The watchmaker. With his belt and braces, we can plainly see that this man will make no exception for technical errors.
Behind the Clock Face
The watchmaker demands accuracy, punctuality and accountability and yet he suggests that our own experience of time is merely a local and subjective phenomena: 'Notice' he says 'how time flies, when you're having fun?' That as it might be, but aren't we all slaves to the clock? The watchmaker isn't listening however. He is instead lamenting the degradation of iconic timepieces, once the preserve of gentlemen, chained to an overcoat button, and flourished at moments of importance: 'Quartz crystals, digital displays and atomic-global-time-signals have rendered my profession one of nostalgia.' Clutching a watch into his finely proportioned palm he attests 'I make mere anniversary gifts, and pieces of functional jewelry...' Flowing TIME, conspicuously unmetered, has long been a cause of inconvenience and anxiety for the human species. Our present day instruments have emerged as a culmination of a very long and slow process toward our near-domination and bottling of this flow. His eyes light up: 'Consider for a moment the layers of evolutionary DNA in the physical – and metaphysical –' he winks, 'components which reside behind the clock-face'.
Speaking with a rich European accent, the product of a long and distinguished heritage, the watchmaker outlines a pseudo-historical sketch: 'Primitive cultures had only the rhythm of day-following-night-following-day, and yet they tallied this data on long important sticks. Through necessity, early agricultural peoples distinguished seasons, counting years back by remembering how many Summers, or Winters, had passed since this thing or that thing had happened. And then... Sundials! For millennia, sundials monitored and mirrored the position of the Sun above, casting shadows from their gnomons in high-definition at High Noon. Religious figures anticipated the passage of time by burning different incense sticks, stimulating their sense of smell and, after centuries of burning candles, durational time was imbued with the feeling of material loss. Of course, there were also the water clocks - and water torture - presenting time in motion, and so it was with the grains of sand slipping away in the hour-glass. Precious time, indeed!'
An impeccably groomed moustache betrays the watchmaker's taste for fine detail. 'European Monks,' this new verse coming with a characteristic suddenness and warm excitement, 'after centuries of having signalled prayer-time with the ringing of the bells, began to develop mechanical contraptions for marking the arrival of an appointed hour. Descendants of these devices, having reached an acceptable level of reliability, became the must-have status symbol for European merchant towns and cities. These were the forefathers of the clocks we see today. For a period, these public clocks had only one hand, indicating the hour, and yet this sufficed!' What we had taken for enthusiastic nostalgia, now manifests as an incendiary Luddite tendency. The watchmaker danders awhile, relating details and names of various inconsequential historical mechanisms before asking, with a renewed sharpness to his voice, 'Have you ever heard of the escapement mechanism? If so, then you'll know, that it represents the ultimate mechanical innovation in timekeeping! The escapement mechanism performs a simple but critical task. It introduces a pause into the space where one-second-ends and the-next-one-begins. It represents the birth of “tick” and “tock”!'
Surely ticking and tocking is not so important? A happy by-product no doubt? You ask. 'No!' He protests, 'you misunderstand! The classic escapement clock broadcasts three simultaneous and distinct pieces of information out onto the town square. Number one, clearly the clock-face displays the immediate 'present', which we read as standardised time. Second, the movement of the hands across the face relate a continuous, and homogenised, passage of time. Thirdly,' the watchmaker now quick to his feet for his denouement, 'Thirdly! Due to the escapement mechanism, the tick and tock motion of the clock express its own relentless processing and measuring and cutting up of Time itself into quantifiable units. Little bits that even a simpleton can hear and understand! Installed on high, and as part of meteorological assemblage, accompanied by the cockeral weather vane, the uninitiated townsperson could be forgiven for assuming that the function of the clock-device is to divine TIME from the heavens! Escapement within the clock performs a constant ticking and tocking, banging a drum, regulating and defining the activity of the populous, like a metronome. Enough to herald an Industrial Revolution!' It is then, a bell rings behind the bar.
Time Gentlemen Please!
'Ah, a perfect example! TIME and the LAW enacted simultaneously. Notice the constraints and freedoms deriving authority from either the Clock or the Law? An analogy might be drawn.' Finally, the watchmaker, sits back, peering down his nose towards me, as though he has made a profound point. But he has lost me. 'So we wonder if escapement is in fact imprisonment! It is a good question - the constant rhythm of the clock might well be compared to the bars of a cell, and the pause of escapement as liberating as the gaps in-between ... This is not, however, entirely fair or accurate. The Law, like Time, is a dynamic idea whose position is a constant flux. Time flows and Law returns, normalising, but, as human subjects we are not content to leave any of this to chance. Law has its own “escapement mechanism” in the regulating principle of “legislation” - iterating in a gap between principle and practice - a nervous 'tic! So, seeking Law in the relentless stutter of parliamentary acts and decrees is like searching for Time in the mechanism of a clock.'
Time Gentlemen Please!!!
John O'Shea is an artist who uses law as his medium. He is working on an AHRC Research Project at Newcastle University’s Culture Lab proposing and prototyping new kinds of technological ‘interface’ between citizen and law. He is a long-time Mercy man-in-the-shadows, helping us plot many of our most dastardly spectacles. Franky Hale-Lynch is a freelance illustrator due to graduate in July 2010. She uses a mixture of media, combining intricate hand drawings, collage and line work to portray her creative ideas and concepts.