Sense(s) of Time


Senses of Time depicts the lyrical and poetic passage of time. The work reflects on time and focuses on defining subjective and perceptual time with close attention to stillness, decay, disappearance, and ruins.


Marilyn Carren
University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley

Wenhua Shi’s film Senses of Time is evocative. The image propels us into a space of contemplation. There are 3 main themes that are apparent as one experiences the film. The artist seems to be concerned with the passage of time, longing (or nostalgia) and the influence of technology on our personal and psychological spaces.

Erosion is implied as the sequences fade one into another like waves lapping the shore of an uninhabited beach. The monotone values of the film produce a somber mood and the insistent dropping out to black frames create a longing for life, for color. One is reminded of their mortality while they are watching this piece.

The vantage point of the viewer is consistent with someone who is incapacitated witnessing the passage of time through the flickering of light patterns upon windows blinds and walls. The cycling to black can be viewed as day’s passing into night and then next day a new cycle begins but time feels fragmented and is not to be relied upon within the context of this film.

The sound work by Yao Dajuin is striking and enhances the imagery to create pathos. The emotions activated by the sounds are of sadness and irritation, there is a sense of instability and you are never quite sure about the framework of time.

This viewer was entranced by the layering of the sound. Not fluent in Chinese, I strained to make meaning of the cadence of the words in a foreign tongue. The rhythm reminiscent of a repeated warning or the a scorned lover pleading for a second chance. There is a feeling of surveillance apparent here, indeed a space where time may stand still as the senses quicken. The insistent hum and flicker of technology steps upon the whispery voice of a forbidden lover or a maybe it’s an assailant surveilling the viewer. Time has no meaning in this film.

The black and white color scheme lowers the threshold of our sensory input even as the textures of the flickering light heighten our awareness. Changing backgrounds and light formations create moving abstractions and while we search for meaning and look for figures there are none to be found until an enigmatic image appears, a horse. A four-legged beast rendered in flat Egyptian style grasps our attention and reshapes all we have seen before. Is the four-legged creature a metaphor for strength and resilience? Perhaps it is a reference to the Chinese Horoscope, as 2018 is the year of the Horse and also the year in which the film was created.

I do not know what life the artist has in mind for the film going forward but it would seem that it would assist the viewer to make meaning if there were more clues.