On Time and Clocks

From Isaac Newton’s absolute idea of time to Albert Einstein’s claim that it is relative, the nature of the temporal has long puzzled scientists. Does time run at the same pace in all situations, or is it affected by other physical forces? The conference “On Time and Clocks,” whose two parts bracket dOCUMENTA (13) on June 8 and September 13, discusses this topic from the perspective of both artists and scientists. It is influenced by two installations in the exhibition: The Refusal of Time (2012) by William Kentridge and Clocked Perspective (2012) by Anri Sala.

During the first session, in June, the historian and philosopher of science Peter L. Galison and artist William Kentridge discuss the repercussions that different ideas of time have on our lives today. Kentridge’s installation The Refusal of Time in the Hauptbahnhof is an artistic response to Galison’s discussion of concepts of time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in his seminal work Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time (2003).

The second session of the conference, in September, focuses on Anri Sala’s installation Clocked Perspective in the Karlsaue park. Sala’s idea to create a working clock whose face is presented in sideways perspective, despite the clock’s frontal orientation, not only disrupts the visitor’s accustomed view, but also brought challenges to the mechanics of clockwork, since the hands of the clock have to change speed to adapt to the unequal distances between the hours. In this session, Sala is joined by the quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger, the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and the clockmaker Hans Siebeneicher, who devised the mechanical clockwork, to discuss different notions of time and how clocks influence our lives.