Clockmaker Anna-Rose Kirk reflects on designing The Horizon Clock, a contemporary clock which references time’s relationship with nature.
Before clocks, time was synonymous with nature. For thousands of years, human beings used the natural world to tell the time. The path of the Sun was used to measure a day, the phases of the Moon for a month and the position of the stars were used in many complex ways to measure hours, months and years. The Ancient Egyptians used the star Sothis, now known as Sirius, the Dog Star, to signal the beginning of the season in which the Nile floods, thus heralding the start of a new year. Many cultures worldwide have had diverse ways of telling the time throughout history, some even used sounds and smells in nature.
To give a more accurate idea of time, people created instruments, harnessing nature to break the day into smaller amounts. Examples include, sundials which use the sun’s shadow to tell the time; clepsydras, water clocks which measure time using the regulated flow of liquid into or out from a vessel; and astrolabes, which predict the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, and determine local time. Telling the time with an astrolabe also told you about your position in the universe.
In the modern age, where we are able to tell the time instantly and to amazing accuracy, it is easy to forget that essentially time is just a measure of where we are in the natural orbit of the Earth around the Sun, the Earth’s rotation on its axis and the Moon’s orbit around the Earth.
The Horizon Clock reminds us of this fact by indicating the path of the Sun across the sky allowing us to see how much day light remains and how much darkness is coming. Its single hand rotates once a day, allowing for an approximate indication of the time on the ring of 24 numbers. Two arms indicate the times of sunrise and sunset throughout the year. The sunburst pointer represents the sun’s daily journey across the sky and beneath the horizon at night. The clock reflects on the idea that time is intrinsically linked with the steady paths of the Earth and the Sun.
What other technologies help people to connect to or utilise nature?
The Clockmakers’ Museum at the Science Museum is home to the world’s oldest clock and watch collection. It maps the history of watch and clock making from 1600 to the present day. The Horizon Clock will be on display as part of the collection until May 2016.