One Million Years is Three Seconds

One Million Years installation view

“One Million Years is Three Seconds” installation view, Wriston Art Center Galleries, Appleton, Wisconsin, January 2008

One Million Years is Three Seconds (1999-2008)

An experimental documentary about time, place, creation, progress, and the lifelong accumulation of knowledge focusing on four older Wisconsin men who avoided the homogeneity of American consumer culture. Barry Lynn (1914- ) is a Modern Dancer living in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, Herman Christel (1920-2009) was a retired farmer living in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin, Bob Watt (1925-2012) was a poet, painter and retired exterminator living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Paul Hefti (1912-2013) was a retired factory worker turned outdoor garden sculptor. The project consisted of a 16 mm feature length film, photographs, found images, found film loops, video monitors playing excerpts from the film installed in several galleries or screened in several venues in the US over the past decade.

View images on Flickr

View Wriston Art Center Galleries installation video on Vimeo

View One Million Years (16 mm film, b&w, 63 min.) on YouTube

View excerpts on Barry, Herman, Bob, and Paul on YouTube

Purchase One Million Years book from Lulu


One Million Years is Three Seconds

Essay by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann (2008)


One Million Years is Three Seconds is an experimental documentary about creation, beauty, order, and the lifelong accumulation of knowledge. The project makes intuitive associations between the domains of four Wisconsin men who avoided the homogeneity of 20th century American consumer culture. Our photographs and film footage are interspersed with pages and clips from mid-century social studies books and educational films. This juxtaposition examines 20th century technological developments, and cultural and economic standards whose traces linger into the present. The chaos and complexity of the four men’s lives appear at odds with the values widely accepted by the general population. Evidence of millions of small, quietly made choices are evident in their environments and visible in the images. A composite portrait emerges. These words, sounds, and pictures were collected during our ongoing visits with the men from 2001 to present and are installed as a work in progress.


The central component of the project is a 63 minute 16 mm film, shot with a hand-wound Bolex camera on black-and-white reversal film. This technique references home movies and early experimental film. The footage responds to topics discussed by the four men. Instrumental themes are performed on musical instruments that enjoyed short-lived popularity in the 20th century including a pump organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, Theremin and 12-string electric guitar.


The film revolves around the ideas of Barry Lynn, a dancer. He believes that every person is a story that needs to be told and that “the purpose of life is to be enjoyed.” In properly enjoying life, a good story will evolve. Herman Christel, a retired farmer, challenges this idea. These days, his mental condition after the death of his parents would be characterized as chronic depression. Decades of unmediated grieving enabled him to be at peace with the nature of life. Frostbite brought him into the mainstream and facilitated his rebirth. Bob Watt, a retired exterminator and artist-poet, might reject Barry’s ideas as being “overly sincere” but his pursuit of beauty remains quite passionate. Bob explains that his own ideas are inspired by craziness, which he defines as “an escape from a down reality”. He once said that “a million years is three seconds,” not so much as a proclamation about time as about the inherent smallness of everything. Paul J. Hefti, a retired factory worker, blossomed at age 74 when he began a project decorating his yard. Creating impromptu temporary sculptures from plastic pop bottles and junk enabled him to react to the cultural ephemera he’s been exposed to in a way that is immediate and fleeting. Even a technologically sophisticated invention like the plastic pop bottle, the basis of his project, is subject to decay.


These dissimilar characters are unified by their disconnect from the status quo. They have no children, material wealth or institutionally dictated values. Their ideas, everyday life and backgrounds are likewise dissimilar. Yet the essence of their accumulated knowledge is expressed in the axioms they have repeated like mantras. What is to be learned from these lives is everything. But the ultimate message is that everything is hardly anything.

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