Polychronic Objects – materials & time

This research project operates in the field of Speculative Design / Critical Craft and is exploring sustainable localised production.

This set of work will be launched at the Ventura London section of Design Junction 18th – 21st September 2014.

The work investigates contemporary theories of time and combines this with alternative approaches to combining materials when making objects. The studio’s aim is to stimulate discussion and debate on new methodologies for combining materials in the design process, through high quality examples of communication ie:

  1. displaying a series of bowls as experimental material examples,
  2. an interactive element where visitors can crumple up their own time / materials A4 paper map -to activate potential cross time and geographical with material connections for themselves,
  3. Display an A1 poster/map that combines text highlighting the main theories with images anda world map.
  4. Recording comments and feedback for research development and future project generation.

This is a body of on-going research that needs interaction with the public to explore informed attitudes about how materials are viewed and ways they can be combined in objects. This is therefore a rare opportunity to ‘open source’ Studio Viatopia’s project and to collaborate with an audience that is passionate and knowledgeable about design. The aim by exhibiting at Ventura London is to create significant attention, new professional contacts, and international exposure for the work of Studio Viatopia and it’s members.


Key Research Ideas – printed on the Polychronic Map


Anxious Times

There is currently a shared sense of wonder at developments in object making, often followed by uncertainty about what this means for us as consumers and designers. This is fuelling a re-evaluation of ‘progress’, driving questions on sustainability and consumption. Traditional craft processes have re-gained currency, with a greater value placed on the handmade, local materials and unique or small batch production. The recession may have been a stimulus for this, with the reassurance the heritage industries offer in uncertain times. However there seems to be more significant influences. One of these is perhaps anxiety and disorientation in relation to making, progress and the future. There is a sense that we should change, but how and to what is not clear. Is mass-manufacturing terminally damaged? Will our consumption of global resources inevitably lead to our own downfall?

Embedded in this anxiety is a reappraisal of the future itself. The blog by Ross Wolfe: Memories of The Future states: ‘Today it is well known that the future has become a thing of the past.’ This revision of ‘futurism’ has gathered momentum in recent years, bringing about a growing critique of a linear model of time, a model that was associated with Modernism, and which in turn has become linked to the growth of capitalism and the rise of consumerism.


An Aerial View of Time

The 19th century ideal that the future would automatically bring progress and improvement has started to appear a tragic illusion. The narrative of endless development has lost authority as cheap mass-produced goods fall apart and we question the wisdom of over production, requiring us to re-think the mantra of progress. Meanwhile we have shifted our sense of time to a new orientation. Amelia Groom, editor of Time observes that: ‘the dislocation and non-fixity of networked digital space is both symptom and catalyst of the broken, multifarious time that we find ourselves in.’ (Groom 2013:13) This digital ‘dislocation’ uncouples us from a linear viewpoint, and shifts us to experiencing an aerial view of time that connects many different times and events laterally.

We experience a growing temporal dizziness as we adjust to fresh viewpoints. Video artist Hito Steyerl describes this as feeling ‘out of joint’, and suggests that being out of control of time and its accompanying sense of dizziness are produced by society being in a dream like free fall. James Bridle champion of The New Aesthetic, has described the aerial view as the view of our age. Our default perspective becomes images from Sat Navs, Google maps, drone targets, etc, offering apparent reference points within a sea of digital content. However Bridle invites us to ‘remember, digital maps are animations on pause’ (Brindle 2013). A time based perspective that is disorientating and disturbingly difficult to adjust to.


Making and Consuming Time

The artist Paul Chan discusses Greek notions of time: ‘Chronos’ as the concept of time as a measure, that progresses in a uniform and serial order, and Kairos as time that describes quality and is rich with experience and aptness or ‘right timing’ (Chan 2010:84-85). In a digital world of constant high speed information, activities such as learning skills or making objects by hand become rare and prized, physical presence and tactile experience becomes the new luxury.

The resurgence of Craft could be framed as nostalgia for a golden slower age, without the information overload, but perhaps our rehabilitation of craft has to do with our shifting view of time. Once Chronos was seen as a mark ‘civilisation’, organisation, and orchestrated train timetables, now perhaps we can see with the rise in valuing Kairos a review of the quality of our relationship with time and objects.

This may offer us a different paradigm for making and understanding objects. Artists, designers and crafts people have always experienced Kairos in the process of making, ‘getting lost in your work’. However as consumers, what does it mean to view and buy objects from a time based perspective?


Polychronic Objects

French philosopher Michel Serres presents us with a beautiful simile: the crumpling of time that produces polychronic objects: ‘Time can be schematised by a kind of crumpling, a multiple, foldable diversity… this intuition is clearer than one that imposes a constant distance between moving objects, and it explains more… An object, a circumstance, is thus polychronic, multi-temporal, and reveals a time that is gathered together with multiple pleats.’ (Serres 1997:16) These pleats of time in polychronic objects, offer a map-like view connecting knowledge and experience of materials, cultural forms, and historical functions from many different times layered into one item.

Objects are no longer on the end of a long narrow evolutionary chain of improvement, as Bruno Latour states in We Have Never Been Modern ‘I may use an electric drill, but I will also use a hammer.’ (Latour 1993:166) We are accustomed to viewing objects in terms of function, cost of materials, or by their semiotic reference to cultural values. Valuing the combination of different ‘times’ within an object, offers a new paradigm for both making and consumption. Time as a reference point significantly shifts our value systems from the constant present tense, to overview.


Crumpling as a Way of Making

What does it mean to approach making from this paradigm? Is this mining of history for the discarded diamonds of past materials or process, just extending our consumerist thirst for disappearing materials and skills, re-packaging them as the new and the interesting? This revisiting of waning crafts sometimes acts as a sticking plaster that emphasises ‘lost’ skill, in effect enhancing the linear timescale of modernity. This does not change our perspective on time or making but reinforces a sense of nostalgia.

Crumpling together materials and techniques from different times, from an informed overview, stabilises the rush for the next trend, and offers localised solutions in post/non mass-manufacturing societies. The same object (perhaps a bowl) can be made from different time combinations in different places reorienting traditional practices.

Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges offers an aerial approach: ‘Every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.’ (Borges 1962:195) This suggests that making and objects have a dynamic relationship to time, and that craft, has the potential to rearrange the past and construct the future. This perhaps indicates a more fundamental shift in making. By crumpling materials and time we incorporate the dynamic scope of the aerial view, leaving a linear hierarchy of materials. Crumpling stimulates making through connecting dynamic possibilities.


Critical Craft

With the growing interest in hand making and localised 3-D printing, Craft is crucially positioned to critique mass manufacturing and passive consumerism. This is a vital role.

Dunne and Raby writing on the collapse of utopian design that explored alternative options for the future, identify 80’s neoliberal capitalism as responsible, by defining Speculative Design as ‘economically unviable and therefore irrelevant’ (Dunne & Raby 2013:8) In our post financial meltdown, what are our options? Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi writing in After The Future observes: ‘In the Middle Ages, perfection was placed in the past,’ (Berardi 2011, 167) perhaps now utopia can be constructed from around us.

Leonardo Bonanni and Amanda Parkes identify the digital environment as actually responsible for the current renaissance in craft making: ‘A future craft is being defined by digital media, which affords new tools and materials as well as the communication channels to join new communities.’ (Bonanni L, Parkes A, 2010 p180) They argue that the digital environment has in fact provided a ‘long tail’ link to isolated potential makers, to enable contemporary ‘Virtual Guilds’ to spring, up incorporating more diverse makers who can challenge the status quo. So how do we map our making now and can time offer opportunities to re-make?



Berardi F ‘Bifo’ 2011 After The Future ed Gary Genosko & Nicholas Thoburn, trans Arianna Bove AK Press

Borges JL, 2000 Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writing Penguin Classics; New Ed edition p195

Brindle James 2013 aesthetic-politics/

Chan P 2010 A Time Appart ed Klaus Biesenbach Greater New York pub MOMA PS1 p84-85

Dunne A, Raby F, 2013 Speculative Everything MIT Press UK p8

Groom A, 2013 (ed) Time – Documents of Contempo- rary Art co-pub Whitechapel Gallery, MIT. p13

Latour B 1993 We Have Never Been Modern trans Catherine Porter pub Cambridge University Press.

Serres M, 1997 Science and Humanities: The Case of Turner SubStance vol 26, no 2 p16

Steyerl H 2011 Free Fall e-flux journal 4 p24

Wolfe R, 2012 Memories of The Future [Blog] 8th August the-future/ accessed 20.2.14

Jane's map 3