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Representing Time

Created: 2 February 2018

Deep History

Question: Why does the circle have 360°?

A Brief History of the Calendar (up to 12:42)

A History of Timekeeping in Six Minutes

A Minor History Of / Time without Clocks by Joshua Foer

Joshua Foer has done such an excellent job, it is best just to link to his A Minor History of Time Without Clocks. Here’s a PDF backup. Let’s pay special attention to the following:

  • 1600’s Cannon Dial
  • 1633 Kircher’s sunflower clock, set by the heliotropism of a flower
  • 1728 Sawai Jai Singh’s 90-foot tall sundial, accurate to 2 seconds
  • 1733 Moon dial, read by the shadow of the moon
  • 1751 Linnaeus’s flower clock, read from the opening of flowers
  • 1929 “aktograph”, or bean leaf movement clock

It’s worth remembering that the convention that we use 12 (or 24) hour time is totally arbitrary — an artifact of ancient Egyptian astronomy. Other systems have been used and proposed. For example, until quite recently, a six-hour day was used in Thailand. During the French Revolution, when the metric system was invented, people seriously proposed decimal time.

Here’s a decimal clock from the late 1700s:

We see this again in the 10-Hour Flux Clock by George Maciunas (1969):

Software Clocks (I)

Let’s start with something simple. The Colour Clock displays the current time as a hexadecimal color. Hours = red, minutes = green, seconds = blue. There you go; glad that’s over with. In case you were wondering, more than several people have thought of this idea. Low hanging fruit.

Now let’s go back in history. Here are John Maeda’s 12 O’Clocks from 1996. If the real apps (OS9) don’t work any longer, here’s a video (jump to 4’00”).

Maeda's 12 O'Clocks

Live Mac OS9 demostration instructions:

Clocks have been an idee fixe in new media. Here's the elegant video-slitscan-based Last Clock, (2002) by Jussi Angesleva & Ross Cooper:

Here's a clock I produced as a student of John Maeda in 1999.

My student Greg Vassallo made this clock for my class in 2005:

The Clock and Human Industry

Real Time: Schiphol Clock by Maarten Baas

Sweeper Clock by Maarten Baas

Standard Time by Mark Formanek

Industrious Clock by Yugo Nakamura

Book Clock by Masaaki Hiromura

Crowdsourced Clocks

The Human Clock is a clock made from crowdsourced photographs. The Photo’Clock by Mono-1 is similar.

All the Minutes by Studio Moniker

The World Clock Project by Harvest

A well-known ‘crowdsourced’ clock (in a different sense) is Christian Marclay’s Clock, a 24-hour film made up of about seven thousand clips, each of which either says or displays the (actual) time of day, or which makes a cogent reference to time:

Physical Machines & Clock Typography

Continue Time by Sander Mulder

3.16 Billion Cycles by Che-Wei Wang & Taylor Lev

Digital Sundial by Mojoptix

Taiwanese designer Yen-Wen Tseng has designed a clock, Hand in Hand, where the hands are linked by two pivoting arms:

Water Clocks by Bernard Gitton (jump to 2:19)

Drop Clock by Stasean

Binary Clock

LEGO Mindstorms Digital Clock

Segmentus Clock by Art Lebedev

Ferrolic by Zelf Koelman

A Million Times by Humans Since 1982

The Clock Clock by Humans Since 1982

A Study Of Time by rAndom International


Qlocktwo by Biegert & Funk selectively illuminates parts of a text image:

It's about time by insightoutsight / Laurence Willmott

Four Letter Clock by Skot Croshere (SKOT9000), 2011

New Graphics; New Concepts

Ink Calendar by Oscar Diaz uses capillary action to display the time.

A Dot for Every Second in the Day

Untitled (For The Sun) by Jim Campbell


Horloge Tactile by Eric Morzier

Pong Clock

Center Clock by Lee Byron (2007)

QR Clock by QRPlanet

Time Machine by Daniel Duarte

L'Ora X Clock by Bruno Munari (1945)

Sonicode Clock by Saqoosha

Last Time by Ali Miharbi (2009)

Personal Timekeeper by Taeyoon Choi & E Roon

Ten Things I Can Count On by Bruce Cannon

Zero Noon by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

  • The Rhythm Of Heart - A metronomic archive of the artists’ heartbeats.
  • Untitled (Perfect Lovers) - by Félix González-Torres. Two synchronized clocks embody the tension that comes from two people living side-by-side as life moves forward towards death.

In some situations, it may not be necessary for a clock to “work” mechanically in order for it to “operate” powerfully. Below are clocks which are frozen at 8:15am, the moment when the Hiroshima bomb detonated, when Kengo Nikawa’s pocketwatch stopped forever.

In another situation, a clock may simply be working so slowly that it never appears to be working in our lifetime. The Clock of the Long Now, designed to last 10,000 years, ticks once per year and chimes once per century. As such, it fosters long-term thinking and remains an important symbol of hope for the future.

The Clock of the Long Now (10,000 Year Clock)