Thomson & Craighead, The Time Machine in alphabetical order

Thomson & Craighead

Thomson & Craighead, The Time Machine in alphabetical order

16 – 26 January 2014

The Time Machine in alphabetical order, 2010
Single channel video, 96:55 min

The Time Machine in alphabetical order is a complete rendition of the 1960s film version of HG Wells’ novella re-edited by Thomson & Craighead into alphabetical order of each word spoken. This resequencing is an attempt to use a system of classification as a way of performing a kind of time travel within the timeline of the movie. The ‘constrained editing technique’ employed by Thomson & Craighead is influenced by the literary artistic movement Oulipo, founded in 1960, who used constrained writing techniques as a means of triggering ideas and inspiration to make new works.


In his essay Archimedes’ Mindscrew, David Auerbach foregrounds Thomson and Craighead’s work in the overlap between “the quotidian and the global” characteristic of our hyperconnected contemporary culture. Hinged on “the tantalising impossibility of seeing the entire world at once clearly and distinctly”. The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order (2010), offers a compelling example of this. Transposing the 1960 film (directed by George Pal) into the alphabetical order of each word spoken, narrative time is circumvented, allowing the viewer to revel instead in the logic of the database. The dramatic arcs of individual scenes are replaced by alphabetic frames. Short staccato repetitions of the word ‘a’ or ‘you’ drive the film onwards, and with each new word comes a chance for the database to rewind. Words with greater significance such as ‘laws’, ‘life’, ‘man’ or ‘Morlocks’ cause new clusters of meaning to blossom. Scenes taut with tension and activity under a ‘normal’ viewing feel quiet, slow and tedious next to the repetitive progressions of single words propelled through alphabetic time. In the alphabetic version of the film it is scenes with a heavier focus on dialogue that stand out as pure activity, recurring again and again as the 96 minute 55 second long algorithm has its way with the audience. Regular sites of meaning become backdrop structures, thrusting forward a logic inherent in language which has no apparent bearing on narrative content. The work is reminiscent of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, also produced in 2010. A 24 hour long collage of scenes from cinema in which ‘real time’ is represented or alluded to simultaneously on screen. But whereas The Clock’s emphasis on cinema as a formal history grounds the work in narrative sequence, Thomson and Craighead’s work insists that the ground is infinitely malleable and should be called into question.

Taken from Daniel Rourke’s review ‘Neither Here Nor Then: Thomson & Craighead at Carroll / Fletcher Gallery’, published on Furtherfield, June 2013

Jon Thomson, born 1969, and Alison Craighead, born 1971, studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee and now live and work in Scotland and London. Jon Thomson is Reader in Fine Art at The Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, while Alison Craighead is Reader in Visual Culture and Contemporary Art at University of Westminster and lectures in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University London. Thomson & Craighead have been working together since 1993. Recent exhibitions include Not even the sky, MEWO Kunsthalle, Memmingen and Never Odd or Even, Carroll/Fletcher, London.

The Time Machine in alphabetical order is on view as part of Thomson & Craighead’s solo show Maps DNA and Spam at Dundee Contemporary Arts, 18 January – 22 March 2014

Visit Thomson & Craighead’s website and artist page at Carroll / Fletcher

Further discussion of The Time Machine in alphabetical order can be found in the following essays and reviews:

David Auerbach, ‘Archimedes’ Mindscrew’, in Thomson & Craighead: Never Odd or Even, 2013

Thomson & Craighead, Morgan Quaintance, LUX blog, 2012