The year was 1989. Barbara Koenen, a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, started collecting 720 donated broken clocks, one for each minute in twelve hours—because even a broken clock is right twice a day! Fast-forward to today, and The Correct Time, the newly-opened exhibition at the Design Museum of Chicago, expands upon that work.
The gallery floor is filled with timepieces of all shapes and sizes—from cuckoo clocks, to pocket watches, to wristwatches, to sparkly crystal tabletop clocks and to Earth Clock, a web-based digital clock assembled with views of Earth from above that resemble numbers. Created by designers CW&T, the clock’s purpose is to weave the unfamiliar into the familiar as each view zooms in and out. Unrecognized terrain becomes a familiar place and vice-versa, and the viewer inevitably rethinks humanity as related to the passage of time second-by-second, year-by-year, millennium-by-millennium.
To source the timepieces, some intricately designed while others are utterly simple, Koenen asked the public for donations through ads and flyers. Some donors chose to remain anonymous, dropping clocks off in her mailbox, while others sent notes and letters, sharing stories about the clocks and their owners, providing an unexpected insight into their world. Imagine a sea of clocks and watches—more than an unlikely nod to maximalism both literally and figuratively, it is a work in progress. The public is invited to become a part of the narrative by leaving a broken time clock, watch or timepiece at the museum to contribute to the collection.
Elsewhere, twenty-four designers were asked to visualize time, making it less abstract and more easily understood. Each responded to their relationship to time and the ways it structures their moments, days and lives by creating their own version of a clock that interprets one hour of the day. David Sieren, Someoddpilot and the museum’s own Tanner Woodford are among the contributors. Above the works, a sign reads: “Time, both ambiguous and strict, straightforward and fuzzy, is certainly complicated!”
Time (or the illusion of time) is both very personal and very public. While we each experience time as individuals, we also agree to engage with time collectively—also serving as a way to better connect and come closer together. Speaking to its beauty and magnitude, the exhibition makes one reflect on one’s own perception of time, the process of time going by, as well as times prosperous and challenging, when time seems to stand still. Fueled by this reflection rises personal and philosophical concern with finding meaning. Time, referenced both literally and figuratively throughout, plays a central role, and the viewing experience is what one makes it.
“The Correct Time” is on view at the Design Museum of Chicago through October 3.
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