San Francisco

Peter Richards

80 Langton Street

Peter Richards constructed a 30-foot diameter, flat, wooden circle for Time x Candlelight, and installed 276 evenly spaced small candles on it. The circle filled the space and the audience sat outside of the circle in a ring of chairs. A wooden circle, four hanging buckets, and two suspended cones dramatically heightened audience anticipation. When the lights gradually went out and the piece began, Richards moved to the center of the circle, put a hanging cone in motion and lit a single candle. His efforts to coordinate the marking of time had begun.

Richards’ science background influenced the nature and arrangement of activities planned for this piece. For the occasion, 80 Langton Street bore a resemblance to The Exlporatorium, San Francisco’s innovative science museum where Richards works. The artist moved sequentially from cone to column to candle, setting each in a state of activity as would a museum visitor. With one important difference—all of Richards’ activities were interrelated by their common goal, the marking of time. This is an important phrase, the marking of time, and much thought has gone into its use here. Richards did not record time, because that implies that he wrote it down; he did not measure it, because that implies the presence of some comparative structure; he did not calculate it, since that implies both of the above, and more. He marked time with a variety of devices, beginning with a swinging cone which provided a trail of sand and a slight, continuous clicking sound as its legacy. Next, Richards put a device into motion which allowed water to drip from the ceiling into a floor container. The dripping noise occurred at different intervals from those of the clicking cone, setting up a pleasant but irregular rhythm. At this point, with simultaneous, comparative sounds, it became clear that the measure of time is relative. And since neither of these sounds was presented in relation to our customary hour/minute/second structure, they superceded clock time, making it seem imaginary—the cone and the drips became real and finite. While I was trying to digest this far-from-frivolous set of ideas, Richards was busy preparing a spectacular stunt with four burning ropes. The fire eventually caused the outer metal columns to fall from the ceiling into buckets with a great deal of noise and flying sparks.

But a supremely tedious activity then began; Richards, equipped with a blowtorch, proceeded counterclockwise around the inside of the circle, silently counting and lighting each of the 276 candles. His measured motions were recorded by his dusty, silvered footprints on the floor. By the time he was three-quarters of the way around the circle, the first candles had begun to go out, not in sequence. Since the candles provided the only light in a very dark gallery, the effect was of the passage of time from sunrise to sunset. Richards’ final act was to set in motion a mid-circle, hanging cone which trailed ellipses of sand onto a black cloth below, forming a double, connected pyramid as its residue built up. (Appropriately, pyramids are also known to be associated with the marking of time.)

Peter Richards work is something of an anomaly in an art performance setting. The strong science orientation is a welcome touch, and the concepts of time are presented in such a straightforward but illuminating way that they seem like new discoveries.

Mary Stofflet