Phil Abernethy does much more then make clocks. Raised in a family of clockmakers he was immersed in “time” while most of us just keep track of it.
“…my work is an abstraction of my craft and of our experience of time. In a way it is the bringing of yesterday into tomorrow and a revitalizing of the concept of domestic timekeepers and their place in that space. There is something inherently sculptural in mechanical clocks.”
His work focuses on the reinterpretation of escapements, that is the arrangement of parts that keep a pendulum in motion, the heart of the mechanical clock. Drawing on broad experience he creates sculptural clocks based on historic, notable and obscure timekeeping. Key to his exploration has been the development of contemporary reflections on traditional mechanics, that are both functional in the long term and require little in the way of maintenance and adjustment. This is achieved through the use of sound design, significant prototyping, contemporary materials and components, and by drawing extensively on field experience.
He takes particular inspiration from the seventeenth century clockmaker, John Harrison, a self-educated English carpenter and clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer . The marine chronometer solved the problem of establishing the longitude of a ship at sea, which was a major technical achievement that enabled the Age of Discovery. With no formal training in clockwork Harrison reinvented it, and Phil Abernethy is now reinventing the clock again, with his own unique vision.
“I share Harrison’s notion that doing things differently, regardless of the reaction, is a important element in discovery. The ghost of John Harrison figures large in my own work, where I have adapted his escapement geometry, gear profiles, roller pinions and double ended pendulums.”
Being exposed to countless historic devices and systems in his work as a clock restorer over several decades, combined with a lifelong interest in art, it seemed natural for him to explore the potential of clockwork as Art. Phil started at the restoration bench under his Father at 14, completed his apprenticeship and diploma at 24, and spent the next couple of decades restoring some very fine works and some very humble ones. The confines of the bench eventually gave way to public clock restorations and commissions, mostly standard works, but occasionally creative work.
“Throughout I always had it in mind that the craft could be taken somewhere different…… visually in my own work I combine natural lines and organic forms with the easy cadence of slow beating pendulums, that reflect a natural and more reflective experience of time.”
He has written a very thoughtful and interesting essay called Time Bending: Reinterpreting the Craft of Clockmaking which will really get you thinking about “time” and the innate beauty of a swinging pendulum that marks time passing. His videos, particularly The Sculptural Clock demonstrates how peaceful the sound of a clock can be, how it can bring you into the present and slow everything down.
I highly recommend watching his clocks in motion. Here are two of Phil’s video’s; Sculptural Clock and the Sculptural Kinetic Clock: Isochronal Awakening. You can see more videos of his clocks on his youtube channel and also on his website.
To learn more about Phil Abernethy and to see more of his work, visit his website at www.philabernethy.com
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