Twenty-first-century mortals are fixated on time. We track its passing on the faces of clocks and on the screens of computers, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. We set our alarms at precise hours, and we stress over the time we devote to working and the diminishing time we have left to bask in leisure. Clocks – their hum, their tick – permeate our consciousness.
Sweden-based designers Per Emanuelsson and Bastian Bischoff, who collaborate under the name Humans Since 1982 (a reference to their birth year), are preoccupied by this anxious relationship with time, under whose dominion we have lived at least since the Industrial Revolution. During the London Design Festival in 2009, they exhibited a grid of analog clocks whose hands harmoniously arranged themselves to represent the time like a scoreboard. Their latest installation, A Million Times, was stationed at Design Days Dubai last March, in that surreal, glittering desert city that seems to exist somewhere in the indefinite future.
The piece consists of 288 clock faces, each with two jet black hands separately powered by electrical motors. Synchronized via an iPad, the 576 hands whir round and round at an astonishing speed, burning through days in mere minutes, only stopping to reveal the time at each 60‑second interval. Continuously shifting, they align and fragment, creating patterns that morph and warp, mesmerizing and even dizzying the viewer – a performance operating on the register of the sublime, seeming to suggest that ultimately time is an illusion. How, otherwise – in the slow, shifting vastness of the desert, where the only real time is the present location of the sun – does the world’s fastest-growing metropolis exist?
Cultural writer Daniel Baird lives and works in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in a time zone 10 hours ahead of his former home of Toronto.