Time {𝜏} and Eternal Life

Cromwell Place

5 October – 20 December 2020.

Time {𝜏} and Eternal Life, at Cromwell Place, 5 October – 20 December 2020.

The exhibition, promoted by The Sir Denis Mahon Foundation and Flat Time House, in collaboration with Bowman Sculpture,  Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Lisson Gallery, Robilant + Voena and  Royal Museums Turin, spans over five millennia, exploring the concept of Time and of Eternal life from Antiquity to the Modern Era. This immense period is divided into three chapters, each a chronological step forward.

The concept of “Time” in the exhibition is expressed by the Tau {𝜏}  symbol which is present in the title.  The Tau sums up several meanings related to the concept of time. In Christianity, as a symbol of the cross, it is redemptive; in physics, Tau is an elementary particle; in astronomy it is a measure of optical depth; while in the theory of relativity, it symbolizes Time itself. The exhibition aims to give voice to some concepts related to the theory of eternity and the concept of time in art.

The first chapter spans from Ancient Egypt to sixteenth-century Italy, with many works generously lent by the Galleria Sabauda and the Musei Reali in Turin. An Old Kingdom statuary group (4th Dynasty, 2640-2520 BC) is the exhibition’s earliest representation of art and eternal life. In the detailed carving of precious limestone, the family unit is committed to memory. Thousands of years later, a bust of Julius Caesar portrays a different kind of immortality, more realistic and precisely human than the idealised Egyptian figures. The first room continues this theme of palpable representations of permanence with a further collection of stone and ceramic artefacts lent from an important Italian collection, exhibited in the UK for the first time.

The second chapter focuses on two remarkable artists from the twentieth-century, Alberto Burri (1915-1995) and John Latham (1921-2006), and their engagements with time and landscape. In 1968 an earthquake struck the Belice Valley in Sicily and left the town of Gibellina in ruins. Twenty years later, Alberto Burri unveiled his immense work of land art, Il Grande Cretto. He covered an entire hillside in undulating monolithic slabs of concrete, preserving the memory of the landscape in all its fragmentation. The major loan of a Cretto Bianco from the Burri Foundation offers this second room a physical index of the spectacular Gibellina work of Land Art.

Around the same time in Scotland, John Latham was also transforming landscape into artwork. To the Scottish Development Agency, a collection of ‘bings’ were no more than an eyesore, huge industrial mounds of shale waste in rural Scotland, a residue from nineteenth-century extraction. To John Latham, these landmasses would become the foundation for a new strand of work. Whilst on a placement at the Scottish Office, he advocated for the preservation of these mountains, made by thousands of hands over generations, designating them ‘Derelict Land Art’. He proposed monumental sculptures of books to sit atop their summits for visitors to observe these peaks from above, a record of the passing of Time through decades of deposition.

Time is intrinsic to Latham’s work; he developed his own cosmology, a theory of Time known as ‘Event Structure’ and later ‘Flat Time’, proposing that the most irreducible component of reality is not the particle but the ‘least event’. He believed that Time was all, that objects exist only as traces of events.

The third chapter explores variations of the eternal which are represented in contemporary art. At one end is the playful intricacy of Gaetano Muratore’s Time Machine: a colourful panoply of electronic and metallic devices that come together in an ironic reflection on the myth of the time machine. At the other end is the work of Emily Young, considered “Britain’s greatest living stone sculptor”. Her huge, chiselled heads bring the contemporary back to the antique. Humanity is lodged in the ancient, immoveable surface of stone.

A fully illustrated catalogue documents the exhibition with many scholarly essays and complete entries of the works. The catalogue is designed and edited by The Burlington Magazine, and published  by Ugo Bozzi Editore.

Due to Covid, most lectures and events related to the exhibition have taken place virtually. The Imperial College talks have been filmed from home.

We are indebted to Dr. Toby Wiseman for his fascinating lecture, “Space and Time : A Modern Perspective” and we are very grateful to Dr. Matt Genge for his lecture, “Deep Time : The History of Eternity”.

We are grateful to our host, Cromwell Place. The new art space in South Kensington, Cromwell Place, was inaugurated at the same time as our exhibition, Time {𝜏} and Eternal Life. In the spirit of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, we and Cromwell Place very much hope to capture the public imagination and interest in Science and Art.

Dr. Matthew Genge is a senior lecturer at Imperial College London and is a planetary scientist and geologist. His speciality is in the study of extra-terrestrial dust and its interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere. He also studies volcanoes, meteorites, impact craters and other planets, such as Mars. In his career, he has worked with NASA on cosmic dust and has been involved with space missions such as NASA Stardust, which collected dust from comet Wild-2.

Dr. Toby Wiseman is a Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London. His research specialises in fundamental aspects of gravity and black holes. He is particularly interested in understanding space-time and gravitation at the smallest and largest scales, and how string theory combines Einstein’s theory of gravity with quantum mechanics. He is involved in public outreach work at Imperial, and has appeared in the media discussing the science of black holes and gravity.

See Images of the Installation in Gallery 1, Gallery 1B, and Gallery 11

See Images of the Private View at Cromwell Place and of the promotional event


  • The Inaugural Video of Cromwell Place

  • The Sir Denis Mahon Foundation's Promotional Video

  • Reimagining How Foundations Exhibit - Apollo Panel at Cromwell Place

  • Dr. Toby Wiseman's video:
    Space and Time : A Modern Perspective

  • Dr. Matthew Genge's video:
    Deep Time  The History of Eternity