Artist: Timothy Citizen
Stays in: 2012
Genre: Visual Arts
2003-2006 Glasgow school of Art
Tim Citizen is a British artist who lives and works in Denmark. He works with text, sound and performance.
BOX | I would like to talk to you about this box, or more specifically the object inside this box. Let me start with the box though. It used to sit high on a shelf in my parent’s house and growing up I was always fascinated by it. If something is put out of your reach you get curious, and it was always sat up there waiting to be opened. Mainly I was interested because I knew it contained something important to my father.
FATHER | My Father was a sailor and his role on the ship was the navigator. The job of a navigator is to know exactly where the boat is heading. One of the ways he did this was by using this (Opens box). This is called a sextant, my father used this sextant every day when he was at sea. He bought it from the captain of his ship.
POSITION | Now one of the most innate skills we have as human beings is the ability to find our way. Our brains are hardwired to remember directions. We are capable of retaining huge amounts of information about places we have visited and how to navigate them. We remember landmarks and use them as fixed points to locate our position from, and most of the time we do this without even thinking about it. On a local level this might be the objects in this room or the different buildings on a street, if going further we might use a hill or something else high you can see from a distance. However, a really good way to be sure is to use something that you can be certain of seeing, and that remains in a fixed place. Pretty early on our ancestors realized that the stars above them, although they appear to be constantly changing, follow a fixed pattern and if you can find a star or constellation you recognize you can use it to help find where you are. That pattern rotates around the pole star which you can always use to find north. They used stories and legends which echoed the movement of the stars and helped encode this information.
PHONES | OK. So do you have a smartphone? Now I guess that phone has a map function so you can press a button and it will show you exactly where you are. Your phone does this by connecting to a fixed point, either a radio tower or a GPS signal and using those fixed points to work out your position. It’s doing the same thing we do when we look around. Only it's doing it with pinpoint accuracy. Now I will show you how my father’s smartphone works. (Removes sextant from box.)
SEXTANT | This is a sextant. It looks complex but it is actually a very simple device. You use it to find the angle between two points. This is normally the angle between the sun and the horizon. You set the device to zero, and look through the telescope at the sun when it’s at its highest point in the sky, and because it has a movable arm and a mirror attached to that arm I can bring the sun down to the level of the horizon, and by swinging it gently back and forth, I can make sure that the sun is exactly on the horizon. And...
TIME | ... because the other thing I need to use this is the exact time. So beside me I would have somebody holding a watch, and when I called time he would note the exact time. Now we have two measurements. The time and the height of the sun, and using special tables we could calculate how far north or south we are. It can do this to amazing accuracy, which to a sailor trying to find their way is extremely useful. This has now been replaced by GPS like you can find in your mobile phone, and a sextant would only really be used for pleasure or as a backup. The better technology becomes the more precise we are able to be, but also the less is required of us. The heavenly bodies we have used for millennia to navigate have been replaced by artificial ones, but I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. I guess my only hope would be that like me as a child staring up at that box, or the people who wrote the stories of the stars, we remember to find wonder in the process.