The media are not toys… they can be entrusted only to new artists, because they are art forms.
(McLuhan, 1954)


I was commissioned by sociology professor Leo Singer, from the University of Liverpool, to create illustrations for his research project titled Dysrhythmia. Detailed information can be found below.

Dys/Rhythmic Clock

This image was inspired by Carl Linnaeus’ illustrations of a Flower Clock. Linnaeus was a Swedish naturalist who noticed that plants undergo daily rhythms of wakefulness and sleep. In his 1751 Philosophia Botanica he recorded forty-six species of plants that opened and closed their flowers at fixed times throughout the day. The Flower Clock (Horologium Florae) as conceived by Linnaeus for his town’s park would allow visitors to tell the time, but he never managed to complete his vision. Linnaeus was by no means the first person who observed behavioural patterns roughly following a 24-hour cycle (hence the later term circadian rhythms). The oldest written record comes from the fourth Century BC when the Greek Androsthenes described the circadian rhythm of a tamarind tree. But Linnaeus’ clock stands out for me as special because it marks the beginning of an era when, for the first time in history, rhythms of nature were elevated as a specific object of scientific studies by emerging chemistry, biology, physiology, embryology or anthropology. In her fascinating book on the subject, Janina Wellmann has delimited this period between the years 1760 and 1830.

Just as the naturalists were discovering the processes of transformation of living forms in time, from embryo to death, the exploding capitalist relations and their everyday reproduction were increasingly dependent on precise measurements of time. To perpetuate the rhythm of capital investment, production, sales and consumption, the owners of the manufactures needed to be able to synchronize in time and space a reliable supply of material resources, workers, means of distribution and the markets. National and regional demand turned out to be too limited for the increasingly mechanized industries. This was a ‘matter of time’ in a double sense: as a global race for new colonies to expand the booming markets; but also as a race to invent tools for the measurement of time, in order to calculate a ship’s longitude on the seas. The best mathematicians, astronomers and watchmakers were drafted in the battle.

My Dys/Rhythmic Clock represents the idea that since the birth of industrial capitalism in the times of Linnaeus up to the present days, an invariant feature of modernity has been the coexistence of two major Master Clocks or ‘Zeitgebers’ on the planet – the Sun/Moon cycle on the one hand and the rhythms of the movement of capital on the other. While the best measurement and surveillance technologies of the formative era of Capitalism were based on a mechanical clocks’ spring mechanism, today’s proletariat is being coordinated, measured, valued and ranked by digital algorithmic machines. The binary code that is unwinding spiral-like in the centre of the Dys/rhythmic Clock is not a random sequence of 1s and 0s. I have translated in it a quote from Marx who explains the mutual intertwinement of three rhythms of capital: the circuits of money capital, productive capital and commodity capital: “As a whole then, the capital is simultaneously present, and spatially coexistent, in its various phases. But each part is constantly passing from one phase or functional form into another, and thus functions in all of them in turn. The forms are therefore fluid forms and their simultaneity is mediated by their succession. Each form both follows and precedes the others, so that the return of one part of the capital to one form is determined by the return of another part to another form.” (Marx, Capital volume 2, 1978, p. 184) I understand this passage in Marx’s magnum opus as an illustration of polyrhythmia, where, as shown by Lefebvre and Régulier, each rhythm is being constituted in relation to the others.

The automata never sleep but workers do. The dysrhythmic moment integral to this polyrhythmia (better known as ‘just-in-time-production’ or the ‘gig economy’) arises out of the character of so-called variable capital: the labour power. While the algorithmic chain of commands carries the capital’s tendency to push the gig workers from the day over into the night and back again, the biological limits and responses of human bodies are well-known. Long before 1s and 0s appeared, we have been programmed by evolution to follow the circadian clock of alternating wake and sleep. This genetic clock is in-built in almost every cell of our body. The clash between the two programmes embodied by the shift workers – a food courier and an Amazon worker in the illustration – results in a range of chronic issues, such as cancers, metabolic, cardio-vascular, psychological and inflammatory diseases. The image of the Dys/Rhythmic Clock depicts both types of algorithm – the binary and the evolutionary with the DNA sequence weaved in and out of the floral mass.

Seaforth Docks