Slow down time with Daric Gill's 'Circadian Machine'

Joel Oliphint
"The Circadian Machine," an interactive light and sound sculpture by Daric Gill.

In the summer of 2019, Daric Gill spent three months in Dresden, Germany, as part of the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s artist exchange program. While visiting a museum there, Gill was struck by a note someone left, which read, “I wish time slowed down when I was having fun.”

“It’s such a pure sentiment. Who doesn't want to slow down time when you’re having a good time? … That doesn’t go away as we get older,” Gill said. “Being in Dresden, it really resonated: Could I just make this last for the rest of my life? It made me feel like I was a kid again, so I dove into that a little bit more. … A lot of the inspirations I have come from this very childlike mentality and an adult sensibility.”

As a kid growing up in the ’80s, Gill loved to play with electronics, and over the years, in his career as a full-time artist, Gill has incorporated that love into large-scale, interactive sculptures such as “The Imagination Machine,” a modified airplane wing embedded with motion sensors and programmable LEDs that visually reacts whenever the International Space Station is overhead. Before that, Gill created “The Shy Machine,” a 12-sided, motion-sensitive, sound-reactive light sculpture that opens and closes depending on the surrounding noise levels.

For his next project, the idea of slowing down time led Gill to ponder the sun and its patterns. “I'm an outdoor guy. I spend a portion of every single day walking in the woods. I kind of jokingly say that I'm solar charged. The dreary Ohio days can sometimes deplete my battery, and all it requires is a little bit of sun to keep me going,” Gill said. “I'm also a person who doesn't enjoy sleep. I'm not very good at it. So circadian rhythm is a constant for me. I often work at 4 a.m., so I have to schedule daylight in my life. … People have been paying attention to the solar cycles for thousands of years, and it orchestrates our whole life. It orchestrates our food, our time, our seasonal shifts.”

With that in mind, Gill began working on “The Circadian Machine,” an interactive light and sound sculpture that can geolocate itself anywhere in the world and figure out the sunrise and sunset of that location. The beautifully reflective, geometric machine is equipped with 51 responsive actions (including pulsating, color-changing lights and music composed by Gill), about half of which Gill made to represent what would happen if the entire day was compressed into the window of time when the sun was out. “The Circadian Machine” is currently on display at the Columbus Museum of Art as part of the “Greater Columbus” exhibition.

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This new sculpture took a year to design and build, which involved writing more than 50 pages of code, learning CAD software, designing circuit boards and much, much more. Every morning, Gill woke up and approached that day’s tasks like it was a regular job. “With these projects, I purposely set the goal posts really far in the distance, and I have no idea how to get there, but I'm willing to dive in head first to learn all of those things,” Gill said. “The way to turn a negative year of being hunkered down in your home into a positive is to find some substance and purpose, and the more elaborate I can make this project, the more purpose I felt.”

The pandemic did throw a wrench into some of Gill's plans. “This sculpture required virtually every single component to be on delay or to be redesigned or even the concept changed from the very beginning to the end,” he said. “I would love to say that I [embraced] that challenge with grace and honor, but some days were better than others. But I'm a very determined person.”

Gill learned how to use 3D rendering software to experiment with countless shapes as he worked to maximize the mirrored angles inside the machine so that the sculpture could reflect itself to the fullest extent. But he also wanted the shape to maximize accessibility for viewers. For people with hearing impairments, the lights still provide stimulation. For people with visual impairments, the music can be a touch point.

“The natural next step was, I have family members that have been in wheelchairs, so it's something I think about often: What kind of accessibility is there for people with some sort of handicap? Maybe I can make this visible from many angles, and then it can also be far more interesting to children,” said Gill, who landed on a “truncated hexagonal bipyramid” shape to solve those problems.

“It’s a very human-centered idea put into a geometric synthetic machine,” Gill said. “In all of my work, there's this dichotomy between polar opposites — something that's angular and something organic, something light and dark, something somber and funny. There's always this play between two opposing forces.”

Gill is also perfectly comfortable with viewers appreciating "The Circadian Machine" on a variety levels, from the initial wow-factor of confronting a mirrored, glowing object that looks like an otherworldly spaceship, to a deeper investigation of its many features. “There needs to be a safe landing spot for people of any capacity. I want people to have a relationship with this work, and if it's just superficial, I have no problem with that,” Gill said.

While Gill hopes people can experience "The Circadian Machine" in person at the Columbus Museum of Art (along with his four paintings and many pieces from other local artists in the “Greater Columbus” show), he also made a bevy of online materials, including “How I Built It” explainers and YouTube videos, so that viewers can experience the sculpture virtually.

In the end, Gill’s approach to the project stayed true to both his childlike wonder and his adult sensibilities. He managed to create a truly original sculpture through regimented, self-motivated time management (and more than a little creativity coupled with hard-earned skill), yet he is still in awe of the artistic process and the life he has carved out for himself.

“If you were to ask me, when I first moved to Columbus 20 years ago, what success looks like, I would have described this way-off-in-the-distance success of having stuff at a museum and maybe someday traveling the world and having my work on display,” Gill said. “This is part of my life now, and that amazement is never ceasing: ‘Holy cow. This is what I get to do.’ Every single day I feel that way.”

"The Circadian Machine," an interactive light and sound sculpture by Daric Gill.