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The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project 49: John Baldessari’s Time/Temperature


John Baldessari, Time/Temperature, 1972-73

Here we see hands — presumably John Baldessari’s, but who knows — handling a variety of little objects. First, they hold a blue-sanded hourglass and a red-mercury’d thermometer, the contents of the former slowly falling as that of the latter slowly rises. Second, the hold a pair of plastic circles emblazoned, in a midcentury reduced color scheme, with the faces of two starlets. The hands turn the circles one by one, revealing the lens flare-inducing mirrors on their reverse sides.

Third, a trio of wine glasses appear, two empties followed by a third half-full of clear liquid. One of the hands pours whatever’s in the third glass into the second, in which it inexplicably appears red. Then the hand pours the liquid into the first glass, in which it appears at first light purple, then clear again. What I’ve thus far ascertained about Baldessari’s personality from his work tells me that he would go in for artistically repurposed versions of these dime-store ricks, but I shamefully admit that I remain impressed by this one. How does it work? Maybe nobody knows. Finally, one of the hands plunges its fingers into cylinders of easel powder steadied by the other. The thumb goes into the yellow powder, then the next finger goes into the green powder, then the finger after that goes into the yellow powder, and so on. The hand winds up with alternating digits of green and gold, a color scheme some minor holiday must surely have claimed by now.

As with many entries in the Ubuweb Experimental Video Project, one question looms: what to make of this? Alas, as with almost as many entries in the Ubuweb Experimental Video Project, the piece’s accompanying text makes matters even less clear: “Like the camera, these are indexical instruments,” so the anonymous words claim, “but where the camera would ordinarily be taken for granted, these devices seem self-evident. ” That refers specifically to the video’s first set of objects, the hourglass and the thermometer, and nothing in the blurb acknowledges anything else that follows. Maybe the writer had a dinner to get that kept him from sticking around all six minutes?

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