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Daniel Arsham, Hourglass
A still from the last in a trio of the Hourglass filmsDaniel Arsham

Daniel Arsham on the science and technology that inspires his work

We catch up with the artist as he releases the last in his film trio, Hourglass

“The present is like a knife’s edge,” ponders Daniel Arsham in the first part of Hourglass, his trilogy of short films – and shoes – created in collaboration with adidas Originals. “It doesn’t really exist, it’s so fleeting. In that way, I guess time doesn’t have a shape, and sometimes, my memories don’t feel like memories – they feel like predictions.” While Arsham’s interdisciplinary work carries a recurring sense of playfulness, the subtle humour and sharp coolness of his practice never fails to be underpinned by a search for some deeper, unresolved – and possibly unsolvable – existential questions. One such enigma, the New York-based artist admits, is time itself. “A lot of my own sculptural practice revolves around archaeology, and attempting the projection of a fictional archaeology of the future,” he tells Dazed.

“I spend a lot of time thinking of ways in which I can dislocate people from the particular moment in time they’re existing in” – Daniel Arsham

“I spend a lot of time thinking of ways in which I can dislocate people from the particular moment in time they’re existing in.” The flow of time, as seen by Arsham, is both unified and fractured, flat and 3-dimensional, real and abstract – an inalterably two-faced concept symbolised by the hourglass, a leitmotif often reappearing across the visual artist’s multi-media practice. “The in-between state of growth and decay through time is something I’ve explored a lot in this film, and in my work at large,” asserts Arsham. “The hourglass is a nice symbol of that. It defines time, it gives it a tactile dimension, it counts time, but as soon as you turn it over, you restart time, in a sense – I love that idea.”

At its core, Arsham’s cinematic project is an attempt to reflect on the unity and paradox of time, untangling the inextricable yet non-linear links between past, present, and future – a theme the Cleveland-born artist has been actively exploring for several years. “I’m interested in these ancient objects such as hourglasses or armillaries, which have lost their practical relevance in our world, but were almost futuristic in their design,” Arsham explains. “Armillaries, for instance, were traditionally used to understand the movement of celestial bodies. In the past, in my own work, I made some armillaries containing a cast basketball at their centre, imagining a fictionalised planet. I like the idea of building this metaphorical bridge, thinking about something from the past and bringing it into the future – this is what inspired this project with adidas: many silhouettes from their archives were quite futuristic, almost predicting developments such as 4D technology.”

We may see time as constantly slipping through our fingers, but Arsham’s aim is to remind us of its concrete, almost tactile facet. “I often think about how we define a particular moment in time, and it’s always through some tangible element or a lived experience, rather than the months of the year or the time on the clock,” the artist concludes. “When I want to remember the time period of my childhood and teenage years, I think of what kind of sneakers had just come out, or what activities me and my friends were doing at that particular moment. The things we experienced, or the objects we held create this essential tactile dimension to the remembrance of time – which I always like to delve into.”