Designing Time
Bastian Bischoff & Per Emanuelsson,
Founders of Humans since 1982, January 2018

This text was published in A Million Times at Changi. Stockholm: Humans since 1982. 2018. Print. 
ISBN 978-91-984637-0-5

 

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“The measurable side of the world is not the world, it is the measurable side of the world.”
Martin Seel

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We met at the Academy of Design and Crafts, HDK, of Gothenburg University in Sweden. The
multidisciplinary postgraduate program which we attended, brought together students from all kind
of disciplines. With a background in mechanical engineering (Per) and graphic design (Bastian)
it was not very likely that our paths would cross. Yet, a common curiosity, a dose of impartiality
and chance brought us together, discussing questions around the separation of art, design and
entertainment, their blurring borders and the function of functionality in those fields. At some
point back then we decided, that in a time, where everything is exposed, measured, analyzed and
explained, optimized and made efficient, we wanted to celebrate the wondering, the fascinating,
the black boxes, the mysterious, the ephemeral and the inconceivable. We surely were taken by and
interested in the power of the spectacle, the power of entertainment. However, also because there
have been two of us, our work can be located in a ‘stress field’ between entertainment and the
simultaneous challenge of it.

The start of the A Million Times project falls into this manifesting period. We experimented with
animated typography and developed a font that was based on a grid of clocks, whereby we made
the clock-hands stop in certain positions in order to create letters and digits. Once the clock-
hands rotated again the characters would fall apart. Using clocks to show this circle of formation
and decline was intriguing and after some experimentation it proved to be beautiful too.
Even though the movement of each clock-hand is very restricted and simple – as it can just
rotate around the ever-same centre – when programmed to move simultaneously with the
other clock-hands, referring to each other in time and space, it created something with emergent
properties: the whole was more than just the sum of its parts.

What triggered this typography experiment was a diffuse question that followed us during
our studies: “How time designs and how to design time?”. Contemplating this question is always
topical and it still leaves us and likely most others partially scared, considering that once out in the
world, everything and everyone turns into matter on Time’s workbench. The clock ticks on, there
is no way back. Many have argued that the vast abandoning of religious narratives or metaphysical
theories in secular societies brought us into a position where the only choice that seems to be left
when not expecting anything after death, is to optimize the here and now. YOLO. Carpe Diem.
In other words: designing the passing of time. That appears to be the mindset of many among us,
Millennials. Weather yoga, sports, dieting, entertainment or travel are good ‘design tools’ in this
context is questionable. Paradoxically, the urge to optimize the here and now often leads to another
dogma, namely the call for efficiency that leaves unfree, stressed or depressed individuals that simply
feel paralyzed when facing an imagined time scarcity.

When we decided to go forward with the A Million Times project, we took the above question
literally and in a deliberately naive and almost childish act we manipulated the official symbol of time,
the clock. As it can be seen in A Million Times, the clocks are not following a ratio between
the hour and the minute hand. They also stop when they want and even sometimes go backwards.
Metaphorically speaking, we liberated the clock from its sole function of measuring and reporting
the time by taking the clock-hands out of their “administrative” roles and turning them into dancers.
It seems that a combination of childish escapism and a personal preference for puristic forms led to
the design of our kinetic sculpture, A Million Times.

Regarding the visual aspect of the artwork there was another experience that influenced us.
Back in 2008, we conducted experiments with patterns of random fallen toothpicks (see Figure 1).
We were curious to discover when something appears random and how much human intervention
is needed in order for dozens, formerly random spread toothpicks to be recognized as artificially
arranged. Though the scientific method and result were questionable, we saw in those fallen sticks
a pure and mysterious visual language. During this small experiment, we noticed the beauty in the
contrast and interdependency between chaos and order, an aspect that is now seen as central in
A Million Times.

The theoretical step from a digital clock-based font to a kinetic sculpture that can be physically
experienced was quickly made and it was an important one. However, the practical process took
many years. Back then, we showed a mock-up video to an electrical engineer at Ericsson, Australian
David Cox, who became equal studio partner along the way. David instantly believed in the concept
and helped us to develop a physical prototype during night shifts after his day job at Ericsson. It
was a major turning point for the project. Eventually, a curator saw the video of our prototype on
YouTube and exhibited the second prototype at Saatchi Gallery in London. From that point, the
artwork started to sell to private collectors and museums. That was in 2009.

Today, standing in front of A Million Times, we are looking at a result that would have been impossible
without working in an interdisciplinary team that allows us an effortless crossing of professional borders.
Curiosity never respects such borders anyway. In the future, we try to remain open and therefore
engage beyond traditional definitions of art, design or technology. After all we are not artists, designers
or engineers, we are Humans.

 

 Figure 1

Figure 1

 
 
 Early sketches of the clock based typography, 2008

Early sketches of the clock based typography, 2008

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