Wednesday 28 June 2017

Time Machines exhibition: Palace Green Library, Durham.

Hello time travellers!

Well, you are time travellers, kind of. You're certainly not reading this over my shoulder, in real-time, as I type (I just turned round to check).

You're reading this in the future. Well it's my future, which is your present. And now ... that last sentence is in the past for both of us. And all of this baffling time-switching is exactly why I usually avoid time travel talk; getting my head around the nitty-gritty technicalities is my Kryptonite.

And yet I was drawn to the Time Machines exhibition at Palace Green Library, Durham (ends 3rd September 2017) because its subtitle is: "The past, the future, and how stories take us there"; because stories ... stories I can do ...
Disclaimer: As usual (because no one ever pays me to do these things!) this is in no way a sponsored post. I (and by "I" I mean James) paid for the tickets to the exhibition from my/his own pocket.

Exhibition location:

If, like me, the only thing you really know, or can remember, about Durham is the location of the Cathedral then, you're in luck! Because Palace Green Library is - funnily enough - on 'Palace Green', the area in front of Cathedral's front door. And if you can't find the Cathedral in Durham ... you're really not trying hard enough!

Here's the library which, at the risk of sounding cretinous, is rather delightfully Hogwartian:
Once inside you can browse the Time Machines exhibition (which has a £7.50 entry fee) across two main rooms plus a linking room where you can sit and read some of the time-travel themed books they have on hand. It even contains an unexpected, but hugely welcome, discussion of racial and gender diversity in time-travel which impressed me no end. Plus you can also make your own contribution to the exhibition using sticky-notes ... but more on all of that in a minute!

If you're up for it you're welcome to buckle yourself into the time machine and I'll take you back in time to my visit to the exhibition ... or maybe it's just a leap forward to a time when you find yourself visiting there yourself ... either way, let's go ...

Exhibition contents:

The exhibition begins in a space decorated with intriguing suspended clock-faces with an audio soundtrack of ticking and themed music setting the atmosphere:
Here you'll find a display of old timepieces alongside texts about time, some of which date back to the 1490s. The 1490s! They're incredible specimens, exquisitely made, and preserved, and are useful in illustration the way religions and philosophers have tried to interpret and understand time across the last 500 years. 

It's from here that we get to pass though our first wibbly-wobbly timey wimey portal ... hold on to your hats ...
You OK? Make it in one piece? Can you still feel all your extremities? Well stop it. We haven't got time for that! 

I like this photo I grabbed of James passing through the portal because - even though it's entirely our of focus - no - because it's entirely out of focus, it looks like Scotty's beaming him up:
Yes, yes, feel free to *insert your own 'Kirk' related joke here*.

Now we find ourselves in the main body of the exhibition which houses various time-travel themed texts, including H.G Wells's original manuscript for The Time Machine.
Now, I'm no great sci-fi / fantasy reader, but James is so I was mainly expecting to enjoy the exhibits on his behalf. However, the curators have clearly put in an effort to appeal to a wider audience.
There are discussions about the general paradoxes of time travel, but please don't ask me to explain them ... it hurts my head; along with time-related experiences that I could relate to like precognition and de ja vu:
Along with time-related experiences that I could relate to like precognition and de ja vu. 

(Did you see what I did there? ... Ah, I'm such a wag.) Anyway ...

There are also some fun interactive elements to keep visitors engaged including an old phone you can pick up, and dial, to hear book excerpts read aloud:
Plus there's also an app you can download which provides you with additional audio and video. We didn't read about that element until we'd finished looking around, but if we were to visit again I'd definitely give it a go. 

After browsing all the displays in that area it's time to head through another portal:
And this time we're heading back ... waaaaaay back ... to the start of the universe ...
In a darkened room with a cosmological theme you'll find an intriguing wrap-around film and sound experience. Here we experiencing the dawn of time:
And here's a book that tried to explain it all ... the book which contained Einstein's Theory of Relativity:
And if all that high-mindedness has has overly taxed you ... how about we go and let off some steam with the help of a Post-It?

Audience participation:

Around three walls of the next exhibition space runs a timeline pointing out key dates in fictional and non-fictional history; as well as questions such as 'Who would you like to go back in time to meet?' or 'What would you go back in time to see?'. And you're welcome to add your own contribution using the sticky-notes provided:
And, seriously, I could have photographed hundreds of those little notes! It was such a rich seam of both comedy -intentional and unintentional. (Like the kid who wanted to go back in time to see turtles. We reckoned his parents just don't fancy a zoo trip and would rather keep him ignorant!)

Along the timeline some people took this as an excuse to speculate on - and give the definitive answer to - the idea of time-travel in general ... 
(Text reads: "If backwards time travel were invented ... where are they?" "I'm one"). They walk amongst us!  

As do Bill and Ted fans: 
... and competitive Whovians: 
And ... as we move along the timeline and into predictions for the future we discover ... 

... a jaded Game of Thrones viewer:
... and even more jaded house-sellers:
(Text reads: "We will, at last, have found a buyer for our house and will not be doomed to die in Thanet. Although it is sunny there".)

... and - is it just me or - do you get the feeling Jane wrote this herself in an act of wishful thinking?
And finally, I don't want to upset anyone but, someone has predicted ... dun dun dun ...
Surely not? Say it aint so!

But, before we get too disheartened, the final room of the exhibition really is something to be happy about.

Diversity in time travel: 

Once upon a time, at any other given point in history, (embracing the puns) an exhibition such as this - hosting iconic, well known, lauded texts on a given subject - would usually be populated purely by works by dead white men. 

And, quite naturally, such pieces do feature here with works from H.G Wells, Plato, Dickens, Einstein etc. But, it's by no means another case of  'pale, male and stale' culture-hogging here as there's been a clear effort to include works by women and people of colour.

Because now, in 2017, it really is time that representation matters to cultural curators, and fortunately here, it does.  The final room of the exhibition asks 'who owns the future':
In this room you'll find works by black and women writers on display and a serious look at the role of time-travelling storytelling within the feminist and racial equality movements. This is accompanied by and a fabulous short video installation about how black creatives (writers, graphic artists, musicians such as Beyonce) have incorporated time travel and futurism in their works in order to look to a brave new world.  My favourite line from the film - the one which made me want to cheer and punch the air when it splashed across the screen - read: "The masters of the present are not always the masters of the future".  

I think I need to see that on a T-shirt, like, yesterday. (Which should be possible now we know there is such a thing as time travel. There is. It's true. I read it on a Post-It.).

But, seriously, those are the kind of conversations I'm looking for in my cultural consumption these days. I'm interested in hearing about, and seeing work from, a diverse range of perspectives across gender and race and - if curators, directors, producers, editors etc can't find a way to include people other than straight white men in the topics they've chosen to explore, or the stories they've chosen to tell, well ... then they should be looking for a different story.

The Time Machines exhibition could easily have been another collection that limited itself to documenting the activities of 'important' white men, but it didn't. It made the effort to tell a new tale ... and it's all the more interesting for doing so.

BTW: the mirrors in this final room are simply begging you to Instagram them! And I won't let them down on that front, although ... it is a pity that in this particular one, the phrase 'The clock is ticking' stretches right across my groin area ... jeez ... alright, alright, keep your opinions to yourself please! ;-)

Further details:

If our virtual TARDIS-spin of a tour around the Time Machines exhibition has sparked your imagination then here's where you can find out more:

Note: if the £7.50 the entry fee feels a little steep, then you might like to know that the cost does include 2 return visits before the end of the exhibition. I would advise, that to make the most of your time there, download the app (we didn't!), use the interactive phone, sit and linger with some time travel books, write a sticky note (and feel free to tag me in it if you share a photo of it on social media), watch the film ... and take Instagram-worthy shots in the mirrors.

So tell me time-hopping friends ... what do you think?

  • Now you've had a general overview of the experience do you fancy visiting the exhibition in 'real life'? 
  • Have you already been? Or have you just enjoyed me dragging you around the exhibition from the comfort of your sofa?
  • Where/who would YOU want to visit from the past
  • What do you predict for the future?
  • Have you recently visited an exhibition which made an effort to be inclusive (without being tokenistic)?
  • And ... do time travel storylines baffle you too? I think the last one I tried to get my head around was the Ethan Hawke movie 'Predestination' ... I just can't get that looping of time thing, like the events which happen that change the future - or is it the past - and which bits have to have happened in which order to make the next things happen. Nope, I give up. I'm putting on a romcom instead. ;-) 
As always we can continue this conversation via any of my online homes:

And I'll see you here or there, soon, or later on, or maybe even in the past ... I don't know ... I might need to read up on those time-travel paradoxes again ...



  1. what an amazing exhibition! thanks for sharing (as I fear I won't be able to make it without the use of a time machine of my own) . Great photos - and I want that t-shirt too!

  2. Oh my, that "winter finally arrives" made me laugh for about 5 minutes. Thank you for sharing this. Your posts always make me think I need to get out and get more culture...but since I'm thousands of miles from Durham, I'll have to settle for something more close to home! =)

  3. Where do you find all of these awesome things to go and check out?!! I'm thinking that you must live in a much bigger place [city, etc.] than I do as there is absolutely nothing here like this but I loved reading every word of your account and seeing the pictures as well.

    Especially loved a few of those post-it notes! : ) I've never read time travel stories, nor had I been interested in them but seriously - after reading your post, I might give it a try if I find one that looks interesting to me.

    I so envy you and all of your awesome excursions you and your hubby go on! Thanks so much for sharing it with us [some of us have to live vicariously through others. lol]

    1. This made me smile Debi - no, we don't live in a big city, or a small city for that matter. I don't even know which is the nearest city to us! We're in a little town with no galleries or museums in walking distance ... there's a few a short drive away ... and then - the majority of the bigger galleries etc that I post about are at least an hour's drive away.

      As to where I find out about events ... I follow all my favourite places on social media and also visit their websites occasionally to see what's coming. :-)


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