The practice of Rachel Sussman is concerned with differing interpretations of time: personal versus cosmic, anthropocentric versus vegetal. In 2016, working with SpaceX, NASA, and CERN, Sussman developed a 100-foot long, handwritten timeline which charts the life of the universe, from its birth to its death, an estimated one googol years from now. History of the Spacetime Continuum consequently weaves together astrophysics, geology, biology, mathematics, archaeology, history, Einsteinian relativism, and chronocriticism, the study of time itself.
While humans naturally think in terms of generations, the age of the universe and the Earth—an estimated 13.8 and 4.5 billion years—are numbers so vast that they are not naturally comprehensible to the human brain. Sussman’s visual representation intends to encourage better understanding of deep time, and to enable humans to make more considered moral decisions regarding the state of the Earth. Executed using paint, pens and even glitter, the work highlights the unique significance, and responsibility, of every individual on Earth.
Photographic series, The Oldest Living Things in the World, also interrogates the human ability to adopt a long-term view in depicting continuously living flora, bacteria, animals, and fungi that are over 2,000 years old. The work is the result of collaborations with practitioners from across the scientific disciplines, as there is currently no area of study which specifically examines longevity across species.
From 2004 to 2014, this series has seen Sussman travel across every continent, including Antarctica to photograph 5,500-year-old moss; Australia for stromatolites, organisms present in the very beginnings of life on Earth; Utah to capture what appears to be an unremarkable forest, yet is in fact an 80,000-year-old and 106-acre plant, and Tasmania for a 43,600-year-old self-propagating shrub that is the last of its kind.
These portraits present millennia-old beings that have survived some of the world’s most extreme environments and climactic events, yet are now threatened by human interaction, thus revealing the fragility of Earth’s living history.
Rachel Sussman, born 1975 in the USA, lives and works in New York.