Web Extra  Thursday, October 24

Beach walk through time

Last weekend on a beach near Sausalito, Calif., several hundred people took a walk from the beginning of time to the present. In a performance piece called the Sands of Time, artist Chris Hardman and his company the Antenna Theater led an audience from the Big Bang to the present, in an effort to show them that the year is really not A.D. 2002, or 5763 in the Jewish calendar, or 1423 in the Islamic one. It's actually about 13.2 billion (or 13.2B 2002 as the theater company refers to it) plus a few thousand years, according to the most recent research in the astronomical literature.

"I think the human race could learn a lot by understanding that both in space and time, we are not the major players in the Universe," Hardman says. "We're not the owners; we're just the visitors here … in a very long process." He has been on a mission since the first performance of this piece in 1998 to teach people to see time from the Big Bang, and not from what he calls a culturally constructed conceptualization of time, such as the religion-based time stamp of the year A.D. 2002.

Rodeo Beach, photo courtesy of Antenna Theater.

Hardman has been perfecting the Sands of Time since the late 1990s, when he created it in preparation for the turning of the last millennium. During the performance of the show last Friday and Saturday nights, audience members walked across Rodeo Beach, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Under an almost full moon, they traversed a triangle across the beach while listening to a soundtrack from portable audio players hanging around their necks.

A series of raked paths akin to a Zen garden are lined by periodic artworks illustrating the arbitrariness of the Gregorian calendar. For example, one display shows a flood lit blanket with Elvis' image and a sleeve from one of his albums as Hardman says on the tape: "You know, it doesn't have to be the Christian era. It could be the Elvis era."

Through the Dark Ages, listening to Hardman's ideas about representations of time and how it is much longer than we think, participants walked to the far end of the beach to the zero point - the Big Bang. On the tape, Hardman interviews Timothy Ferris of the University of California at Berkeley. Ferris, author of "The Whole Shebang," and "Coming of Age in the Milky Way," is heard describing what scientists know about the formation of the universe and of our own galaxy.

Every 100 feet, the audience passed a large obelisk-shaped iron tower. Each of these billion-year markers was topped with Roman numerals, and when audience members reached the 13th one, Hardman took over the narrative again.

"Pick up a grain of sand," his voice intoned into the audience's ears. "In relationship to the entire beach you've walked down, that is 2,000 years."

Roman numeral towers, photo courtesy of Antenna Theater.

Geologists and students are part of the audience Hardman wants to attract, as they already know about "long time." But, he says, they need to start thinking about time moving forward from a zero point rather than counting backwards. Hardman says he will continue to tweak the Sands of Time piece, in particular changing the zero point as astronomers get closer and closer to an accurate age of the universe.

Last weekend's installation was washed away by a high tide at approximately 11 p.m., Oct. 19, about 13.2B 2002.

Naomi Lubick
Geotimes contributing writer


"Setting New Constraints on the Age of the Universe," by Ignacio Ferreras et al. in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2001) 327(4):L47 Preprint pdf

Antenna Theater's All Time project

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