In June 2014, the clock atop Bolivia’s Congress building in La Paz was reconfigured to run anti-clockwise. The change was described as a symbol of decolonisation for Indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples, and a logical expression of southernness. Whereas the conventional clock hails from the northern hemisphere’s sun dial, a counter clock reclaims a connection to the sun dial south of the equator.
Dominant global practices and paradigms of timekeeping are entwined with technologies of colonialism. The challenges of nautical navigation spurred the creation of chronometers by European empires—accurate marine clocks enabling seafarers to determine their longitude. In the late 19th Century, surveyors on Aboriginal Land met in Narrm (Melbourne) to agree on the adoption of standard time zones, replacing local practices of keeping solar time. Time zones, defined in relation to the Greenwich meridian, were rationalised as an expedient for train timetabling and telegraph systems—infrastructure developed for the efficient movement of resources and information over vast distances.
An arbitrary notion of nationhood is enabled under a unified system of time zones. Benedict Anderson’s concept of ‘simultaneity’ links emerging graphic design media—newspapers and novels—with the ability of readers to imagine a national community existing with a shared sense of temporality. The australian state is invested in federal, bureaucratic timekeeping, just as it is preoccupied with the measurement and quantification of stolen land through practices of mapping.
Writing on ‘the Agency of Mapping’, James Corner reminds us that maps ‘do not represent geographies or ideas; rather they effect their actualisation.’ Like the clock, the colonial map asserts a position and worldview, beginning from the moment a mapmaker orients their page to locate north above south. A tradition of south-up mapmaking traces back to the early Islamic cartography of Ibn Hawqal, a 10th Century writer and geographer, with numerous modern exemplars adopting this vantage as an anticolonial intervention.
In the imagined community of English speaking internet culture, a common trope represents australia and australians as existing upside-down, reinforcing a settler national identity built upon its status to the north as other, opposite or anti. The same trope is strangely absent from northern representations of other southern lands, evoking an uncomfortable resonance with the colonising principle of terra nullius—the violent foundational mythology defining Aboriginal Land as empty. It is a privilege for settlers to inhabit this anti- position and contribute to its powerful legacies of resistance, when to be anti- is a necessary mode of survival for Aboriginal people.
The Counter Forms clock is anti-clockwise and upside down, such that hours, minutes and seconds proceed from its nethermost point: an anti-podean view; a counter position.
Carlos Valdez (2014) ‘Bolivia rebels at rightist timepieces, flips clock’, Associated Press News, news article, 26 June
Dava Sobel (1995) Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, Walker Books
‘Intercolonial Conference of Surveyors’, (1892) The Brisbane Courier, news article, 15 November, p. 6
Donn Haven Lathrop (2008) ‘Why is clockwise Clockwise?’
The Adoption of Standard Time Ian R. Bartky Technology and Culture Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan. 1989) p. 25–56
Benedict Anderson (2006) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso
Caitlin Dempsey (2014) ‘Map Orientation’, blog post
Iconoclasistas (2009) ‘Mapamundi’, map
‘Upside-Down Australia’, Know Your Meme, online encyclopaedia entry
Shaerine Salla (2021) ‘South is Up’ Futuress
James Corner, 1999, ‘The Agency of Mapping’, Chapter 10 in Mappings (ed. Denis Cosgrove), Reaktion, London