Remember staring at the classroom clock in high school and waiting for the bell to ring? Sometimes those final minutes felt as though they dragged on for hours, and you could have sworn the minute hand sluggishly dragging across the clock face ticked backward for a brief second. It’s entirely possible that it really did.
It turns out that clock never had the autonomy you thought it had. Many schools and other institutions once used a system of "slave" clocks, all connected to a digital "master" clock hidden somewhere else in the building. Like students forced to sit at the mercy of the dismissal bell, the slave clocks were forced to the will of the master, a digital machine that looked nothing like the simple, innocuous clock face you recognized.
The idea of time and who controls it is what fascinated artist Agustina Woodgate when she placed an order for a lot of slave clocks from an eBay seller in Ohio. Drawn to the word “slave” in the title of the eBay listing, Woodgate conceived her next big art installation, Power-Line, which will open this Thursday at Spinello Projects in Miami.
The installation is composed of two works — National Times and $8.05. The first is a group of 40 slave clocks, all connected to one another via metal pipes leading to a solitary industrial-looking gray box with a red digital display most will probably not recognize: the master clock.
In her Little River studio, not far from Spinello Projects, the Argentine-born artist tucks herself into the corner of a worn vintage Futon, across from nine slave clocks she has hooked up as a test. She’s been working on this project for a little more than a year, when she first experimented with a kitchen clock. She has since called on the help of electrical engineers, clockmakers, and even a glassblower to realize Power-Line. Now she's testing the clocks' response to the modifications she has made to their minute hands. “Physics is so subtle," she says.
In the exhibition, all of the clocks will be clearly connected by pipes of electrical conduit, which she created with the help of several engineers. Woodgate recognizes that revealing the piping around electrical conduits in the exhibition serves a practical purpose, because she wasn’t about to have the walls of the gallery torn down to rewire the place. It is also part and parcel of the design of her work.
"It happens that through this economy,” she says of the exposed network, “I am visualizing something that is usually hidden, which I am incredibly interested in because it is delineating the services that we acquire in the territory that we live in... I'm using FPL. This is how electricity gets run through these clocks. They need electricity to run.”
Her emphasis on FPL, which she notes is the fourth-largest power company in the nation, calls attention to a much bigger network beyond her miniature network of clocks: the installation's reliance on something much larger — the power grid — which is fueled by a monopoly in South Florida. But then, in a decidedly Woodgate-ian move, there is something beyond all control.
"The analog clocks are self-eroding themselves thanks to a signal that is being provided by the digital master," she reveals.
Her modifications to the minute hands, it turns out, are barely visible patches of sandpaper underneath them designed to scrape away the numbers on the slave clock’s faces. Gradually, these slave clocks commit a revolution against the demarcation of time, a measurement that Woodgate says is used to control those forced to follow time as they give of themselves to the timekeeper. She talks about a period of time in the past when few people had access to timekeeping devices. "Workers [were] at the mercy of the one who owns the clock,” she says.
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National Times is coupled with $8.05, composed of eight suspended hourglasses, which she made with the help of a glassblower. The two bulbs are filled with green and black “ink dust extracted from U.S. banknotes,” and a coin is hidden under the cement base of the hourglass. All she says about how she got this “ink dust” is "it's ink of dollar bills." The title refers to the minimum wage in Florida.
The clocks were activated on Labor Day so that the master has time to synchronize the slaves. Woodgate hopes the clocks will continue to operate until all the numbers are completely eliminated. She has put a lot of thought into the work, considering different methods of what she calls “auto-erosion,” ranging from razor blades to her final go-to: sandpaper.
She says opening night is only the beginning of her vision. "I'm not showing a piece, a completed work,” she notes. “I'm automating my process, which is exciting. Now the objects are doing it themselves instead of me.”
Opens with a reception Thursday, September 8, from 7 to 10 p.m. The installation will be on display through November 8. At the same time, Spinello Projects will also present "#tags," the Miami debut solo exhibition from Berlin-based artist Marc Bijl. Visit spinelloprojects.com.