The Sands of Time: Antenna's ECOlogical calendar looks nothing like the old Gregorian stalwarts--and shows time in an entirely different light.
A Key to Slow Time
From the minds of Antenna Theater comes a whole new way of measuring our days in the universe
By Sara Bir
If the Eiffel Tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age, and anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.
About 13.7 billion years. According to NASA, that's how long the universe has been around since the big bang banged. And before there were 12 months a year and seven days a week, the earth moved around the sun and the moon moved around the earth, and that's what time was.
Enter the human. There was day and night and planting and harvest and winter, and that's what time was.
From the time we are very young children, the months of the year are drilled into our consciousness. You know them by the date of your birthday and when school lets out for the summer and when holidays that mean presents come around. And then as an adult, calendars dictate our lives--rigid, faceless boxes and numbers stacked on top of each other.
Chris Hardman, artistic director of the groundbreaking Antenna Theater in Sausalito, decided it didn't have to be like that.
For the past two years, Antenna has been working on a calendar that imagines the days of the year as threads that intertwine in a cosmic dance.
"It originally came out of a project called AllTime, which I started before the millennium," says Hardman. "Being a theater company, would we do a big party and celebrate it as an important event in the history of mankind? The outcome was that the millennium was pretty meaningless--to be talking about 2,000 years is nothing in the real world of time. I started looking into the implications of having a calendar starting from the beginning of time."
Antenna's outcome was the ECOlogical calendar, which Hardman says will be the first calendar that will have the true age of the universe on it. They've been working on it for two years, and next year, Petaluma's Pomegranate Communications, which specializes in calendars, posters, bookmarks, and cards, will put out a 2005 edition of the ECOlogical calendar.
To understand Hardman's inspiration for creating a entirely new calendar, you need to understand where our present calendar came from. The Gregorian calendar was created in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and was largely based on the Julian calendar--which was largely based on the Egyptian calendar. "Julius Caesar just brought it back and said, 'You, Romans, are now going to accept this calendar.' He enforced it," Hardman says. "The Julian calendar was so successful in terms of keeping in track with the solar year that it went on for 1,000-some years since its creation, all the way to Gregory."
"The initial idea [for the ECOlogical calendar] was to pull the calendar back down to the earth experience itself," Hardman says. "The only scientific and rational thing the Gregorian calendar has to offer us is it knows the actual time of the solar year. Other than that, it is essentially completely wrong about everything. It doesn't start on a solstice or an equinox; it starts at a very arbitrary moment in time which has no natural connection to the earth and its orbit around the sun."
The names of the months assigned to the Gregorian calendar have totally lost their meaning over time. Both July and August are named after dead Roman emperors, while the months September, October, November, and December have numerically derived names that don't even apply anymore--i.e., December, the 12th month, is named for "deca," or "10."
Mary Russo McAfee, coordinator and manager of the AllTime project, did much of the research for the ECOlogical calendar. "We looked back at the way other cultures looked at the years. And then we started looking at the French Revolutionary calendar of 1793. Every single day had its own name. They had 12 months of 30 days, but that only added up to 360 days . . . so they tacked on five holidays. Every fifth day was an animal, and every 10th day was a farming implement. And everything else was an actual growing thing or something of the earth. We took a lot of inspiration from that."
So for the ECOlogical calendar, they renamed the days and months, giving the passing of dates a poetic lilt instead of a dry, numerical feel. So instead of Jan. 9, 10, and 11, you have ClearNight, WindChill, and Rime.
"There's no such thing called a week," Hardman adds. "We've inherited a seven-day cycle, but that's completely arbitrary and has no reflection to anything. Whereas the lunations of the moon actually do exist, and the seasons do exist. So we lay it down in a line so that you can experience all of these events as they are happening through time. You can also think of the ECOlogical calendar as a progression through space."
That spatial relationship is reflected along the top of the calendar, where the sky's position in relation to the Northern Hemisphere is illustrated, creating a map of the season's sky. The phases of the moon, the tides, and the amount of sunlight in a day are also represented and accessible at a glance. It's almost like an almanac in that way, only with a clear visual sense of continuity.
The ECOlogical calendar can be displayed a number of ways. It will have a threefold design, allowing it to be stood up on a mantel or desk, or the entire scroll can be posted on the wall for a more continuous reflection.
The ECOlogical calendar omits holidays but still lists the Gregorian dates and months. "This is the parallel universe we're offering here," says Hardman. "Whether people begin to adopt this calendar is something we can only offer. This is all essentially scientifically derived information that we can get from other sources. The only difference that we're offering is that it's experiential through the year. We try to give something that leaves you with a sense of where you are in that time."
Antenna isn't poised to push the ECOlogical calendar as the one new mode of keeping time. It's more of a supplement, a key to unlock the cycles of nature that our modern lifestyles have pushed away. As everyone with a job knows, we can't get by without knowing if it's Monday the 22nd or Wednesday the 24th.
"People are going to continue to need that style of thing in their lives," Hardman says of the Gregorian calendar. "What we're saying is put our calendar above it and at least have a fighting chance to have a decent day and a good sense of the world that you're in, ease that transition."
"One of our main inspirations that we have," Russo McAfee says, "is someone on the 40th floor in Manhattan can look at this and be somehow given that larger vision of what's going on, and hopefully people will adjust their lives accordingly."
If the ECOlogical calendar does find its audience, the spinoff possibilities include a journal/daybook with the information for each individual day listed on different pages, an interactive screen saver that changes daily, and Southern Hemisphere editions.
It used to be that our survival was dependent on identifying the cycles of nature so that we could anticipate them. "A hundred years ago, living on a farm, we'd know a lot of this stuff; you had to," says Russo McAfee. "It was just passed on. The idea that nature isn't something you go to a park for--nature is in you and around you--it's really quite invigorating."
"We were working off that sense of 'Where am I in this picture?'" says Hardman. "'How do I fit into this picture, and how can I relate to the larger picture?' I'm always amazed that this hasn't existed before. And I'm still trying to figure out why."
For more information on the ECOlogical Calendar, go to www.ecologicalcalendar.info.
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From the October 9-15, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.