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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Diamonds are Forever

By Edmund Connolly, on 1 May 2013

by  Chris Webb

Although a James Bond reference may be a tenuous link to the Petrie Museum, it is the literal, or rather chronological, duration of the shiny, super-hard compressed allotropes of carbon that had us titillated at the recent timekeeper event. On the evening of the 25th April, we welcomed back our resident Timekeeper Cathy Haynes who was joined by the Creative Director of the Institute of Making, Zoe Laughlin. The Institute is a multidisciplinary research club for those interested in the made world, and incidentally, our neighbours at UCL. The objective: to examine the material world of time and decay, and gain a better understanding of the way the world views time.

Cathy and Zoe guided us through an experimental evening making models of time, presiding over the 2 stages of the evening. The first section was posed as a series of questions surrounding our ideas of physical signs and symbols of time-keeping or perhaps that should be time-losing…? For instance: how do the properties of modern materials, from spinning glass marbles to slow-shifting silly putty and experiments with pitch, lend themselves to thinking about time? In the ancient world materials held different qualities of time. For example, stone contained the idea of eternity, and clay the short-lived and corrupt.
Using spatial and material entities (including concrete impregnated with dormant bacteria, shape-memory alloy and radioactive teeth!) we delved into the world of time and object temporality. The relationship between the past and the future was soundly thrashed into yielding its secrets. We achieved this by challenging the idea of time as a linear stream. Fluidic, in flux and flexible, time certainly proved a tricky beast to contain… Examples from the history of time included a cube of Oak, a discussion on rust and fire, rusty steel, and a University’s control over tree-growing over hundreds of years in order to furnish its own dining room.

UC 14793, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

UC 14793, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Time is indeed relative, and at the end of our introductory session those in the audience were invited to experiment and produce their own alternative manifestations models of time. Unleashed onto a veritable buffet of play-do, brightly coloured crayons, glue and sticky paper, our appropriate temporary memory material in the wrong hands could have been mistaken for a 1980’s Blue Peter episode. However, manipulated by our ever-enthusiastic (and as it turned out, visionary!) audience, these materials morphed into remarkable physical objects that contained their own perceptions of what time, for them, looked like.
We closed the evening discussing the physical and poetic potential of everyday materials, as we gazed lovingly across the table, resplendent with our offerings to the time gods! A very enjoyable evening was had by all, and we are very much looking forward to the next instalment…

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