Trained in studio arts and urban design, Kate Clark works collaboratively to create short-term spectacles, long-term research projects, and ongoing public programming. She currently leads the Parkeology live event series, which unearths lesser-known sites and stories of Balboa Park in collaboration with the San Diego Art Institute. Parkeology is sponsored in part by the Balboa Park Conservancy.
January 27, 2017 – Over the past 100 years, dozens of organizations in Balboa Park have marked their groundbreakings, anniversaries, and other milestones by stuffing objects in sealed containers for future publics. Yet, the most common response associated with opening these vessels decades later is disappointment, time capsule expert Nicholas Yablon tells us. What does this dual relationship of memorializing and disappointment say about our culture?
We began Parkeology Season II with an event that explored our urge to commemorate in response to the inevitable march of time. Theorizing that time capsules may have more value if opened by generations closer to their creators, we unveiled a 1999 time capsule from the Y2K era of the San Diego Park and Recreation Administration.
The Time Capsule Ceremony Altar
As guests arrived at the event, the time capsule (pictured left) sat quietly alongside the Parkeology banner. Artist and Parkeologist Diana Benavidez provided the anti-time capsule: a papier mâché “clock” piñata, waiting to be filled with messages for the future.
There are many complications that come with the delights of creating events in unorthodox locations, and the President’s Way parking lot near the “Graffiti Bridge” pedestrian bridge proved no exception. Luckily, the team at Save Starlight stepped in to help with the project, providing sound, lights, and a projector—along with a power generator. Pictured above, Save Starlight CEO Steve Stopper advises Parkeology director Kate Clark about the lighting setup.
Despite the day’s blustery Santa Ana winds, the evening had become cold, clear, and still. Originally, we had planned to light the campfire to conclude the evening but adjusted our plans at the last minute and lit the fire early in order to welcome and warm visitors.
The San Diego High School Drumline Arrives
While the crowd thickened, a distant drumming was heard over the din of Interstate 5 traffic. As the drumming became louder, the silhouettes of the entire San Diego High School (SDHS) Drumline began to emerge from the darkness of the pedestrian bridge. Thanks to support from the California Arts Council, we commissioned the SDHS Drumline to provide rhythms for the evening’s proceedings.
Park Ranger Kim Duclo Introduces the Evening
To kick off the ceremony, Park Ranger Kim Duclo explained the origins of the time capsule we were about to open, describing how it had been created by staff of the Park and Recreation Administration in anticipation of the year 2000. Unfortunately, most of its creators had either retired or passed away, which led to us prematurely opening it.
Usually we associate time capsules with futuristic metal pill shapes, ready to be shot into outer space. And in fact, many found it unusual that this blue chest became the vessel for commemoration. Ranger Kim explained how his sister, Lisa Duclo, was working at the San Diego Museum of Art during the installation of a Chinese art exhibition. The artwork had been shipped from China in the blue chests, which were discarded afterward. Thus, all of the items of yesteryear came to live inside the wooden chest, eventually being stored in the dirt floor basement of the Balboa Park Club.
Ranger Kim Opens the Time Capsule
Even though we had the keys to the time capsule, we decided that it would be more exciting to cut the lock. How often do you get to use bolt cutters, really?
Thanks to time capsule expert Nicholas Yablon’s warning, we had anticipated that the contents of the time capsule would not be the most thrilling. And largely, we were not disappointed in that regard. Many common objects, such as newspapers, t-shirts, infographic magazines, etc., were revealed.
A Call from the Past
As the contents were unearthed, we became more and more playful.
The artifacts were passed through the crowd for further investigation.
Members of the San Diego High School Drumline and other attendants began to read handwritten messages from the past, such as “I hope I’m still alive,” and, “I wonder if the Padres will still have a stadium.”
Voice from an Expert
After perusing the contents of the time capsule, the evening transitioned to a talk presented by Nicholas Yablon, a time capsule and American history professor at the University of Iowa. Though we had announced earlier that he would be speaking, the crowd was surprised that his appearance took the form of a giant floating head. Thanks to a strong mobile hotspot connection, a head-shaped piece of plywood, and Save Starlight’s generator and projector, Nick could remotely shed light on the history of time capsules with flare.
One salient idea that Nick Yablon shared is that time capsules are not useful as historical portraits. In years past, time capsules were generally created by city officials, positions that were typically occupied by white males. Thus, it would be inaccurate to gain understanding of an era represented by a narrow slice of its demographic. Yablon continued by saying the real value of time capsules comes from their physical connection to time. He described them as tools to help people reach through from one point in time to another through hands-on, embodied experience.
We bid adieu to Nick Yablon and moved on to the final part of our evening, which centered around the bonfire. We decided to take a different approach to Yablon’s idea that time capsules serve an important role in physically connecting us to a sense of time. Due to the political tumult of our era, and to the fact the event took place near the Chinese and Western New Years, we introduced the notion of an anti-time capsule to the group.
People were invited to write notes about ideas, experiences, or objects they didn’t want to last for future generations, and drop them into Diana Benavidez’s papier mâché anti-time capsule, which featured a piggy bank-like slot opening. During an open mic, some participants shared notions that they didn’t want to last, which ranged from the serious, such as “prisons” and “difference causing violence instead of being celebrated,” to the more comical, such as “having to pay extra for guacamole.” Others silently added their written contributions to the anti-time capsule.
Anti-Time Capsule Burning
Finally, the anti-time capsule was added to the fire while the group watched silently.
The evening concluded with an unusual sight: the familiar numbers of a clock face being engulfed in flames. When the last numbers transformed to carbon, we thanked all of the participants, the San Diego High School Drumline, The City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department, Save Starlight, the Parkeologists, and The San Diego Art Institute—and the night drew to a close.
All photos by Rafa Rios.
To learn more about Parkeology and its upcoming events, visit www.parkeology.org.
Parkeology is supported by The San Diego Art Institute, The Balboa Park Conservancy, The San Diego Foundation, the Project for Public Spaces, The California Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.