61/60: Thinking Through Leap Seconds

  • Horological Society of New York 180 West 76th Street New York, NY, 10023 United States

Sara Morawetz - Artist

A leap second is a unit of measure irregularly added to our global system of time-keeping to account for perturbations in the rotation rate of our planet. In the broader context of human experience, it is tempting to relegate individual leap seconds to the inconsequent — assuming that such infinitesimal adjustments carry little resonance. However, the cumulative effect of this mechanism is nothing less than that which holds the sun overhead at midday, and without it, our time becomes unfastened to the solar cycles in which its steeped.

At a meeting of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in November this year, a decision was taken on whether leap seconds will continue to be included in our system of time. Artist Sara Morawetz, who has been investigating this contingent facet of time-keeping, will join us to discuss both the philosophical implications of the WRC’s decision and what this means for the way time is measured into the future. These issues will have lasting implications not only for the various time-based technologies with which we live, but also for the very fabric of time-keeping itself and what it’s function is in relation to both ourselves and our planet.

The performance work '61/60' that Sara has created in response to this decision is part of a continuing interest in the eccentricities of standardization, in particular the standardization of time. In addition to the question of the leap second, Sara will also discuss her recent performance 'How the Stars Stand', a project made in consultation with Dr. Michael Allison of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, in which the artist lived by Martian sols (a 24h 39m 'day') for a period of 37 days (36 sols).