Thuistezien 152 — 19.01.2021

Michelle Bastian
Liberating Clocks

Back in the days it was a common use to stop the clock hands when someone had died. After all, the clock wouldn’t be of much use in the afterlife, in case of an afterlife. Aside from such an incidental event, the clocks hands keep going relentlessly, even when we are not watching. In one exceptional case, however, there is a clock of which its clock hands don’t move if no one is watching the hour. This specific clock, fabricated by artist Chris Speed (yes, that really is his last name) stops moving when no one is in its ‘field of vision’. The clock hands indicate the last time when someone has looked at the clock. And, the moment you look at it, the clock hands speed forward to the present time. For a brief moment you are confronted with an event from the past, as the presence of another can be discerned: the clock hands give away at what time the other person got disconnected.

Chris Speed is one of the artists that Michelle Bastian highlights in the discussion of her paper entitled 'Liberating Clocks' at West in 2015. Bastian was a speaker at the one-day symposium ‘100 Years from now’, which included the examination of our relationship with time. Bastian works in the field of critical time studies and ecological humanities and is mainly concerned with the relationship between time and the sense of belonging. These two concepts meet in the work of Chris Speed, the "universal" time or "clock time" adapts on the moment someone is looking at it. This action makes us aware of the previous person who has also looked at it. As a result, the moment of looking at the clock is not merely a separate action. The clock connects the last person who viewed it to the next, linking them together.

The clock as we know it, often functions as a reference to regularity, punctuality and linear relationships, says Michelle Bastian. In this talk she explains how we mainly see the clock as a neutral given, despite the fact that clock time is linked to political, economic and nationalist interests. In 1916, the clock was set to daylight saving time for the very first time, main reason being to save fuel in the factories where weapons and bombs were produced for the First World War.

Knowing that daylight saving time has come about along these lines, you could say that clock-time is not completely neutral. And for that reason, that it can be designed in a different way. During the discussion of her paper, Bastian mentions a wide variety of elaborations and ideas by artists and designers who do not see clock time as a prior condition, but oppose and challenge it with surprising alternatives.

Text: Stella Loning