To Look At and Know the World: Gnomon by Christopher Curtis

West Branch Gallery
Dec 16, 2014 10:35PM
Gnomon I
West Branch Gallery

Gnomon by Christopher Curtis is a tall shard of slate with gold leaf breaking through it. Standing upright, Gnomon is a reference to the part of every sundial on which the sun’s rays fall and measure its progression through the sky and through time. It’s one of those pieces that demonstrates how art reconnects us to humanity.

The idea of using the sun to calculate time has been around for thousands of years. Egyptian obelisks started appearing around 3500 B.C. Babylonians were using shadow clocks as early as 1500 B.C. In China, the idea is attributed to Zhou Gong, the author of the I Ching, who lived in the 11th-century B.C. The Book of Isaiah menions a “dial of Ahaz” around 700 B.C. The great pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander introduced the idea to the Greeks around 600 B.C.

The notion of time is fundemental to our humanity. Dogs get hungry at the same time every day, but people can agree to meet for dinner at a particular moment. The gnomon made it possible for two people in two different places to come together at the same time. That is what made working together possible, what made society possible. That is the beginning of humanity.

The English word “gnomon” comes from a Greek word, γνώμων, which literally means “one that knows or examines.” The gilded groove in Gnomon reminds the viewer of the sun and its historic, mystical importance to mankind, but it also is what turns a shard of slate standing upright into a monument to the viewer’s humanity, its rich history of philosophy and its remarkable ability to look at and know the world.

West Branch Gallery