A New York Clock That Told Time Now Tells the Time Remaining

Emilee Geist

For more than 20 years, Metronome, which includes a 62-foot-wide 15-digit electronic clock that faces Union Square in Manhattan, has been one of the city’s most prominent and baffling public art projects. Its digital display once told the time in its own unique way, counting the hours, minutes and seconds […]

For more than 20 years, Metronome, which includes a 62-foot-wide 15-digit electronic clock that faces Union Square in Manhattan, has been one of the city’s most prominent and baffling public art projects.

Its digital display once told the time in its own unique way, counting the hours, minutes and seconds (and fractions thereof) to and from midnight. But for years observers who did not understand how it worked suggested that it was measuring the acres of rainforest destroyed each year, tracking the world population or even that it had something to do with pi.

On Saturday Metronome adopted a new ecologically sensitive mission. Now, instead of measuring 24-hour cycles, it is measuring what two artists, Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, present as a critical window for action to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible.

On Saturday at 3:20 p.m., messages including “The Earth has a deadline” began to appear on the display. Then numbers — 7:103:15:40:07 — showed up, representing the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds until that deadline.

Over the years the sound and steam have ceased. The numbers, however, kept moving.

The original artists had been thinking about reimagining the work to address the deepening climate crisis when, in February, they got a letter from Mr. Golan and Mr. Boyd.

“It was kind of magic,” Ms. Jones said, calling the timing “beautiful synchronicity.”

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