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Metronome: art installation in New York with extraordinary clock

Leonid Rayevsky

journalist, travel guide and guide


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What about Ilf: “Why he married her, I don't understand. She is so ugly that they turn around in the street. So he turned around. Thinks what the hell? I came closer, but it was already too late. " It's the same with the city. Sometimes you linger somewhere and look around in bewilderment. Like, what is it and is it worth stopping here at all? And only after reading and understanding, realizing the scale and depth, you still remain and try to "penetrate". Today we are on East 14th Street, in the Union Square area, right at the 14th Street subway stop, next to an installation named Metronome.

Photo: Shutterstock

Who first had the idea to place it here: the city authorities or the authors, today it is impossible to determine. Most likely, the city wanted to somehow decorate the unpresentable facades of buildings on a small section of 14th Street between Broadway and 4 Avenue, directly opposite Union Square. Although, let's say right away, the location was not chosen entirely. “Face to face Faces cannot be seen. Great things are seen at a distance ”this is how S. Yesenin once taught us. Of course, this type of installation would require more space in front of the buildings. And here, in summer, the trees of the park almost completely obscure the view of the building. Nevertheless, the artists Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, by then already known for joint art projects, installations and exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world, completed this work in 1999. What is it like?

In the installation offered to the city, the artists tried in such a somewhat unusual form to explore the nature of time, displaying it in several formats at once: historical, geological, stellar and real. They had to work with the facades of three structures: the right building had panel filling of the walls, the left one had solid glass glazing, and the walls of the central one were made of brickwork. Therefore, the installation proposed by them was actually assembled from three parts, and each part of this triptych had to carry its own semantic load: the right one was the conventional “old time”, the left one was “new time”, and the middle one was the “connection of times”.

Photo: Shutterstock

Let's see first what solutions they have proposed for side volumes. In the huge snow-white wall on the right side was mounted a large aluminum celestial sphere, covered on one side with dark blue enamel (night), and on the other with 23,75 carats gold leaf (day). The control of the sphere rotation was supposed to be performed by an electronic stepping motor. Roughly speaking, the celestial sphere, a kind of indicator of the lunar phases, excellently known since the deep Middle Ages, was presented here. Similar products can still be found today on the walls of many ancient cathedrals and altars in different parts of the world. The principle of its operation is simple: at midnight we see only the dark half, at noon - only the golden one. Accordingly, at about 6 o'clock in the afternoon and 6 o'clock in the morning, we observe two equal parts of the blue-gold sphere. If you conditionally break them into smaller sections, you can easily determine the hourly time.

Photo: Shutterstock

Now let's turn to the left side. Here, right in the panel of the glazed facade of the building, a digital display of 15 sections was installed, on which the time is displayed in a very original way. It is difficult for an untrained viewer to guess that there is a clock in front of him. Let's try to figure out what they really want to show us. The main thing is that this string of numbers, consisting of 76 800 LEDs, shows us the time in 24 - hour format. On the left we see 7 numbers in our usual form: hours (2 digits), minutes (2 digits), seconds (2 digits), tenths of a second (1 digit). The seven digits on the far right represent the amount of time remaining before the end of the 24-hour daily cycle, in the form of tenths of a second (1 digit), seconds (2 digits), minutes (2 digits), hours (2 digits). The number in the very center shows us hundredths of a second. If you decipher the time indicated in the photo, it turns out that the picture was taken at 14:28 and 06,4 seconds. Accordingly, 09 hours 31 minutes and 53,5 seconds remain before the next day. The number "3" between the two halves of the scoreboard indicates hundredths of a second at that moment. The clock is controlled by an Internet signal of the exact time. Those. if you do not bother with seconds and their fractions, then looking at the first four digits on the left, you will immediately see the values ​​familiar to you: 14 hours 28 minutes. And if you need to know the time remaining until midnight, then these are the last 4 digits - 09 hours 31 minutes. Watching the watch work, you see that the end numbers hardly move, and those located in the middle of the scale just flicker. Naturally, this is the second zone. It's all the same, like in an hourglass, where in the center you can clearly see how sand pours from one half to the other. At first glance, it might seem that Christina and Andrew have come up with something incredibly complex and confusing here.

In fact, they did not come up with anything special, but simply used old knowledge at a new level of technology development. Every student of the Faculty of Architecture knows the story of how Charles IV built the Charles Bridge in Prague. The fact is that all the bridges built here up to this time were demolished by the fast Vltava. And then he summoned astrologers to him, who assured him that if he starts its construction exactly at the time indicated by them, the bridge will stand forever (unharmed, by the way, to this day). How did they calculate the date? They just took a series of simple odd numbers and wrote down the ascending series first, and then the descending one. And it turned out a series of numbers 1-3-5-7-9, and then back 7-5-3-1. So, when did Charles IV start building the bridge? That's right, in 1357, on the 9th, 7th month, at 5 o'clock and 31 minutes. So here is the same thing, only with complex numbers, an ordinary descending series cannot be read in a row, since then its continuation should be started from seconds. And we are used to the fact that the clock is always read before the seconds. Therefore the second part (the rest of the day until 24 hours) should be read as in Hebrew - from right to left. And since the computer does everything for us, we don't have to calculate, but only remember how to read the signal sent to us. And do not swear at all. It is clear that not everyone wants to feel like a Jew in this situation, and when asked: "How much time is left until midnight?" act as if you are in the Jewish quarter of Prague, where the clock runs normally on one dial of the town hall, and on the other - from right to left.

And yet, one often hears that with this 15-digit series of numbers, the artists are too clever. Like, who needs these tenths or hundredths of a second?

But this is a completely different question. Here we are talking about the main concept of the project, according to which the clocks on the right and left buildings should show the evolutionary path of the development of time measurement technology. From ancient, primitive, medieval clocks with lunar faces (where even the hour's time was difficult to accurately determine), to a modern miracle - a technique that can calculate the time with an accuracy of a hundredth of a second. When looking at both buildings at once, this evolution is visible to the naked eye.

Now let's turn to the middle, most important building of the installation. It is no longer white, but red in color, and is much higher than the rest, being in fact the main tower of the complex.

Photo: Shutterstock

The centerpiece of the composition is a vertical wall of 52 bricks (000 feet high and 100 feet wide) crafted and positioned to resemble circles spreading over water into which a stone was thrown.

In the center of this wavy pattern, there is a hole 1,5 meters in diameter, from which a stream of steam constantly rises upward. At noon and midnight, a huge plume erupts from here, accompanied by the sound of an explosion. This is how the exact city time is marked: noon and midnight. As in the old days the sound of a church bell.

The area around the hole is decorated with 23,75 carat gold leaf. We can assume that this golden halo conventionally personifies an explosion, similar to the one that resulted in the formation of the planet Earth. Or it evokes associations with the internal energy of the Earth, which finds a way out in the form of geothermal sources.

Slightly higher (on the wall) we see a large bronze hand, which is an exact (albeit enlarged) copy of the hand from the statue of George Washington (made by Henry Kirk Brown) and is located directly under the installation in Union Square Park.

Finally, in the lower part of the composition, a huge piece of rock is fixed protruding from the wall, as a symbol of past geological eras.

This is what is shown in the main part of the installation. And then an obvious question arises: “Why did the artists decide to name their work“ Metronome ”?

After all, a metronome (from the Greek "measure, measure"), as a rule, refers to the devices used by musicians as an accurate guide to the tempo, when performing a piece of music, and not at all such an installation. But the authors do not explain this to us. They only say that they wanted to create "a dialogue between the public and the city, as these eight elements symbolize the pulsing rhythms of the city, daily rituals and its astronomical and geological history."

Those. we are talking about the possibility of using this concept somewhat broadly: in the sense of making an attempt to capture the rhythm of time. By creating something like a world time counter. Then, pushing off from the period of the planet's birth, which splashed golden lava on the wall, continue the formation of the most powerful rocks in the earth's thickness. By the way, they made it possible to build huge skyscrapers on them. Then, from the huge stone on the facade, travel back to the time when medieval celestial spheres were used to count it. And then to Washington, which below, from its monument, blesses the soldiers who conquered the city from the British in 1783. And from here, from the height of time, as the "father of the fatherland" proclaims the time of the birth of the Republic. And now we have before us and modern America, able to afford to count down the time to a hundredth of a second.

And the metronome hand froze on the wall, waiting. After all, life goes on. The city around is living and developing. Pulses with tremendous energy, marking every fleeing fraction of a second on this watch. And every day, at noon and midnight, he can trumpet: “It's okay! I'm alive, smoking room! " And blow off steam. Meanwhile, the old lunar clock will show full day or full night.

Instead of an epilogue

Of course, thousands of people, not knowing these stories, pass by without trying to understand or learn anything. Although asking about it here is almost hopeless. Even contacting sellers who have been working here for decades (in the stores below), you will not get the correct answer. As one more proof of the main postulate of the installation: life flickers, like these numbers on the scoreboard, runs, without stopping anywhere, without stopping and not being distracted by anything. And since there are no indications that this board at the top is a clock anywhere, then what people will not come up with about this. What It Is: Acres of rainforest destroyed every year, daily carbon emissions, time remaining until the end of the world, and the like. But more often than not, the public thinks it is the gross national debt figures shown here. And the most amazing thing in all these assumptions is that still: "There is no smoke without fire."

The fact is that such "National Debt Clock" (hours of national debt) do exist in New York. They reflect the current total, which is constantly updated to show the United States' gross national debt and the share of each American family in it. They are currently installed on the west side of One Bryant Park, west of Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Manhattan Streets. Since, before that, they changed the address several times, this gives people a reason to think that this is what they are.

Screenshot from video YouTube / NowThis News

And the second thing. About "seconds until the end of the world." From September 19 to September 26, 2020, Climate Week was held in New York. During this period, artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd obtained consent to transform the Metronome into a "Climate Clock". The fact is that, according to the calculations of ecologists, an environmental catastrophe is brewing in the world associated with the problems of climate warming. And since they even established the exact date when this will happen, this data was displayed on the screen. So, for example, on the display of the Metronome on September 21 at 13.57, data appeared that before the onset of a climatic catastrophe, humanity had seven years, 102 days, 12 hours, 06 minutes and 08 seconds. So, thanks to them for the advance warning. We still have time to prepare.

However, on September 27, the Metronome returned to its old mode, and again shows the usual time.

By the way, a similar situation already happened to him once. For several months in 2005, the clock also did not perform its direct function, but instead counted down time until the International Olympic Committee declared New York the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Then, unfortunately, the city lost an application to London to host the games, and poor Metronome was again forced to return to his routine work.

It's time for us too. After all, he, by the endless blinking of his scoreboards, has long reminded that the time has come to say goodbye.

Moreover, we have already managed to see another interesting place in the city. How many more ahead! Enjoy your travels. Until next time!

Address: Metronome. East 14th Street, Park Avenue, New York 10009

This article by ForumDaily author, journalist Leonid Raevsky is part of the New York Walking cycle.

Read his other materials on ForumDaily

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