Time’s a funny thing, especially at the moment. How do days go so fast when they’re all the same? Is it really more than two months since the UK went into lockdown? And how long is my flipping Deliveroo order taking? Now a new online group show featuring some huge international art names, including Olafur Eliasson, Mona Hatoum, Cerith Wyn Evans and Christian Marclay, is setting out to explore time and its place in our world.

The central premise of White Cube’s ‘About Time’ is that time is something we all experience but all experience in different ways. One man’s gripping, over-too-soon art show about time is another man’s tedious snoozefest, that sort of thing. Its works range from common measuring devices – clocks, calendars – to pieces that examine the more abstract aspects of this most abstract of dimensions. 

So Darren Almond’s ‘Perfect Time (3 x 2)’ takes the classic flip clock – beloved of Continental railway stations and Hackney homeware stores – and fucks around with it, setting the numbers out of sync, so that although time is clearly advancing, it is doing so in a series of unrecognisable symbols, which may or may not have meaning for you. 

Olafur Eliasson, ‘The Morning Small Cloud’


Olafur Eliasson, ‘The Morning Small Cloud’. © Olafur Eliasson/White Cube


Mona Hatoum and Josiah McElheny both use mirrors to consider the reflexive nature of time. Hatoum’s ‘You Are Still Here’ has the words of the title engraved on a simple reflecting surface: if you look at the work, you see it, yourself, the message and a connection between the three. Stop looking at it, and the temporal bubble is broken. McElheny’s ‘Crystal Landscape Painting (Sentinels)’, meanwhile, presents the viewer with a kind of art deco china cabinet full of abstract reflective objects that appear to recede away into infinity. 

Other artists here document the things we encounter through life that remind us of the nature of time. Christian Marclay’s ‘Look’, ‘Cotton Buds’ and ‘Lids and Straws (One Minute)’ all feature stop-motion animations that compile sequences of simple everyday objects seen on London streets. Marclay, who has probably made the twenty-first century’s most famous time-based artwork, the 24-hour ‘The Clock’, here suggests that even the most basic bit of discarded rubbish can become chronological signposts.

Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Morning Small Cloud’ is a series of photographs capturing the appearance of a wispy bit of meteorological matter with some lumpy hills in the background. It (deliberately) feels like a non-event: time presses on occurrences big and small alike.

This is really the perfect lockdown show. Lose an afternoon in its suggestive paradoxes, or just dip in while you wait for your chicken dhansak to show up. 

‘About Time’ is online until Jul 16. Free.

Do a virtual tour of lots of major London museums and galleries.

Go back in time for this story about London dinosaurs.

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