Intermission

Christopher Bollen

Year Zero
Reading time 3 minutes

In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, they abolished the calendar and declared it “Year Zero.” (Much of the regime’s ultra-violent, xeno- phobic ideology stemmed from French academic Marxism, and so, too, Year Zero had its roots in the notion of “Year One,” dating from the French Revolution.) The ploy was simple: control time, control the population. “New People” – teachers, academics, artists, doctors, lawyers, poli- ticians, monks, any members of a minority group – were systematically rounded up, and either executed or sent to the fields to work as slave labor. In this classless, agra- rian utopia, the self did not exist, and, like death, it existed in a state outside of time. In the four years of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal reign, owning a clock or a calen- dar was punishable by death. After Pol Pot’s ousting in 1979, clocks were read- mitted into the public and private sphere.

These photographs are a compilation of all of the clocks I encountered within a twenty-four–hour period during a visit to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, in September 2019. Clocks are usually such quotidian decor, it is startling to think of them as lethal machines, as symbols of counterrevolutionary thought, as dange- rous contraband. I was born in Year Zero, which means none of these clocks are older than I am.

In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, they abolished the calendar and declared it “Year Zero.” (Much of the regime’s ultra-violent, xeno- phobic ideology stemmed from French academic Marxism, and so, too, Year Zero had its roots in the notion of “Year One,” dating from the French Revolution.) The ploy was simple: control time, control the population. “New People” – teachers, academics, artists, doctors, lawyers, poli- ticians, monks, any members of a minority group – were systematically rounded up, and either executed or sent to the fields to work as slave labor. In this classless, agra- rian utopia, the self did not exist, and, like death, it existed in a state outside of time. In the four years of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal reign, owning a clock or a calen- dar was punishable by death. After Pol Pot’s ousting in 1979, clocks were read- mitted into the public and private sphere.

These photographs are a compilation of all of the clocks I encountered within a twenty-four–hour period during a visit to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, in September 2019. Clocks are usually such quotidian decor, it is startling to think of them as lethal machines, as symbols of counterrevolutionary thought, as dange- rous contraband. I was born in Year Zero, which means none of these clocks are older than I am.

All photos taken on September 6, 2019 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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