File Note 56: Never The Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts): Selected by Simon Starling - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Simon Starling



Never The Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts) Images References Biography Credit

Never The Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts)

Quick Realities
It was reported on the first of April this year that a man wearing “a bow tie and rather too much tweed for his age”¹
 was arrested in Switzerland as he attempted to sabotage operations at the Large Haldron Collider ². The arrested man, who insisted he was from the future, was reportedly spotted rooting around in the bins where he claimed to be looking for fuel to power his “time machine”. While this elegantly orchestrated piece of April foolery, a hoax as insightful institutional critique, clearly came from outside the physics establishment, there are respected voices from within who claim that the troubled collider might genuinely be being sabotaged by the future. It has been suggested that the Higgs Boson, (the hypothetical particle that physicists hope to create in the collider), might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backwards through time and stop the collider before it could produce the sought- after particle; like a time traveller journeying backwards through time to kill his own grandfather.

What Buckminster Fuller hailed as the “quick realities” ³ of contemporary physics, that have, until now, become most traumatically manifest in the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, seem to generate an ever-growing sense of temporal uncertainty. From its humble beginnings (in a subterranean former-rackets court on the campus of Chicago University), the Manhattan Project culminated catastrophically in the bombs dropped on Japan: the first an explosion and the second, a baffling implosion, like some tormented cartoon character quite literally turning itself inside-out, generating temperatures unknown on earth – about ten billion degrees within less than a millionth of a second. The events that occurred in that unimaginably brief moment caused a fundamental rupture in our relationship with time but perhaps most significantly in our understanding of the future which “became something to
be anticipated precisely and feared.” 

Such anxiety-inducing traumas are just one aspect of an ongoing sense of temporal instability. The sense that our increasingly unanchored, fluid lives are at odds with the artificial construct of a linear chronology, of course pre-dates the atom bomb and is perhaps as old as the construct of time itself. Indeed as Borges writes in The Garden of Forking Paths; “In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent and convergent and parallel times” . The banks of Heraclitus’ river of time , to which the title of the exhibition eludes, have, as W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz so elegantly attests, been continually breached and redefined. Even empirical science, that for a few centuries seemed to hold back the fold-waters of our temporal uncertainty, now, if the Haldron Collider is any indicator, appears to be swelling its source.

The Meeting
Comprised of works that themselves push and pull at an understanding of linear time – often restaging or reiterating ideas, images or forms from the past or projecting them into the future – Never The Same River conflates works already exhibited at Camden Arts Centre throughout its history into a single exhibition while, in an attempt to break the strangle-hold of history, simultaneously juxtaposing them with moments from a possible future programme. By restaging the display of works from different periods of the galleries’ history in the exact position they occupied the first time they were exhibited, Never The Same River aims to create a kind of temporal polyphony or even at times, cacophony, orchestrating a series of collisions between, until now, spatially and historically remote works, all of which worry at the borders of our understanding of time – the probable past and possible future of Camden Arts Centre momentarily coming together in an unstable present. 

Never The Same River attempts to map an artistic preoccupation with a renewed understanding of that “growing, dizzying net of divergent and convergent and parallel times”. While this was in part inspired by the works that I encountered both on numerous visits to Camden Arts Centre over the last 20 years and when back-tracking through the Centre’s archives in the somewhat temporally dislocated 1960s reading rooms of the Holborn Library, its genesis might be found most specifically in the events surrounding the installation of a work I made in 2000, rather melodramatically titled, Burn-Time. Like an increasing number of my works, it had its origins in a rejected public proposal, in this case for the German city of Bremen. It consisted of a, by then, well-used hen house built in Scotland to the plans of a Neoclassical prison-turned-museum dedicated to work of the Bremen-born Bauhaus-trained designer Wilhelm Wagenfeld, as well as a number of similarly well-used egg-coddlers (Wagenfeld, 1933) and a roughly-built stove fashioned from bricks extracted from one of the Centre’s walls. During the exhibition, work began on plans to refurbish the Centre and the architects, not knowing that it was a temporary addition, included my brick stove in their drawings of Gallery 3. This misplaced addition to the architectural plans is particularly serendipitous in view of the fact that the architect of the original library building that is now Camden Arts Centre, Arnold S. Tayler A.R.I.B.A., is a blood-relative. This meeting across time with my great-great-uncle, planted the seed of Never The Same River and I suspect inspired the invitation for me to select it.

Space Time
While each work has been assembled from remote moments in the history of the exhibition space, each work also has its own speed, its own internal sense of temporal trajectory and thus an encounter with the space of the exhibition involves an encounter with what might best be imagined as an impossibly interlocking series of moving walkways all running at different speeds and on different trajectories. As we move from work to work, from one era to another, we are pushed and pulled through time, sometimes gradually and sometimes at breathtaking velocity, sometimes through the briefest moments in time and at others, through vast chunks of the stuff.

A man is filmed crossing a bridge into the future – again – his actions marking frame by frame a false start to the cinematic future of the 20th Century (Matthew Buckingham). An 8th of a second of 1976 and an 8th of a second of 1977 fuse in a single photographic exposure, a joyous midnight moment turned indecisive – then and now (Douglas Huebler). Close-by, a chicken and egg drama unfolds in a photograph restaging the events depicted in a painting which was in turn based on a photograph made by that same photographer (Christian Boltanski/Jacques Monory). A 20th Century sculptor (Henry Moore) reinvents a long-dead category of English sculpture with recourse to pre-Columbian and ancient-Egyptian precedents sent into the future by the craftsmen of those civilisations – their ancient, pebble-like forms in turn tossed back onto the beach via the bronze foundry by another sculptor (Des Hughes). Two modest canvases testify to an artistic dilemma – their maker, who once cast himself as a corpse laid-out in a pyramidal tomb, finds himself caught between the desire to sustain tradition (Timeless) and the instinct to subvert (Timely) (Paul Thek). An early 20th Century purveyor of ‘séance-fiction’ pre-empts the Blitz – her painterly premonitions, once excluded from their present, deemed fit only for the future by their maker (Hilma af Klint). A magic lantern summons voices from the grave (Susan Hiller), the here and now of its interlocking circles of coloured light seeming to both echo and contradict the faded painted circles tracked on a Galician seawall – remnants of a broken-hearted hermit’s life whose fable-like story triggers musings on the fallacies of prediction (Michael Stevenson).

If it is true that the future is always set in the present and is always misremembered , then what of that crab caught in the glare of a flash as it retreats beneath a redeployed car body-press – this improvised anchor a submerged remnant of Irish entrepreneurship turned Hollywood time machine, Delorean’s failed dream (Sean Lynch)? Some works seem to have been generated at almost glacially slow speeds, the medium of the moment, newsprint, petrified (Tony Carter). A sloth hangs in museological stasis (Francis Upritchard) while nearby a bullish chaise longue fires it’s reclining passenger into the future (Marcel Breuer) and a broken sapling is immortalised in bronze (Keith Coventry). We tread on temporarily unstable ground – step by dizzying step.

Space and time are constantly confused and become interchangeable terms. A black and white film ripples out from the once-shabby corner of one of the Centre’s galleries, mapping the institution and its surrounding infrastructure until the camera settles on a newsstand heralding Man’s first steps on the moon, the map growing suddenly bigger as members of the public speculate and fantasise about a future in space (David Lamelas). An absurdist crossing of the Mexican/US border via a circumnavigation of the globe is at once in defiance of a political stasis and an attempt to operate outside the norms of contemporary life – a detour par excellence (Francis Alÿs). A hooded falcon (Stefan Gec), its tiny bell fashioned from brass salvaged from a defunct Russian submarine, is recorded flying around the vaulted space once occupied by the aforementioned brick stove and now dominated by, in what is perhaps the exhibition’s most disorientating moment of déjà-vu, a restaged, backstage view of an artist in residence – all self-parody and projection – existing at “the thinnest of interfaces between the past and the future”  (Mike Nelson). The falcon’s looping flight seeming to cut right through this phantom studio – redoubling the sense that the whole elaborate apparatus is only a mirage. Another studio floor – a deeply stratified, sedimentary conflation of paint, photographs, newspaper clippings and torn-out book illustrations – creates the unstable bedrock from which contemporary images appear. A painted scream, the open mouth a “shadowy abyss”, voices the “diabolical powers of the future”  (Francis Bacon). 

An Afterword
In its making, Never The Same River has asked all sorts of questions about the relationship between artworks and their documentation, between photography and memory and between the objects that haunt the Centre’s history and the ideas that evolve around them. Artists’ and curators’ memories are of course fallible or coloured by concerns of the present and aspirations for the future. Works shift in significance, are reappraised, remade or simply decay. Some exhibitions are just never recorded – the ‘installation view’, as the archives attest, is a relatively recent invention – a work’s relationship to the others around it or to the space it occupied lost forever. Never The Same River is thus by nature a collage of hard fact, rigorous research, hazy memory, word-of-mouth rumour and speculation that amounts to a kind of collective memory of a possible future and a probable past.

Inventory of Works

Francis Alÿs
The Loop (Tijuana – San Diego) 1997
Ephemera of an action / * Richard Wentworth’s Thinking Aloud 1998 / Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York

Francis Bacon
Figure Study II 1945 – 46. Oil on canvas / * Narrative Painting in Britain in the 20th century 1970 / Kirklees Collection: Presented to Batley Art Gallery by the Contemporary Art Society, 1952

Christian Boltanski
Essai de Reconstitution d’un tableau de Jacques Monory 1971. Black and white photograph
and text / * Photography into Art 1973 / Courtesy Paule and Jacques Monory

Matthew Buckingham
False Future 2007. Continuous colour 16mm film installation with sound, cloth, steel cable, chairs / * Matthew Buckingham: Play the Story 2007 /Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy New York

Harry Burton
Tutankhamun’s tomb during excavation: model oars in situ along the north wall of the burial chamber 1923. Black and white photograph
Tutankhamun’s tomb during excavation: Bow Box 80 with the lid removed 1923. Black and white photograph / * Richard Wentworth’s Thinking Aloud 1998 / Courtesy Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

Tony Carter
Elysium (for newsprint distortions) 1976 – 78. Oil paint on synthetic filler on news-print, wood mount / * Tolly Cobbold – Eastern Arts National Touring Exhibition 1977–78 / Courtesy the artist

Keith Coventry
Burgess Park SE5, Planted 1983, Destroyed 1988 1994. Bronze / * Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring: Selected by Steven Claydon 2008 / Tate: Purchased 2006

Andrea Fisher
Displacement I (Hiroshima) 1993. Black and white photograph, glass, fabric
Displacement III (Hiroshima) 1993. Black and white photograph, glass, emulsion paint / * Andrea Fisher: Recent Works 1993 / Courtesy Gimpel Fils, London and Andreas Ginkell

Stefan Gec
Lure 1995. Mixed-media installation / * Stefan Gec: Mews 1995 / Courtesy the artist

Ernö Goldfinger
Chrome plated, steel tube chair with pressed ply back and seat 1931. * Hampstead in the Thirties 1974 / National Trust, 2 Willow Road, Hampstead, London

Graham Gussin
Fall (7200–1) 1998. Hard-drive, computer, cd, cd player, projection / * Graham Gussin: Fall (7200–1) 1997 / Courtesy the artist

Susan Hiller
Magic Lantern 1987. Audio-visual installation: slide projection and synchronised soundtrack / * Dream Machines: Selected by Susan Hiller, 2000 / Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

Douglas Huebler
Duration Piece no. 31 Boston 1974. Photograph and text / * Douglas Huebler 2002 / Collection FRAC Limousin

Des Hughes
Norfolk Flint (with Boring) 2007. Bronze
Norfolk Flint (with Prominance) 2007. Bronze / * Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring: Selected by Steven Claydon 2008 Courtesy Ancient & Modern, London

ISOKON / Marcel Breuer
Set of Three Nesting Tables 1937
Hat Box date unknown
Long Chair 1936
* Hampstead in the Thirties 1975 / Courtesy Private Owner 

Patrick Keiller
Drawing from Robinson in Space 1994. Acetate drawing laid-over map / * Richard Wentworth’s Thinking Aloud 1998 / Courtesy the artist and Julie Norris

Hilma af Klint
A Map (The Blitz WWII) 1932. Watercolour on paper
A Map (The fights in the Mediterranean WWII) 1932. Watercolour on paper / * Hilma af Klint 2006 / Courtesy The Hilma af Klint Foundation

David Lamelas
A Study of Relationships Between Inner and Outer Space 1969. 16mm black and white film with sound; 11 black and white photographs, two type-written pages / * Environments Reversal 1969 / Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Berlin London

Liberty & Co
High-backed chair in the Egyptian style c.1884. Stained beech with inset leather seat / * The Aesthetic Movement 1973 / Courtesy William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest.

Sean Lynch
DeLorean Progress Report 2010. Colour photographs, DMC-12 bonnet panels, handmade from stainless steel / * Possible Future / Courtesy the artist

Mary Martin
Maquette for This is Tomorrow 1956 / Hardboard and painted wood / * Kenneth Martin and Mary Martin: Constructed Works 2007 / Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Jeremy Millar
The Man Who Looked Back 2010. Photographic reproductions, card, hessian-covered wooden display panels, oak display frames / * Possible Future / Courtesy the artist

Jacques Monory
Pompei 1971. Oil on canvas / * Photography into Art 1973 / Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Saint-Paul, France

Henry Moore
Half-figure 1932. Bronze / * The Roland Collection 1976 / Courtesy The Henry Moore Foundation: Gift of Irina Moore 1977 

Mike Nelson
Studio Apparatus for Camden Arts Centre – An Introductory Structure: Introduction; a lexicon of phenomena and information association; futurobjectics (in three sections); mysterious island*, or Temporary Monument 1998 / 2010. Mixed-media installation / * Mike Nelson 1998 / Courtesy Matt’s Gallery, London

John Riddy
London (Willow Road 2) 1998. Gelatin silver print / * John Riddy 2000 / Courtesy Frith Street Gallery 

Michael Stevenson
On How Things Behave 2010. HD and 16mm transferred to DVD, with voiceover / * Possible Future / Courtesy the artist and Vilma Gold, London

Katja Strunz
Untitled 2009. Collage / * Katja Strunz: Sound of the Pregeometric Age 2009 / Courtesy Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, NY

Paul Thek
Timely, Timeless 1988. Acrylic on canvas board (2 parts) / * Paul Thek: Paintings & Notebooks 1999–2000 / Falckenberg Collection Hamburg

Francis Upritchard
Sloth Creature 2005. Fake Fur, recycled leather, modelling material, found vases, wire, ink, rings, glass and wood cabinet / * The Way We Work Now 2005 / Courtesy the artist, Karl Fritsch and Kate MacGarry, London


* Details of original exhibition at Camden Art Centre


1. Nick Hilde

2. A 27km-long particle accelerator that runs across the Franco- Swiss border near Geneva, designed to investigate the forces and particles that reigned during the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.

3. Peter Eleey Thursday, in The Quick and The Dead, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2009

4. Ibid

5. Jorge Luis Borges The Garden of Forking Paths published in Fictions, Grove Press, 1962

6. Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535 BCE – c.475 BCE)

7. Norman Klein, from a lecture delivered at Prototype Craft in the Future Tense symposium at University of Dundee, April 2010

8. Jaki Irvine Mike Nelson, Extinction Beckons, Matt’s Gallery, London, 2000 

9. Giles Deleuze The Logic of Sensation, Continuum, London, 2003

Jorge Luis Borges The New Refutation of Time and The Garden of Forking Paths both published in Fictions, Grove Press (1962)

Matthew Buckingham Messages from the Unseen Lunds Konsthall (2006)

Gilles Deleuze Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation Continuum (2005)

Susan Hiller Dream Machines (Exhibition Catalogue) Hayward Gallery Publishing (2000)

George Kubler The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, Yale University Press (2008)

Michael Stevenson Art of the Eighties and Seventies Revolver (2006)

David Lamelas A New Refutation of Time Kunstverein München, Munich and Richter Verlag, Dusseldorf (1997)

Stanislaw Lem The Time-Travel Story and Related Matters of Science-Fiction Structuring both published in Microworlds First Harvest / HBJ (1986)

Chris Marker A Free Replay (Notes on Vertigo) Originally published in Positif 400 (June 1994)

Jeremy Millar and Michiel Schwarz Speed: Visions of an Accelerated Age, The Photographers’ Gallery (1998)

Jaki Irvine Mike Nelson, Extinction Beckons  Matt’s Gallery, London (2000) 

“If Newton really thought that time was a river like the Thames, then where is its source and into what sea does it flow? Every river, as we know, must have banks on both sides, so where seen in these terms, where are the banks of time? ... could we not claim, said Austerlitz, that time itself has been non-concurrent over the centuries and the millennia? It is not so long ago, after all, that it began spreading out over everything. And is not human life in many parts of the earth governed to this day less by time than by the weather, and thus by an unquantifiable dimension which disregards linear regularity, does not progress constantly forward but moves in eddies, is marked by episodes of congestion and irruption, recurs in ever-changing form, and evolves in no one knows what direction?” W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz


Simon Starling was born in England (1967) and now lives between Copenhagen and Berlin. After completing a residency at Camden Arts Centre in 1999, he returned in 2000 to present a solo exhibition in Gallery 3. In 2006 he won the Turner Prize and has been included in numerous important survey exhibitions, including: Altermodern, Tate Triennial, Tate, UK (2009); Making Worlds, 53rd Venice Biennale, Italy (2009); Biennale de Lyon, France (2007); Busan Biennial, South Korea (2006). Recent solo shows include: Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima); The Mirror Room, The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow, Scotland (2010); THEREHERETHENTHERE (Works 1997–2009), MAC/VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine, France (2009); The Nanjing Particles, MASS MoCA, North Adams, USA (2008); Particle Projection (Loop), Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art, Brussels, Belgium (2007). In 2011, Starling will have solo exhibitions at Tate St. Ives, UK and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, Japan.


Simon Starling.

The exhibition is supported by The Henry Moore Foundation, Culture Ireland, Computer Aid International and The Block. Media Partner Spoonfed Media Ltd. Mike Nelson’s installation has been made possible by the Outset Residency Fund and is supported by Central Books.

Simon Starling would like to acknowledge the importance of Daniel Birnbaum’s essay Chronology (Sternberg Press, 2007), Peter Eleey’s exhibition and catalogue The Quick and the Dead (Walker Art Center, 2009), Michael Asher’s exhibition at Santa Monica Museum of Art (2008) and Situation Aesthetics: The Work of Michael Asher (MIT Press, 2000) to the formulation of Never The Same River. He would also like to thank: Rasmus Nielsen for his input and support; all the artists (both living and dead) for their generosity and cooperation in making this difficult installation possible; and Gina Buenfeld, Exhibitions Co-ordinator and the team at Camden Art Centre for their extraordinary commitment to the cause.