Right on time

Lara Alberti

Lara Alberti works within antique clock cases to explore concepts of space and time.

Lara Alberti works within antique clock cases to explore concepts of space and time.

Photo By David Robert

We don’t deal well with immensities. Oceans must be named and charted. Galaxies must be broken down. Their respective stars must be grouped into constellations that connect-the-dots into storytime figures. The horizon, showcasing the rise and fall of the moon and sun is not enough—we also need days, hours, minutes, seconds. If we don’t know where we are and when we’re there, we’re lost. And lost is not a good feeling.

“Measuring time is our way of trying to get control of our lives,” says local artist Lara Alberti. “It’s security. It’s what makes us comfortable, but it’s illusory. … I guess I find it touching that we’re trying to tack down all these ephemeral elements.”

Her exhibit, An Iconography of Time and Space, at the Sierra Arts Gallery downtown explores how we orient ourselves within the nearly ungraspable—time and deep space.

All of the works in the show are assemblages created inside antique clock cases. Alberti, 56, was an abstract painter for 20 years before she began working with assemblage. Her paintings had grown in depth and become more sculptural. She would add sand and gels to sculpt onto the canvas. Then, in 1999, she switched to wooden box assemblage and later began to work in the clocks themselves.

“That opened a whole new world for me,” she says.

Alberti found most of the broken antique clocks by bidding on eBay. “I never buy a working clock because I love clocks,” she says, adding that she has too much respect for them to dismantle one still ticking.

Time, these days, is more often recorded on computer screens, cell phones and digital alarm clocks. But Alberti’s use of antique clocks and other older materials reminds the viewer that time is nothing new.

The antique clock cases frame the work inside them. In “What Eludes Capture,” a moon and an astrolabe resembling a protractor hang above a caged structure that looks like an elaborate cathedral with three clocks mounted on its domes, what Alberti calls the “church-cage.”

In “Notes from the Annunciation,” an egg in a cup rests atop a black checkerboard design. It’s an abstraction of historical paintings of the Annunciation, in which the archangel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was to bear Jesus. This is a tongue-in-cheek view of religion’s role in delineating time, dating back to the marking of the years as B.C. or A.D.

“The Pulse of Our Days and Our Nights” features part of a scale that looks like a pendulum within a red and blue circle. It’s within deep space, with no horizon. “I wanted to remind us that the horizon is what keeps us focused,” says Alberti. “It’s juxtaposing deep space and the sense that we long for horizon.”

Throughout these works are the icons: pendulums, gongs, clock faces, protractors, compasses, wooden dominoes and game pieces (alluding to serendipity), boats, circles, charts and images of the universe.

“I really look at it as a language,” she says. “Each visual symbol is a piece of my vocabulary. I want my language to be pretty straightforward.”

While she says she wants people to come to their own conclusions about what they’re seeing, she acknowledges she gives the viewer plenty of guidelines.

“I’ve tried to create a kind of visual poetry,” she says. “And like all artists, I’d like it to have a staying power that will inform the viewer even when they’re no longer looking at the work.”