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Art Through Time: A Global View

History and Memory Art: Racing Clocks Run Slow: Archaeology of a Racetrack

» Shimon Attie (American, b. 1957)

Racing Clocks Run Slow: Archaeology of a Racetrack

Racing Clocks Run Slow: Archaeology of a Racetrack
Artist / Origin: Shimon Attie (American, b. 1957)
Region: North America
Date: 2007
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: (Still from) Three-channel high-definition video installation
Medium: Video, Installation, and Performance
Credit: Image courtesy of the artist

Throughout his career, Shimon Attie has used a variety of photographic and video media to engage the present in a dialogue with the past.

In The Writing on the Wall, onto the walls of a Berlin neighborhood he projected images of Jewish residents who had lived there before the Holocaust. In another project, he created a video installation featuring members of the Welsh town of Aberfan, which had lost a large number of its small population, including a school full of children, during a devastating mining accident in the 1960s. Attie’s work was intended as a way of helping the community escape the hold of this tragic past and move forward. His treatment of these poignant historical events is elegiac and emotional.

Racing Clocks Run Slow concerns a less tragic subject, but Attie still approaches it with sensitivity and respect for the history of an institution that remains quite meaningful to its community many years after its closing.

The Bridgehampton Auto Racetrack on Long Island, which shut its doors in 1994, had a national profile in the world of racing and was beloved by the many people who worked and spent time there. Racing Clocks Run Slow was commissioned for the fiftieth anniversary of the track’s opening by the owner of land it once occupied. Attie found seventy people with a connection to the racetrack and filmed them in re-creations of their former roles. His subjects included drivers, members of pit crews, flaggers, and even spectators. Attie had each person involved in the project pose as still as possible on an unseen moving platform. He filmed them against a black background under dramatic lighting.

Like other of his works, Racing Clocks Run Slow is part documentary and part dream-like evocation. The sound component of the artwork consists of archival sound recordings of speeding cars at the track from the 1960s. The subjects of Attie’s work are not actors, but rather actual people with relationships to the track, some of whom hold props that are authentic items recovered from the period of its activity. Attie brings these historical people and pieces together in a way that hints both at their place in the past and the timelessness of their memory. The title of the work refers to the idea from physics that time seems to slow down for objects moving at very high speeds.

Expert Perspective:
Shimon Attie, Artist

“The track was closed in 1994 and in its heyday everybody raced there—Paul Newman, Mario Andretti had his worldwide debut there, Dan Gurney, all the big names. But there is a community of several hundred people still around whose lives intersected at that track.

I filmed former race car drivers, spectators, flaggers, racing officials, press, paparazzi, the track announcer, pit crew, mechanics—the works. I filmed them in a kind of ‘de-contextualized ballet’ (heavy quotation marks), loosely based on that law in physics which states that for very fast-moving objects, objects approaching the speed of light, time slows down. That’s why the piece is called Racing Clocks Run Slow. So I filmed these individuals together with their former racing possessions and with ruins from the former track.

Racing Clocks Run Slow is a three-channel, high-definition video installation which we situate—when the piece is installed, it’s installed as what I call a beveled environment almost like a diorama—three screens that are at forty-five degree angles to each other. And the piece has surround sound—360 degrees of sound that’s moving and crisscrossing the space in very dramatic—just as it would be at a race track. For the piece, we actually used archival audio recordings that were made at the track.

When I was approached to do this project, I said to the individual who invited me, Bob Rubin, who used to own the track, I said to Bob, ‘Well, I am not into racing and I’m not into race cars,’ and these are sort of the two mortal sins to say in such a context. But I said, ‘However, if you allow me to reinterpret the elements such as speed, velocity, distance, time according to my own artistic sensibility, I would indeed be interested.’

These people are no longer racing there, they are not cheering in the bleachers there anymore. I’m actually asking them, in a sense, to perform their memories of the track, that’s what they are doing in the piece—of course, with a lot of artistic interpretation and liberty thrown in there as well. In fact, we wrote a very simple poem at the beginning of the piece, to kind of set the stage, which goes like this: ‘Racing clocks run slow / their memories of speed hold still / they play themselves not others / and recall a circuit.’”

Additional Resources

Saltzman, Lisa. Making Memory Matter: Strategies of Remembrance in Contemporary Art. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006.

“Shimon Gallery.” In Artists. Jack Shainman Gallery Web site.

“Time After Time.” Artist’s Statement. NY Arts Magazine, September–October 2008. Web site.

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