preservation might achieve its goals better by projecting conceptual movements rather than stabilizing physical forms. The re-enactment is an invitation to consider Space-Time as an enabling concept of your movement between two images taken fifty years apart.
The concept of Space-Time fell out of fashion with early modernism. Arguably the concept was born too early. It failed in part because it was brought into architectural discourse prematurely, when preservation was in its infancy and could not recognize its value and radical potential. Space-Time, like other untimely innovations (think of Paul Nipkow’s 1884 patent for television), belonged conceptually to the future.
*Historical artifacts provided by MIT Museum and MIT Edgerton Center; Firearms expertise and operation by Mike Conti; Film Processing and Printing by LTI Lightside; Scene set and lit, and latent image captured by Nathan Carlson Friedman, Kyle Hounsell, Theresa Mislick, James W. Bales, and Jorge Otero-Pailos.