Does time work with us or against us? Should we be living in the here and now? Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery aims to challenge our ideals of past, present, and future in its latest exhibition The Time is Now

Millennium stays true to its roots as The Time is Now maps Sheffield’s evolving infrastructure and community across the last two decades. The lifelike oil paintings of ‘Nathaniel’, a nine-year-old child, and ‘Ivy’, a 94-year-old woman, depict the diversity of people working at and visiting the Moor Market. Taken from Andrew Hunt’s larger collection Portraits from the Market (2018), these two faces reveal how our local histories remain grounded in how our personal histories are connected to the changing human body.. Berris Conolly’s striking photography takes us on a seasonal journey of Leppings Lane, Corporation Street, and Lady’s Bridge from 1989 to 2011. Whilst definitely one of the exhibition’s more traditional installations, Conolly tells a beautifully transparent story on how time affects urban spaces. 

The most aesthetically impressive piece of the exhibition, Katie Paterson’s Totality (2016) superimposes over 10,000 images of eclipsed suns onto the face of a rotating mirror ball. Its mesmerizing effect pulls most visitors straight towards this dreamlike corner of the gallery upon their arrival. Paterson’s work considers the staggering infinity of outer space, providing a truly immersive experience through its revolving shards of light. For some spectators, the deeper meaning behind this shimmering mirror ball is rendered lost or non-existent, with a couple of onlookers murmuring “it’s very pretty…but I don’t get it”. This might just be the answer Paterson wanted from her eyebrow-raising audience. 

In a different vein, Matthew Weir’s Self Portrait (dead) (2012) offers a darkly comic twist on traditional portraiture. Originally showcased amongst the 16th to 18th century works at Graves Gallery, Weir pokes fun at the unnerving reality of a portrait outliving its subject through his stark depiction of a skeleton sporting a shrivelled top hat. Despite its visual subtlety, the cutting social commentary of this piece makes it one of the exhibition’s strongest installations. 

This Could be a Place of Historical Importance by Braco Dimitrijević (1972) also makes a bold statement about how we decide which sites are historically significant enough to become memorialised. A gold-tinted marble plaque lies at the entrance to the exhibition, a reminder of the potential for any physical spot to represent a personal history. Dimitrijević’s and Weir’s pieces work particularly well together, undermining cultural assumptions about the hierarchical relationships between art and time. 

Even visitors to the gallery can contribute their own personal reflections on the question “what does time mean to you?”. This is perhaps the most revealing part of the exhibition; the pinned-up scraps of paper display an incredible array of responses varying from existential angst (“waiting and waiting and waiting”) to the lyrics of High School Musical. One particular respondent perfectly captures the impossible task of pinning down time to any sensible conclusion: “Time is a squirrel”.

The Time is Now is on until 19 January 2020.

Featured image: Katie Paterson, Totality, 2016. Photo © Flora Bartlett 2016. Installation view Somerset House. Courtesy of the Arts Council Collection

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