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An Immersive Sundial

I’ve been studying sundials throughout history and re-thinking what the sundial could be in the 21st century. We don’t need a sundial to tell time but we need devices to orient ourselves to the astronomical world around us and to translate the slow time of the earth’s rotation into a form that is meaningful and evocative.

Most sundials mark time by the passage of a shadow over numbers. Accuracy is only within 20 minutes unless the date is used to correct for the difference between solar time and chronological time.

I felt it was important that a sundial retain this time-keeping function but numerical time-keeping didn’t feel sufficient. I began looking for a more evocative and immersive way to indicate the passage of time. Dichroic films offered an opportunity to bathe entire volumes with intense color that changes throughout the day as the sun’s position changes in the sky.

I began experimenting with sundial forms that use dichroic glass to create colored shadows that change throughout the day. I also included a central axis that parallels the earth’s north-south axis.

This central axis also takes on the role of the gnomon – the object that casts the shadow that tells time. I experimented with dozens of different forms before settling one the one shown here for my first large scale sundial sculpture.

I expect to install this piece later in 2022 and look forward to seeing people walk through the sundial and find themselves bathed in intense color throughout the day.

By Joseph O'Connell


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