As every citizen of Stereochron Island knows, we’re campaigning to be officially recognised as a state without clocks. We’ve been through a phase of research and experiment to test our new model of multi-sensory timekeeping. And now, as Campaign Secretary, I’m pleased to present our four-point manifesto.
(I wrote this for Stereochron Island, my public project as artist in residence in Victoria Park, London, for Chisenhale Gallery in 2013-14.)
WE REFUSE TO REDUCE LIFE TO UNITS OF THE CLOCK
Back when we were growing up in the Monochronic states, we were taught that Time is an absolute, pure, universal entity: a kind of cosmic line-rule against which everything can be measured in units of the clock.
On Stereochron Island we believe that model misrepresents our experience of time. The memories that make us don’t form a neat hierarchy, but rise and sink in a sea that continually connects the old and new, the half-forgotten and the ever-present in new formations.
Each of us contains an inner territory whose glorious fluidity and depth can’t be measured by a machine that records time as a cash-till registers pennies.
We need another model to resist the notion that each of our lives can be plotted and rated against the same line. And so, on Stereochron, we defer to the ancient Stoic philosophers for whom every individual life is a perfect circle, regardless of its content. To value a life by its external quantities would have seemed faulty to the Stoics. And so it does to us.
WE BELIEVE THAT TO UNFETTER TIME, WE MUST FETTER THE CLOCK
Out there in the Monochronic states, we force ourselves to match the unrelenting, unchanging beat of the clock. But the only things that beat to clock-time are machines.
On Stereochron we recall that the clock was once a sundial: its hour hand is now a solidified sunshadow severed from its source, circling a miniature mechanical Earth. We demand that this idealised, abstract, rigid form be anchored back into the unruly matter of life.
Therefore on Stereochron we have returned to local solar time, marking hours and days by the irregular relationship of our tiny boot-shaped portion of Earth to the Sun. By doing this, we have begun to see how everything and everyone is a solar clock. We are umbilically connected to the Sun. Its shifting shadows pull us through time, immersing us in the flux of life. At night the Moon and stars form another set of clocks, bringing another sense of time entirely.
WE WILL BUILD A RICHER LANGUAGE OF TIME
A core initiative of our campaign is to expand and refine the Island’s word-stock for time. This is so we can lay description and detail over the blunt and content-less language of hours, minutes and seconds.
To that end we have done away with chilling abstractions like the word deadline, originally the prison camp term for a boundary crossed on pain of death. In place of such terms, we have embraced a new vocabulary that includes:
Zugenruhe – the German word for the internal restlessness that tugs at birds to return to their nesting grounds for Spring.
Hanami – the Japanese ritual of following the wave of tree blossom as the Spring thaw moves North.
Gibbous – an English word derived from the Latin for hunchback. It describes the bulbous form of the Moon rising above us just now.
WE WILL LEARN TO TELL TIME WITHOUT MACHINES
On Stereochron, we’re training our eye over the course of the day to the length and orientation of shadows, to the slow shaking shift of the horse chestnut leaf, and to the colour variations of the sky. We’re becoming more sensitive to the scent of new blooms. And we’re adapting our ear to the layers and patterns of birdsong. These time-markers give shape and meaning to our days and nights. To us on Stereochron they’re like the Muezzin’s call and the church peal.
So what time is it now?
Sometimes near here a group of starlings comes to roost, rising and falling together in liquid shapes in the last rays of the Sun. Like them we too can feel day tipping into night. As the light changes, our body chemistry is changing too. Our colour perception is dimming, but details at the edges of vision are getting sharper. Our skin sensitivity is beginning to peak. The air is cooling and sounds are carrying further. These signs are all bells intoning dusk as the Sun slides below the sky-rim.
Image: Dawn on Stereochron Island, 2013 (photo: Emma Ridgway).