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Touch Me Festival: It's about time!

Touch Me Festival is an international triennial transdisciplinary project dedicated to the progressive integration of art, science and technology, and has existed since 2003. In 2014, in its fourth edition, Touch Me Festival: It's about time! deals with the theme of time through innovative concepts of contemporary scientific and artistic research. Fascination with time is common to the artistic and to the science-and-technology community and is one of the places of their most thorough permeation, while the dynamics of scientific advances combined with the power of the artistic vision deconstructs social and cultural paradigms and generates new, unconventional, hybrid perspectives that look at time critically, innovatively and provocatively.


In 1751 the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus proposed in his book Philosophia Botanica a very uncommon way of measuring time – with a flower garden. Given plants open and close their flowers at precisely set times, according to which he composed a clock with twelve floral sections. He described three groups of flowers: a) meteoric flowers, those that change their time of opening and closing depending on weather conditions; b) tropical flowers, flowers that change their time of opening and closing depending on the length of day; c) equinoctial flowers, which have a fixed time to open and close their petals. Only the last are suitable for a floral clock. For example, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) opens at 5, the Savoy hawkweed (Hieracium sabaudum) opens at 7 and closes between 13 and 14 hours; the pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) closes at 15 hours. Although it is dubious just how accurate this kind of clock would be because of the different factors that affect the opening of the flowers, like height above sea level, climate and so on, and the fact that his garden-clock is not exactly practical to carry about with you, Linnaeus’ horologium florae is aesthetically a luxuriant and romantic idea for the measurement of time.

In contrast to this biological, living plant clock, the most accurate in the world are the atomic clocks NIST-F1 and NIST-F2 which are connected with the frequency of resonance of the atom. According to them, a second is defined as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of an atom of caesium. A North American kind of cicada, the Magicicada septemdecim, stays underground for 17 years, then emerges, mates, after which it soon dies. And this too is a way of recording the time, if we are not too much concerned with trivial units of measurement like months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, not to mention other measurements like the Planck time unit (10-44 of a second), which is a measurement for the speed of light – the shortest time that can ever be measured or the attosecond (10-18 of a second) the shortest time that has been able to be measured so far. And the cicadas, like us, will never experience a yottasecond (which measures 31.7 quadrillion years) or the cosmological decade (which is ten times longer than the previous cosmological decade, measured from 10 seconds after the Big Bang). Such units of measurement for time can be conceptualised by such scientists as astrophysicists and astronomers. They, for example, refer to the only time during which life on earth was possible as a “lucky moment.” This moment, of some four and a half billion years, is the happy circumstance that permitted the existence of both us and our sun.

Among the opening of flowers, the oscillations of atoms and cicadas there are many other signs for the measurement of time, like the sun, moon, stars, other animals, our hearts, mechanical and digital clocks and watches. But all clocks and calendars are actually ways of measuring time, or more precisely, the measurement of temporal intervals, because we cannot measure pure time. Calendars, clocks, timelines and other ways of measuring time relate to time as the “arrow of time” – a one-way experience of time in which an event is irreversible. Theoretical physics claims that parallel worlds are possible and that “our universe may be one of many and the three dimensional world merely a mirage,” as documentary film The illusion of time, claims. For it is possible that there is no difference between past, present and futures in the cosmological tissue. Einstein discovered that the perception of time slows down on motion through space, and also that gravitation affects the perception of time. In our earthly framework it is hard to feel it, but theoretical physics claims that if a man were to approach a black hole, and if he spent about two hours close to it, on Earth a time of 50 years would have passed. This discovery opened a Pandora's Box of thoughts about time as concept that exists in a linear sense only in certain circumstances, for in that moment when the physical conditions change, parallel worlds, time travel and similar intriguing ideas that we experience primarily as part of SF literature or the imaginary of Hollywood might well occur.

What is it that we cannot measure in itself, only parts of it? What is time? Is time dependent or independent of us? Is it a matter of convention or a fact? Is it the measure of change? Do passage and duration exist? Do present, past and future change according to our relation in space and time? Do the present, the past and the future really exist? If the Big Bang is taken as the moment of least entropy, the best ordered state of the universe, which tends towards ever greater disorder, or ever greater entropy, which, according to the most recent research in physics, is accelerating and not slowing down, is what awaits us the end of time? Will the rapid increase in entropy end in loss of connection with the past? Will time lose its meaning, since in the universe there will be no change, and if there are no changes, is there also no time?

Since Aristotle, Augustine, Kant, Heidegger, Newton, Einstein and many other philosophers and scientists, time has been one of the most intriguing of concepts. Biological time, linear and cyclical time, quantum time, astronomical time, the space-time continuum, the time arrow, geological time, synchronicity, eternity, wormholes (short cuts through the space-time continuum), and the perception of time are just some of the sub-topics that indicate the scope of temporal multifariousness.

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