We are very excited to announce the launch a new pop-up display in collaboration with artist Isabella Martin called Z-Time: The art and science of circadian rhythms. This new display is an opportunity to share the process of developing a collaborative artwork exploring the science of circadian rhythms. The pop-up, created by Isabella Martin and Museion researcher Kristin Hussey, presents the workings of creating a piece of video art responding to the work of chronobiologists at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR).

Still from the laboratory. A researcher is shown in the bright red light used during circadian experiments. The image is blurry and surreal.  © Isabella Martin 2020
Still from the laboratory, an experiment by red light. © Isabella Martin 2020

Located just at the top of Museion’s sweeping staircase next to our pharmacy, visitors will find a short video, items from the lab, and an ever-changing storyboard of images and words that will evolve into the final artwork. The display will change and grow over the next 4 months as new material is created by the artist. The final artwork will be displayed as a part of the major art and science exhibition The World Is In You, curated by the Medical Museion, at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in autumn 2021.

About the work

You are made of time. Literally. Our bodies have evolved over thousands of years to keep time with the rising and setting of the sun. Strong environmental cues, called zeitgebers, tune our body clocks to the world around us. Disrupting these circadian rhythms (døgnrytme) can have a profound effect on our health.

Chronobiologists have the difficult task of trying to study this embodied time. In the laboratory they use strange and sometimes surreal techniques, like working by bright red light. They have even made their own system for recording time in the lab, called Zeitgeber Time or Z-Time. The term ‘zeitgeber’ was coined by German scientists in the 1960s and means ‘time giver’. A zeitgeber is a strong environmental cue which tells our brains what time it is. For humans, this is typically the sun but could also be the light from your phone, or even eating a meal. In the laboratory, scientists use light and food to manipulate the sense of time in cells and animal models.

A broken clock from the laboratory, which is included in the display. © Isabella Martin 2020
A broken clock from the laboratory, which is included in the display. © Isabella Martin 2020

What are scientists doing to time when they create these time-altering protocols? From the perspective of the animals models, they have been moved onto a new time completely different than the outside world. Their midnight becomes our 8am. Carrying out a circadian experiments means carefully managing these new time cycles and trying to coordinate this with the scientist’s own timeline. Chronobiologists often have to work late into the night or around the clock to make sure they gather the data they need. In order to study body clocks, they disrupt their own.

This artwork is interested in the different ‘timescapes’ of circadian science, and the experiences of the researchers themselves – who both study time while being subject to time. The films themselves explore the time environments within and without CBMR. The camera lens moves promiscuously between the outside world and the changing shadows – showing the suns passage, to the light, modern interiors of CBMR and into the disoriented, blacked out rooms of the physiology labs. The images follow the daily rhythms and movement of life in as a circadian biologist – the focused and precise hand movements at the bench, a twirl in the lab chair between processes, a walk in the basement corridors, a look out the window to see the world go by. Time seems to slip away as day turns to night and night to day- the rhythms of circadian biologists defying what a human body can take. The lab spaces are shown changing and pulsing across the day – the lone figures of circadian researchers at night.

A scientist waits between rounds of an experiment. © Isabella Martin 2020

All the images you will encounter in the space come from CBMR – views from the windows of the labs, or into the depths of the building where the public cannot usually go. Collaboration with scientists, lab managers, administrators, and technicians from the Center is at the heart of this work – and we feel very privileged to be able to share a little bit of their amazing world with you.

About the process

The idea behind the display is to share the development of an artwork in process. Normally in museums and galleries, we only ever see the finished product – maybe we might see some initial sketches. But we want to bring the audience into our thinking and hear more about what they find interesting about circadian rhythms and how scientists study them.

The display is not just there to look interesting (although we hope people will enjoy it). It is an active part of our research process. By looking at the still images together and by playing with their arrangement – we are better able to see themes, colours, shapes and movements from our research footage. We will be frequently changing the display in order to plan for what we include in the final film. We will also be experimenting with adding new elements to the images like sound, to see how this affects the visitor experience.

The artist prepares the initial display.

In short, we hope that the room will look very different, so do come back again to see how it develops!

About the artist

Isabella Martin is a visual artist whose interdisciplinary practice is context specific, driven by collaboration with the sciences. Her ongoing research focuses on ideas and systems of measurement, navigation and time in relation to place and the body, through work with an expanding group of collaborators. Recent projects include ‘WAVE MACHINES’, exhibited at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, ‘The Old Recent’ at RYMD Gallery, Reykjavík, and ‘The Burning’ screened at Crosscuts Film Festival, Stockholm.

About the researcher

Kristin Hussey, PhD is a postdoctoral research fellow at Medical Museion and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR). She is a curator and a historian of medicine who specializes in concepts of health and disease in nineteenth-century Britain and America. Her current project ‘Body Time’ explores circadian rhythms in historical, cultural, and philosophical context. Z-Time is one thread of her project where she works alongside circadian scientists to explore how time is made and manipulated in the laboratory. She is interested in the ‘timescapes’ of circadian science, and how chronobiology can inform how we relate to the world around us. In her historical research, she is interested in time, timing and health in the late nineteenth century – especially how industrialization was seen to effect the body’s ‘natural’ rhythmicity, and the health problems which arose from this.

We want you!

This display has been created with you in mind. We are interested in learning more about your thoughts and reflections on your body clock to inform the final artwork. When you visit, you will find surveys which prompt you to think about circadian rhythms, your own embodied sense of time, and your reactions to the work in progress. We would love to hear from you and your input will feed into both the artwork itself and the wider Z-Time project, including research publications.

Z-Time: The art and science of circadian rhythms is a pop-up display at the Medical Museion from November 2020 to February 2021. The final artwork will be displayed as a part of the major art and science exhibition The World Is In You, curated by the Medical Museion, at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in autumn 2021.

To learn more about The World Is In You, please visit: https://www.museion.ku.dk/en/the-world-is-in-you-exhibition/

Note that due to COVID-19, the Medical Museion has limited capacity. Please book your visit in advance: https://www.museion.ku.dk/en/opening-hours-and-admission-corona/

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