Solar Displacement
We live in an insatiable society that subdues its members to its technological apparatus, which never sleeps. Transcontinental corporations, the world stock market and increasingly mobile careers may be examples of structures of production, which prominently override the chronobiologies of its human agents, but in reality few escape the subtle pressure of “living life to the fullest” or achieving social success. Where lies the border of this culturally imposed skewing of the human biological rhythm, beyond which the primordial zoe revolts against its bios and begins to devour itself? Which social installations sustain the population on the edge of its circadian tolerance?

The project Solar Displacement is an agora for the deliberation between the acceptance of a culturally suboptimal body and the potential of human agents to emancipate themselves from their biology using alcohol, pharmaceuticals, natural remedies, or phototherapy. A custom application developed for the mobile phone keeps track of the luminosity of the participant’s surroundings and mirrors the light conditions in the rats’ environment. The rats respond to the artificial light by displacing their rhythm of activity as well as with self-medication. The synchronization of the participants with their bioindicators thus allows them to observe their physiological bodies as if they were dissociated, autonomous entities and are simultaneously urged to take responsibility for the well being of the rats’ as well as themselves.

SOLAR DISPLACEMENT / author: Špela Petrič / collaborators: Gašper Derganc (programming), Slavko Glamočanin (programming), Miha Turšič (design) / acknowledgments: Nejc Novak ( / produced by Kapelica Gallery, 2013 / the project is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and the Municipality of Ljubljana Department for Culture / the project is part of the KiiCS - Knowledge Incubation in Innovation and Creation for Science programme, supported by a grant from European Comission, 7th Framework Programme

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To participate in Solar Displacement please write to Android phone required. The project will be running from December 2013 till December 2014.
Solar Displacement aims to synchronize the circadian rhythms of each of the participants to pairs of rats living in the gallery. Each pair is housed in a ventilated box with ample water and food available at all times. The route of synchronization is through the luminosity inside the cage, which changes according to the intensity of the light to which the human participant is exposed. This is done by utilizing the smartphone with a custom application as a light sensor, which transmits the luminosity readings to a server from which the lights in boxes are controlled. After several days of coordinated exposure, the circadian rhythms of rats and the human are synchronized and the pair of rats begins to act as an autonomous avatar of biological body of the participant. Because rats are nocturnal animals their activity cycle is shifted for 12 hours in respect to human activity, but the periodicity of sleep and activity cycles is comparable. Depending on the lifestyle of the participant, the rats may begin to exhibit some of the common symptoms of circadian rhythm distress also known as social jet lag. These symptoms are observed by monitoring the rat activity over time using a thermal camera mounted in each cage, as well as measuring their propensity to drink an extract of valerian, which is a remedy for anxiety and sleeping disorders both in rats and humans.

The scandal of sleep, with its relation to solar time, is the embeddedness in our lives of the rhythmic oscillations of light and darkness, activity and rest, of work and recuperation, that the homogenizing effects of capitalism have eradicated or neutralized elsewhere. Sleep is an unreasonable, unacceptable affirmation that there might be limits and thresholds posed by living beings to the allegedly irresistible forces of modernization. One of the familiar truisms of contemporary critical thought is that there are no unalterable givens of nature – not even mortality, according to some. To insist otherwise, to believe that there are any ‘essential’ features that distinguish living beings from machines is, we are told, naive and nostalgic. What does it matter, many will insist, if new drugs could allow someone to work at their job for a hundred hours straight? Couldn’t flexible sleeping allow more personal freedom, the ability to customize one’s life further in accordance with special needs and desires? Wouldn’t less sleep allow more chance for ‘living life to the fullest’? For there is no longer a single significant sphere or interlude of human existence (with the colossal exception of sleep) that has not been penetrated and taken over as work time, consumption time, or marketing time. To always be doing something, to move, to change – this is what enjoys prestige, as against stability, which is often synonymous with inaction. This is a profoundly new model of normality, which requires 24/7 temporalities for its realization.

In the late 1990s a Russian/European space consortium announced plans to build and launch into orbit satellites which would reflect sunlight back onto earth. The scheme, which is still in the experimental phase, calls for a chain of nearly a hundred satellites to be placed in sun-synchronized orbits at an altitude of 1.700km, each one equipped with fold-out parabolic reflectors of paper-thin material 200 meters in diameter. Once fully extended, each mirror satellite would have the capacity to illuminate a fifteen-square-kilometer area on earth with a brightness nearly a hundred times greater than moonlight. The initial motivation was to develop a means of providing illumination for industrial and natural resource exploitation in geographical areas with long Polar nights, in Siberia and western Russia. But since then, the company has extended the notion to providing night-time lighting for entire cities and metropolitan areas, on the grounds that it would reduce the immense energy costs of electric lighting. The company’s slogan pitches its product (or services) as ‘daylight all night long.’ Vocal opposition to the project sprang up immediately.

International astronomical organizations expressed dismay because of the consequences for most earth-based space observation. Other scientific and environmental groups declared that it would have detrimental physiological consequences for both animal and human behavior, in that the absence of regular alternations between night and day would disrupt various metabolic patterns, including sleep, which regulate biological activity. Some defenders of the project, however, included some self-labeled ‘environmentalists’ who asserted dubiously that such technology would help lower nocturnal use of electricity, and that governments should support a trade-off of the night sky and its darkness for reduced global energy consumption. This enterprise, regardless of whether its goals are remotely achievable, is evidence of a contemporary vision in which a state of permanent visibility is inseparable from the non-stop operation of global economic activity.

Nested deep within the mammalian brain, a tiny pair of nuclei controls the times of our lives. Indeed, we, and most creatures, arrive on Earth fully equipped with a brain watch that helps us to cope with the predictable temporal changes in our home: the day and the year. Notwithstanding, several natural cycles may have been instrumental in the evolutionary acquisition of a (periodic) time sense: not only those directly related to rotation and translation but also tidal movements, geomagnetic influences, food (including prey) availability, and even social interactions have certainly shaped our behavior and physiology in the temporal domain. However, since it is quite obvious that these temporal cues are relatively accurate, a question remains regarding the adaptive value of internal clocks in a predictable, cyclic universe. In other words, why do we need a timing machine when just by sensing the environment we could react quickly to the different needs imposed by the days or the seasons? There might be several explanations for this apparent paradox. Maybe sometimes Nature is not as reliable as needed, and does not give the adequate temporal cues to guide behavior. Indeed, there are situations when most environmental variables are virtually stable, such as what happens in extreme latitudes, including the Arctic and Antarctica. When investigating foraging activity of chinstrap Penguins in the Antarctic South Shetland Islands, one of us reported a clear daily rhythm for the colony even under constant light and temperature conditions; there is a certain method in this mad rhythmicity. On the other hand, an hourglass kind of clock that needs to be pushed from time to time by some kind of stimulation does not allow any predictive capabilities, but only passive responses to the environment. One of the main advantages of an inner clockwork mechanism is that of anticipation to predictable changes, thus permitting the organism to be prepared to respond to future challenges in the optimal way. Finally, an endogenous clock might be considered as an orchestral conductor that arranges the rhythm and synchrony of the various components in the body.

We can thus divide biological rhythms into two groups: internal and external. External rhythms are a direct result of environmental activities while internal rhythms follow our internal biological clock. Internal rhythms can be maintained even after we remove all external stimulation. The biological rhythms of an organism or cells can have a frequency ranging from years to milliseconds. The rhythms that oscillate every 24 hours are called circadian rhythms. The most commonly known circadian rhythms in humans are the sleep/wake rhythm and the body temperature rhythm, but so far more than 100 biological processes have been shown to follow circadian periodicity. The rhythms of human activity and sleep/wake cycle generally coincide with biological clocks. If desynchronization occurs, the readiness to work or sleep is most affected. The latter may occur during night shifts, going rapidly through multiple time zones (travelling by plane) or, as it is the case with older people, it may be a consequence of hormonal imbalance.
Circadian rhythms are innate to the human body and as such, genetically predetermined. The rhythm is run by an inner clock with a pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Alongside this pacemaker mammals also have peripheral oscillators in other organs (the heart, liver, kidney, intestines, stomach, muscles), but the suprachiasmic nucleus is superior to the others. Even though the circadian rhythm is internal, the biological clock is subject to the influence of daily changes in lighting conditions. The changes of physiological variables can be used in tracking different phases of circadian rhythms. It has been established that a strong light at the beginning of the biological night causes a delay of the system regulating circadian rhythms, while on a contrary a bright light in a late stage of the biological night causes the system to rush ahead.

An actogram is a diagram showing the periods of activity and rest in an organism over a number of 24 hour periods so that trends in activity can be identified. The bars along a single horizontal axis represent activity/movement of an organism during one day; when observed through several days or weeks, a pattern of daily rhythm emerges, which can then be assessed as a normal, delayed, advanced or irregular sleep pattern.

When a living being is placed into constant darkness, its endogenous clock runs at its natural speed in the absence of the zeitgebers of sunrise/sunset. This is called the free running period. Entrainment refers to the synchronisation of an endogenous rhythm with an external cycle such as day/night. The condition caused by asynchrony between the endogenous circadian biological rhythm and the external cues (sunset/sunrise), usually caused by the rapid displacement of an organism to a new environment (eg. long distance flight) is called jet lag.

Humans show large differences in the preferred timing of their sleep and activity. This so-called "chronotype" is largely regulated by the circadian clock. Both genetic variations in clock genes and environmental influences contribute to the distribution of chronotypes in a given population, ranging from extreme early types to extreme late types with the majority falling between these extremes. Social (e.g., school and work) schedules interfere considerably with individual sleep preferences in the majority of the population. Late chronotypes show the largest differences in sleep timing between work and free days leading to a considerable sleep debt on work days, for which they compensate on free days. The discrepancy between work and free days, between social and biological time, can be described as 'social jetlag.' Sleep is a barometer of a person’s overall health. In many cases, people in good health tend to sleep well, whereas those suffering from repeated sleeping problems might have an underlying medical or mental health problem, be it minor or serious. Sleeping is essential to the physical health and emotional well being. The most common disturbances of the circadian rhythm are jet lag, disturbance of sleep due to working in shifts, delayed or premature sleep phase syndrome, the syndrome of prolonged rhythm of sleep-wake cycle.

Modernity has made steady inroads against sleep – the average adult now sleeps approximately six and half hours a night, an erosion from eight hours a generation ago, and down from ten hours in the early twentieth century. Non-sleep, when aggressively promoted by pharmaceutical companies, becomes first a lifestyle option, and eventually for many a necessity. The worldwide infrastructure for 24-hour non-stop work and consumption has been in place for at least a decade and a half: the missing ingredient is a human subject shaped to coincide with it more intensively.

Therapy is increasingly integral to the rhythm of everyday life, as medical treatment and pharmaceutical consumption have become a means or normalizing oneself to social expectations. Medicine, as an object of commodification, now enrolls individuals – and society more broadly – into market processes through ongoing therapy. Increasing numbers of people consume pharmaceuticals on a daily basis following the rise of direct-to-consumer marketing and the invention of a number of lifestyle drugs (viagra, anti-depressants, statins, sleeping pills, high-blood pressure drugs). The change in these conditions and the temporality of the experience of their symptoms marks a significant change in the ontology and practice of medicine.

The 11 to 7 model is the spatiotemporal regime against which both ASPS and DSPS (advanced or delayed sleep syndrome) are disabilities; because individuals are not able to sleep at normative times, they find themselves at odds with dominant work, school and recreational times. For ASPS and DSPS the most widely used remedies are lightbox therapies, which need to be administered continuously. Sleep becomes an experience cut loose from notions of necessity or nature. It is managed function, variable according to existing economic and institutional imperatives, a function that can only be justified instrumentally. Thus sleeping pills are the primary exception to the otherwise unprofitable down-time of sleep.
When an individual is diagnosed with a sleep disorder, various treatment alternatives should be discussed with the patient. Many treatment options exist and include, for example: medication, acupuncture, yoga, tea/herbal remedies, biofeedback and meditation. Usually, the most effective treatment regimes are those that incorporate a combination of these therapies. Medications most often prescribed include: Vistaril®, Elavil®, Neurontin®, Trazedone®, Benedryl®, Ambien®, Sonata®, and Thorazine® with each of them having specific risks and benefits. In addition to these treatments, doctors often work with patients to help them restructure their daily living habits in such a way as to improve sleep quality as well.

Alcohol has a subtle ability to sedate, reinforcing for some insomniacs and that the positive reinforcement could lead to dependence. Evidence suggests that alcohol’s chronobiological effects are indeed the result of direct influences on the circadian pacemaker itself. Furthermore, the effects of alcohol on animal circadian rhythms appear similar to the effects seen during administration of antidepressant drugs. An extract from Valeriana may be useful as an herbal medicine having not only sleep-inducing effects but also sleep qualityenhancement effects.

The only non-therapeutic alternative to the dis-synchronization with normative spatiotemporal rhythms is to ignore them altogether and abide to one’s own rhythm, which may be at odds with society. Social reorganization as remedy can require profound alterations in one’s expectations for everyday life and social interactions. For some, the remedy is bearable; for others, medical therapy provides the means to reenter society, to be orderly once again.