Harrison’s Garden is an imagined landscape and garden of clocks. The artwork was commissioned by Connect! and presented at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, UK. The installation then toured National Trust properties before its final presentation at the Ropewalk Gallery.
The title of the artwork refers to the famous clockmaker John Harrison, who struggled for decades to make navigation at sea safer, by creating the most accurate clock the world had ever seen. Would he ever have imagined that there would be clocks in almost every room of every house and that they would shape society so profoundly? Modern society has developed and arguably only been made possible, through the time pieces that surround us. We wake up, work, eat and sleep when it’s time to do these things. The clock has also been internalised, brought within psychology, to the extent that most of us often know the time quite accurately without needing to look at a clock.
At Nostell Priory the installation artwork was exhibited alongside one of John Harrison’s original working wooden clocks.
Many of the clocks in the installation were donated by the public, each carrying their own personal story and significance. How many times has each clock been glanced at by their owners, touched, moved, reset? What important and mundane events have been prompted by the clocks’ alarms and chimes ringing out? What might the art installation look like if the collection of clocks were assembled in another country or perhaps in 100 years time?
Around 2000 clocks are clustered into species and form islands, pathways and borders. Some clocks seem like classics of their time, others are a pastiche, pretending to be classical clocks of a previous era. Some clocks are on the march, whilst others seem to be in conversation with one another.
There are carriage clocks, which presumably have been given to employees in their retirement, travel clocks, anniversary clocks, children’s clocks, digital alarm and wall clocks. Clicking, ticking, the landscape of sound is beautiful, rhythmic and musical, but also at times unnerving. The installation seems alive; gently twitching.
In our current age, the measurement and structure of time seems more important than ever, but many of these analogue clocks seem to have lost their value, their function in part replaced by clocks on our mobile phones, computers and other digital technology.
Harrison’s Garden is perhaps a reminder that we are all here now, simultaneously moving through time together. Our time on this earth is limited and precious. How much time have we lived; how much have we got left? Each with our own body clock, we calibrate ourselves each day through the man-made clocks which surround us.
Harrison’s Garden has completed its tour. Having first been presented at Thelma Hulbert Gallery the artwork then toured onto Nostell Priory, Castle Drogo, Gunby Hall and Penryn Castle. With donations from the public adding to the collection for each presentation, the installation of clocks grew. The different context for each presentation, affected the interpretation of the artwork. It’s final presentation was at The Ropewalk, Barton-upon-Humber, from January 2019, after which the clocks were auctioned off to raise money to create a statue of John Harrison for the town.
Many children visiting the installation had never seen a pendulum or wind-up clock before! Read hand written public feedback in this pdf.
Watch Prof Simon Schaffer talking about the history of clocks and philosophy of time measurement.
Watch Longitude, a programme about John Harrison’s work.
Read Time Warped by Claudia Hammond.