Dowse Time

Author: Emma Bugden, Senior Curator
All I really know about time is that there’s never enough of it. I am a ‘time optimist’, packing an unfeasible amount of meetings into a day, texting ahead apologetically to explain why I’m delayed …”got held up”, “just leaving now”, “can’t find a park”… If only, I often think, time would respond to my needs, rather than always having to fit to time.

In Simon Faithfull’s film 0˚00 Navigation in Local Knowledge the British artist time travels, tracing the Greenwich Meridian (the zero longitudinal point for the world’s time zones) in an epic walk from the English Channel to the North Sea. Using a GPS to navigate he walks across paddocks, through rivers, houses, factories and a school, climbing over fences and through windows as needed. The line Simon is following is invisible but it charts the system of time keeping to which we are all slaves.

Although time might seem absolute, especially when you’re running late, the construct of Greenwich Mean Time or Universal Time is in fact only recently established. Until the industrial revolution time was something localised, set and controlled by the village Priest and communicated by the ringing of the village clock.

The first broader time zone was established in 1847 in the UK by railway companies, known as ‘Railway Time’, to ensure that people knew when the next train was coming. Apparently some clocks from this time period have two minute hands – one for the local time, one for GMT.

It’s appropriate, then, that our next artist has Priest for a last name. Whanganui artist Julian Priest’s work for Local Knowledge is called Local Time, and establishes a unique time zone especially for The Dowse. Sensors set around the gallery, inside and out, captures motion, light and sound to generate a time zone that responds to the particular rhythms and activities of The Dowse.

Installing this project is a complex business. First there was waiting for the arrival, freighted all the way from Poland, of a giant clock. Next came hanging the clock off the front of the gallery, on a rainy afternoon.

Now it’s up it’s hard to imagine The Dowse without it – facing off against the more legitimate Town Hall clock across the square.

After that Julian developed 10 different sensors which he located all around The Dowse, each picking up different senses, from sound to movement to heat. A map will help visitors to find where each of the sensors is located, but a few hints to start you off: check the coffee machine in the cafe, the courtyard, and the pine tree in front of The Dowse.

Here is Julian working in a make-shift office set up in the gallery space.

So now you’re able to set your clock to Dowse time!


Emma Bugden, Programmes Manager/Senior Curator

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