Explorations of time using photography—that most technological of artistic media—have an unusually high success rate, from Sarah Charlesworth’s documentation of a 1979 eclipse via reprinted images from American newspapers, to Stephen Lawson’s panoramic landscapes assembled, strip by vertical strip, over weeks or months.
German artist Bettina Pousttchi’s “World Time Clock” isn’t the most profound example of this genre, but the project has its charms—and it’s found a perfect temporary home at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Between 2008 and 2016, Pousttchi traveled the globe to all 24 time zones, in order to photograph a prominent local clock, always at the same time of day—five minutes before two in the afternoon. The cities range from huge (London, Mexico City, Bangkok) to the obscure (Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia).
The clocks Pousttchi documented all have classic faces—no digital displays here—but they are diverse nonetheless. Some have typical numerals; others use Roman numerals, Thai numerals or no numerals at all. One offers both 12-hour and 24-hour time; some have blocky, modernist fonts, while others are more old-fashioned.
Frustratingly, Pousttchi leaves viewers some big, unanswered questions. The reason for the repeated time of her exposures is left unexplained. So is the fact that the time zones flow in seemingly random order, hopscotching back and forth across the globe.
Most inexplicable of all is Pousttchi’s not-especially-appealing stylistic choice—an unrelentingly grainy, striated look that suggests a 1970s television set with a vertical-hold problem.
Whatever this visual approach is supposed to mean, the project’s formalistic unity does at least provide an internal consistency, one that the artist terms “imaginary global synchronism.” And this message is only heightened by the exhibit’s placement in an inner hallway at the Hirshhorn.
This location offers not just a perfectly circular wall to hang the exhibition but also one that faces a curving row of windows that look out on windows across the courtyard with a shape and pattern echoes that of Pousttchi’s photographs.
Even more fittingly, viewers who want to see it all must see the exhibit as if they were a second hand traversing a clock face—a nice touch that elevates this otherwise enigmatic exhibit.
Through January 2017 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW. Daily 10–5:30. Free.