About the exhibition

In november 20202 the exhibition Z-Time opened at Medical Museion. This page presents a web version of the exhibition, which has been expanded and elaborated – and which brings new collaborators and medias in to explore time and chronobiology. Below, you can learn more about the exciting and special world of circadian rhythms.

Circadian Rhythms

The Art and Science of Circadian Rhythms
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 (døgnrytmer) 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.

Can you freeze time? Can you control how organisms perceive day and night? Can we ever look at time objectively given that we are always inside it?

Art is one way to make sense of these complex questions. This web exhibition presents an artistic look at the experiences of scientists who study time. Created by artist Isabella Martin, in collaboration with Medical Museion researchers and scientists at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR), it explores the curious ways that scientists make and modify time. The final version will be displayed as a part of the major exhibition The World Is In You at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in late 2021.

Zeitgeber 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. Scientists often track time in experiments using zeitgeber time (ZT), the hours since the last zeitgeber, rather than clock time.

Circadian Rhythms
Circadian comes from a Latin phrase meaning roughly a day [circa diem]. Circadian rhythms are the biological rhythms of our bodies which occur over a 24-hour period. These can be behavioural, like cycles of eating and sleeping, or smaller hormonal and biochemical changes, like changes in body temperature or cortisol production. Disrupting our natural daily rhythms can have a profound effect on our health. Scientists called chronobiologists are trying to better understand these rhythms.

Timescapes of Chronobiology

Images of chronobiology
All of the images you can see below were taken at CBMR’s laboratories during research visits by the artist over the course of 2020. Through her lens, she takes us behind the scenes of the circadian science and reveals the many different kinds of time that co-exist in the laboratory. The time of the scientists, working in blacked out rooms and sometimes late into the night. The time of the model organisms they use to study body clocks, living on modified light-dark cycles. And even the time of science itself, a mix of speed and urgency with boredom and repetition.

In this series of grids, Martin plays with different timescapes of chronobiology. The images reflect different themes which have emerged through the research process: moments of pause and concentration, gestures of tiredness, movements between different environments and the presence of the natural world.

Can you see time speeding up and slowing down? Can we find connections between inside the lab and the outside world? Where do scientists fit within the structured chaos of their time experiments?

These images represent the developmental stages of what will become a film of Z-Time which will be displayed at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in 2021.


Soundscapes of Time

Sound is a form of time travel
We hear sound when waves emitted by another object hit our ears, and this takes time. Different rhythms and frequencies of sound can magnify or distort our sense of time passing. The sounds you can hear come from the lab where circadian scientists work. They are combined with woodwind instruments and analogue synthesis. Each note is played for the natural duration of the musician’s lung capacity – reminding us of the body at the center of science.


Composition by Jim Slade. Slade is a musician and composer based in Copenhagen.

Scientific Time

In the lab
In the lab, scientists investigate the daily rhythms of animals, cells, and DNA in order to understand more about our body clocks. In this experiment, we turn the tables and analyse the circadian rhythms of the scientists. What you see is based on 24 hours of footage taken at CBMR during a circadian experiment in which scientists worked around the clock.

The video has been analyzed to highlight the activity of scientists over space and time. Motion was visualized by subtracting one frame from the next, taking a rolling 5 second average over time. The result is a rhythm of activity which changes over the course of the day – capturing the lone figures of circadian researchers at night.

Lunch time – short version (2.38 min.)

Lunch Time – Long version (55.59 min.)

Visualizations by Leonidas Lundell. Lundell is a data scientist at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR).

Panum Clock

Panum Clock

Panum Clock
This broken clock comes from the Panum Building at the University of Copenhagen. Its laboratories have been the site of important medical research since the 1970s. Until recently, this clock hung in the Panum laboratories where chronobiologists do their research. Clock time is often less important to scientists studying circadian rhythms than the scientific time they manipulate in the lab. This might explain why the clock was left broken for so long.

Behind the exhibition

Isabella Martin is an 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.

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 19th-century Britain and America. Her current project Body Time explores circadian rhythms in historical, cultural, and philosophical context.

Composition: Jim Slade
Visualizations: Leonidas Lundell
Graphic Design: Kathrine Baastrup
Web Design: Anne-Sofie Stampe
Medical Museion collaborators: Bente Vinge Pedersen, Louise Whiteley, Malthe Kouassi Bjerregaard, Niels Christian Bech Vilstrup, Nanna Gerdes, Adam Bencard.

Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR) collaborators: Zach Gerhart-Hines, Juleen Zierath, Amy Ehrlich, Lewin Barkla Small, Ann Normann Hansen, Emilie Dalbram, Astrid Linde Basse, Leonidas Lundell, Kirsten Bayer Andersen, Rebecca Hinrichsen Jeberg.