Ruth Ewan, We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted To Be (2011)

The clock face above Debenhams is one of the most mundane and predictable sights in any town. But Ruth Ewan has removed just two of the integers and the effect is hallucinatory.

It may not slow traffic and find itself on TV idents in the way some public art has done over the years. But the decimal clock quietly does its work, one unsuspecting shopper at a time.

The confusion and annoyance at finding only 10 hours in the day may be compounded by the discovery that nine other clocks in Folkestone are now running on French Republican Time.

But this post-revolutionary invention was even too much for our rational neighbours in France. Decimal time persisted for two years from 1793, while a new decimal calendar lasted for 13.

Some might wonder what was the point. Well, existing measures of week and month had just too much Christian and monarchical baggage. Weeks were stretched; Sundays, abolished.

Meanwhile, the 100-minute hours which lasted for 144 of our present minutes allowed for more to happen in less time and reflected the ‘exciting’ pace of change in the turbulent French state.

The limits of this art project may be Folkestone, but it does seem that more is happening by the hour in 2011 than at any time in recent history. At least social media makes it seem that way.

So a case could be made for bringing in Republican time. (The current government is building a case to abolish May Day in the UK. Time is political, whether you look forward or back.)

And as for those resistant shoppers, well surely they are part of the piece. Permanent revolution is as impossible as it is necessary even if, as the title of this piece hints, it may be too late.

We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted To Be is at Folkestone Triennial until 25 September 2011. I am grateful to Astrid Johnston’s fascinating essay in the booklet to go with this piece, The Clock Struck Ten. Copies available at Triennial visitor centre.

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