According to Albert Einstein, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
As much as I like that idea, and really I do, it seems to me that all too often time stops doing its job, and instead everything starts happening at once, or at least not happening in a timely fashion. To reorient and calm myself in those moments I take up a broom and start sweeping. For me sweeping is the perfect, rhythmic mind-quieting activity; it slows things down and gives me time to regroup.
So I find a special delight in Maarten Baas’s Sweeper’s Clock, a 24-hour, real-time video of two men sweeping two lines of dirt and debris around a large, pale grey concrete circle in a way that mimics the hour and minute hands moving around a clock face.
It’s the comic element that strikes first, but it’s not long before the piece draws us into deeper ideas of time and space. For me it comes the moment the man sweeping the minute hand makes a move to break the line, pushing it on into time as he silently moves into a place of not quite reverence for time, but perhaps obeisance.
The view from above provides just the right amount of distance—close enough to catch you in, and far enough to encompass the big picture.
Watching the men in their blue suits wordlessly working together at their task in their methodical, but not mechanical way, reassures— something any time piece worth its salt ought to offer.
Everyone has at sometime been transfixed by the movement of the hands of a clock, well the Sweepers’s Clock is even more hypnotic; it brushes up against the sublime.
Sweeper’s Clock and AnalogDigital, two works from Real Time, Baas’s clock-movie series of films that function as clocks, were both shown in the exhibition Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects and then acquired for MoMA’s collection in 2011. Sweeper’s Clock is currently on view in Applied Design.