Want to Slow Down Time? Use a Really Slow Clock

Want to Slow Down Time? Use a Really Slow Clock

Imagine you have a superpower: the ability to stop time. At will, you can freeze everything around you and just take a moment to yourself. What do you even do? Catch up on sleep? Read a book? Maybe close your eyes and relax? Chances are you’re not going to use the extra minutes to answer emails or hop on another Zoom call.

It’s exactly that feeling of reprieve that Scott Thrift hopes to invoke with his latest art project.

Thrift, a filmmaker turned artist, has crafted some very unusual clocks. Each timepiece has just a single dial that measures time in much longer increments than a typical wall clock.

Thrift’s first project, titled The Present, has a single hand that takes one full year to complete a single revolution around the face. The second single-hand clock, Today, completed the same circuit in 24 hours. Now, Thrift is back with Moon, a clock that measures one lunar cycle with each revolution.

Scott Thrift’s new Moon clock indicates the current phase of the lunar cycle.

Photograph: Scott Thrift

The face is decorated with a grayscale gradient that changes from white to black; the hand gradually passes through all of the lunar phases as it moves around the clock, from full to new and back to full. (That the clock’s debut comes on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing is no coincidence.)

There are no numbers, no ticking sounds. If you stand there and stare at it, you probably won’t even be able to tell it’s moving. Hours? Minutes? Who needs ‘em. Seconds? So passé. Instead, the passage of time is measured with gradual, imperceptible changes. Impractical? Yes, but that’s also the point.

“We already have timepieces that show us how to be on time,” Thrift says. “These are timepieces that show us how to be in time.”

Thrift has unified these three very slow clocks into a sort of retroactive trilogy called The Present. (In doing do, he’s also renamed that first clock as “Year” and second clock as “Day.”) The goal with each release has been to challenge people’s modern perception of time.

“We’re kind of off balance with time for a reason,” Thrift says. “We’re looking at it in just one sort of linear, industrialized way. We’re totally missing the whole natural world.”

Got the Time

For Thrift, clocks are both the products and enforcers of a society that values progress, productivity, and capital above all else. But that’s not to say our understanding of time is all wrong. Time may be a construct, but at least it’s a reliable one.

“Time is non-physical, it’s like this entity now,” Thrift says. “It gives us a place to build or grow and cultivate something new. It’s like this layer that we can make things happen on top of. Time, and the way that we look at it now, is the crowning achievement of human civilization, because everybody agrees on it.”

The artist with his time machines.

Photograph: Scott Thrift

While perhaps not as divisive or prone to debate as some basic facts are these days, our collective sense of time has become muddled during this period of prolonged quarantine. Covid-19 has caused us to rethink some very fundamental aspects of our society—why not the passage of time as well? Instead of the dread-inducing activity that is watching the seconds tick away (or drag on), Thrift wants people to look at a clock and be encouraged.

“Right now we’re living in the long-term effects of short-term thinking. I don’t think it’s possible really for us to commonly think long term if the way that we tell time is with a short-term device that just shows the seconds, minutes, and hours. We’re precluded to seeing things in the short term.”

Thrift posits that society’s perception of time pre-Covid was on constant fast forward as people rushed between jobs, family duties, and … whatever else we did in the Before Times. Now, Thrift says, society is on pause. When the pandemic finally lets up—whenever in the future that will actually be—time may start to feel normal again. At least, however we decide to define normal then.

“It’s a terrible time to release this clock,” Thrift says. “But at the same time it’s the best time ever, because with all of this shake-up that’s happening, it’s going to be so easy to adopt a new way of looking at time.”

Like Thrift’s other two clocks, Moon is being funded through Kickstarter. You can make your way there—slowly—by clicking here.


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