Time Flies Like an Arrow – Small sculpture by NancyDee Sculptures


Read more below about how this work got its unusual name – all because of its syntactic ambiguity. It’s what, you say?

This is a small 6x27x5cm sculpture I made in 2017 at my home studio, before I became an artist-in-residence at River Studios in West Melbourne. It is made entirely from wood and metal that I found on the streets of Melbourne during my daily walks.

I named it because it looks a bit like an arrow with, perhaps, from a distance, a fly sitting on it. However, this sentence is quite famous in linguistics because of its syntactic ambiguity. Most speakers would understand the sentence as meaning time passes quickly, just like an arrow shoots quickly from a bow. However, the sentence could be interpreted in other ways as well:

  • You should measure the speed of flies like you would measure the speed of an arrow.
  • You should measure the speed of flies in the same way that an arrow would time them.
  • You should measure the speed of only those flies with qualities that are similar to an arrow.
  • Time flies in the same way as an arrow would fly.
  • Insects known as “time flies” like an arrow.

And it’s also the start of a clever saying: Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana. So there’s lots of meaning – and fun – behind this seemingly simple artwork.

My palette during 2017 was essentially silver-coloured, rust-coloured, wood grain and black, although this work also used a white piece of laminate. Because of the limited palette, I was fascinated with the subtle range of variations in scratches, patina and sheen of the objects I found. In this case, the ‘shaft’ of the arrow has lots of subtle scratches. Although I created some representational works that year, the majority, like this one, were more abstract or geometrical.