I Think that Time has the Shape of a Tree

by David Hlynsky

Stephen Cruise has built us a tree house. It’s not the usual playhouse in a tree. His tree house sits on a flat, asphalt parking lot with no trees in sight. Rather, Cruise has made a structure that looks like a tree if you imagine one in the shape of a house. Perhaps I should refer to it as a “tree/house” with a forward slash between the words… because in the metaphorical musings of Cruise’s imagination, both tree and house exist in totality without the slightest threat of mutual interference. Metaphors work that way.

Cruise’s Share the Moment is more than the blending of forms; it represents the intersection of meanings. Repurposing a former photo kiosk, the installation preserves the boxy structure, referencing the geometry of commercial architecture. Cruise’s sculpture memorializes an idyllic time of consumer-centric convenience. In its active heyday – the 1970s and early 1980s – the photo kiosk was resplendent with the kind of drive-through convenience we cherished when car-culture still seemed so utopian. We turned exposed films into shared moments just by brushing past this unassuming little shop window in our VW Beetles or Mustang ragtops.


Cruise has preserved the kiosk-shape but he has covered it with photo-forest camouflage; images of tree bark and boughs in a place where trees no longer thrive. So, Share the Moment also embodies the traces of nature’s past. As certainly as Cruise’s structure stands here now, a thousand generations of living trees have stood here, too.

I think that time (if time has a shape) must be shaped much like a tree. Threads of the past gather into roots and burst out of darkness into the light of day. The present seems immutably solid like a tree’s trunk. Then branches divide time’s flow again into a myriad of future possibilities. But look more closely. Time’s past and future are inconceivable without the slivers of chance and change that connect them.

If time is shaped like a tree, what is the shape of a single moment? NOW I’m writing this. NOW I’m feeling the heat of a laptop battery. NOW this temporary assembly of objects and life seems solid. Still, I grab my time machine in order to make time hesitate… I want to relish its nuances. I want to remove this moment from time’s flow… or, at the very least, to make this moment fade a little more slowly.

The “time machine” I reach for is a point-and-shoot camera. And that single moment I’ve abducted is called a snapshot. Once upon a time, snapshots were as substantial as cereal box tops and 2-for-1 coupons. Now our photographs zip around and multiply in the ghostly ether of cyberspace. But regardless of the photograph’s materiality (or lack of it), my apparent success at arresting time’s flow is a delusion. Even frozen within some glossy paper rectangle, every photograph continues changing. Time’s persistent wind lifts this memory from my grasp and sends it sailing like a kite into the future. Which tangle of time’s branches will catch my captured-moment next? Which future stranger will pause to interrogate its trajectory? Who will consider (or reconsider) my moment’s brief significance? How will the ensuing currents of time impart a patina of new meanings to this fragile memento? This photograph’s kite-string always remains tethered to its birth moment… continually tugging on it and changing it into something it never, ever was. Perhaps my foolishness was to believe that time could ever really be stopped at all.

Stephen Cruise, Share the Moment (installation detail), 2011.
Stephen Cruise, Share the Moment (installation detail), 2011. Photo: Isaac Applebaum.

If time has the shape of a tree, and the single moment is a kite caught in its swaying branches, what then is referenced through the shape of a house? I ask this because we must still consider the house as the other guise in Cruise’s dual structure: the tree/house on the real estate of his imagination. What metaphor dwells in the shape of his house?

Unlike most architecture, a house envelops a family; or part of a family; or marks the absence of a family. A house contains the traces of society’s smallest units; a solitary human figure or a pair of them; or perhaps a few of us; but only a few. Stephen Cruise’s metaphoric house represents a most efficient vault for our affections and interactions. Now, I think that memory is shaped much like a house. And, in a parallel universe, time grows straight up through it like a tree.

Cruise has collected a real community history through its snapshots. These are what Cruise projects back out to us from the windows of this peculiar tree/house on this treeless asphalt Sahara. What once was a drive-through, finishing lab for the snapshots of our birthday parties, cross-eyed newborns, marshmallow campfires and loose weekends, has now become an impromptu archive of who we are. So who are we really?

Photographs don’t capture the moment as much as they punctuate the passage of time. But there are moments… and there are moments. Roland Barthes wrote that the photograph also contains a punctum; some accidental detail that punctures our heart. The punctum makes meaning and appearance spin around each other. We look at photographs for their symbolism, but our camera is an insidious trickster. This time machine won’t let us forget the shoelace left untied during the wedding waltz, or the strange wig passed around the chemo ward, or the drooling toddler who tried to squash the butterfly that fluttered through her dollhouse.

In Share the Moment, Cruise asks us to ponder the intricacies of memory. His tree/house is built on layers of time: the time of forgotten trees, and the time of a drive-through kiosk where people once processed their Kodak moments. This relic of humble architecture has been reborn to shine with our most hopeful narratives. Here is our poignant, photo-finish proof that big fish don’t always get away… and bridal bouquets sometimes do land in our most outstretched fingers… These are the moments we share.

Share the Moment is a multi-media installation bringing new life to the former Kodak Fotomat in the parking lot of the Sheppard Plaza in North York. With its exterior refurbished to mimic bark and foliage, the kiosk takes on the guise of a tree. Its trunk offers two portals into the past, screening family pictures taken around the 1970s. Collected from the surrounding community, the snapshots elicit the memories of neighbourhood residents to reconstruct a fragment of local history.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed photographs for Share the Moment, including: Janet Farkas, Shari Katz, Susan Kendal, Rosalin Krieger, E.J. Lightman, Rhonda Nissenbaum, Lilian Rosenthal, Bonnie Rubenstein, Freda Rubenstein, Lyla Rye, Jon Sasaki, Ted Sasaki, Anthony Schatzky, Eric Stein, and the Ontario Jewish Archives.

Share the Moment was created by Stephen Cruise with: Corinne Carlson, Brian Davis and Alexandra Byers. Special thanks to Franklena Holdings Inc. for their support of this project.

Stephen Cruise has exhibited nationally and internationally since 1969. His work is represented in numerous corporate and public collections, such as the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, City of Windsor, University of Calgary, City of Toronto, City of Waterloo, and Art Bank, Ottawa. Cruise has also completed major public art commissions, including indigena domain, Civic Centre, Cambridge; after/before, Don Mills Station, Sheppard Subway, Toronto; one hundred links—one chain, Gibson Park, North York; and Places in a book (6 chapters), Spadina LRT, Toronto.

David Hlynsky is a photographer and writer with a history of over forty years of exhibitions and publications. His work has been both fictional and documentary. He has collaborated with numerous performance artists and playwrights to create theatrical projections. He shared two apartments and a studio with Stephen Cruise in the early 1970s. Hlynsky is currently the Senior Lecturer in Photography and Digital Media in the Studio and Media Arts program at The University of Toronto, Scarborough. davidhlynsky.com

Design: Tony Hewer | Editing: Shannon Anderson | Photography: Isaac Applebaum
Digital publication to the exhibition Stephen Cruise: Share the Moment
Presented by the Koffler Gallery Off-Site at the Sheppard Plaza, 4400 Bathurst Street, Toronto | May 5 to August 28, 2011
Curator: Mona Filip

© Koffler Centre of the Arts, 2011, in collaboration with the individual contributors. All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-0-920863-92-3.

Koffler family FoundationCIBC Wood GundyOntario Arts Council | Conseil Des Arts De L'OntarioToronto Arts Council | Funded by the City of TorontoCanada Council