Eternal Return: Six Representations of Cycles of Time
19th January 2000 - 5th January 2001
'New Constellation (prototype)'
Aluminium, nylon, motor, lamp
Photo: Richard Littlewood
Eternal Return is an exhibition about sculpture and images of cyclical time. Over the course of the year 2000, six consecutive displays of single works present forms that represent particular aspects of cycles of time.
Each work comes from a different historical period and region, ranging from ancient Rome to 17th century Scotland; from 19th century Paris to Britain in 1999. The pieces are represented out of chronological periods deliberately, in order to show how each moves from one part or aspect of a cycle to another. The exhibition can be understood both by regular visitors, who may encounter all six of its elements, and by occasional visitors who may view one work in isolation.
The works appear in the following order:
19 January-13 March 2000
Stephen Pippin, New Constellation (prototype) 1999, aluminium, nylon, motor, lamp.
15 March-12 May 2000
Anonymous, Asclepius-Hygieia diptych c. 400-430 A.D., ivory.
15 May-5 July 2000
Auguste Rodin, Celle qui fut la belle heaulmiére (She who was once the helmet-maker’s beautiful wife) cast 1889, bronze.
7 July-1 September 2000
Maquettes for the Sam Wilson Chimneypiece c.1908-14.
4 September-3 November 2000
Anonymous, The Woodhouselee Sundial early 17th century.
6 November 2000-5 January 2001
Anonymous, Last Judgement c. 1420-1460, alabaster.
This project results from an invitation from the international congress of art historians, CIHA (Comité de l’Histoire de l’Art) to respond to the theme of their upcoming conference, Time: Art History for the Millennium, to be held in London from 3-8 September 2000.
The exhibition began with Stephen Pippin's 'New Constellation', a work that offers a contemporary starting point for our cyclical beliefs and cosmological system now, in the present. Pippin reworks our scientific map of cyclical time, the solar system, with his substitution of a television for the earth, and for the moon, a seated man who watches television.
This celestial model is followed by images that relate to the sun and the moon in the Asclepius-Hygieia diptych c. 400-430 A.D. Originally hinged together and painted, the ivory panels served as a lavish invitation to a gathering associated with sun and moon cults related to health, growth and strength in ancient Rome.
The subject of the daily cycle and physical renewal then moves to the human life-cycle and the last stages of life. Rodin’s 'Celle qui fut la belle heaulmiére' ('She who was once the helmet-maker's beautiful wife'), cast 1889, an aged, naked female body in bronze - is presented alongside the 15th century Villon poem associated with one of its earliest titles to emphasize the link between her past youth and present state.
This representation of old body and past youth reappears in the next display, the Maquettes for the Sam Wilson Chimneypiece c. 1908-1914. The chimneypiece was originally housed in Rutland Lodge, Leeds, and is now in the Leeds City Art Gallery. Groups of caryatid figures from parts of the chimneypiece feature female nudes, death’s heads, and Eros figures to represent pure and innocent love, erotic love, and death and the passing of time.
These maquettes are followed by another piece of decorative furniture: a sculpture with a direct physical relationship to the cosmological elements of sun and moon. The highly decorative, free-standing polyhedral sundial from Woodhouselee, early 17th century, was once used to locate the position of the sun and the zodiac. Sundials of this kind were status symbols that demarcated the owner’s geographical and economic territory from the 17th to 19th centuries.
The last work in the exhibition, an alabaster panel depicting the Last Judgement c. 1420-1460, represents one stage of the end of earthly time and the beginning of a new eternal era of spiritual time. The panel shows one of the signs of the Apocalypse, the End of the World. At this stage, humans were to come out of hiding in a state of shock; they are represented here completely alienated, unable to communicate with each other. After all the successive stages of the End of the World, good souls were to be rewarded with places in heaven and bad souls were to be punished for all eternity with places in Hell: thus this ending was to bring about a new beginning.