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Telling Time - In praise of the hour

Telling Time In praise of the hour

“Telling time” is the title of an expertly curated exhibition that debuts at the MUDAC in Lausanne this month.

Chantal Prod’Hom, Director of the MUDAC, and Fabienne Xavière Sturm, Honorary Curator of the Museum of Watchmaking Enamelware in Geneva, have clearly put a lot of thought into setting up an exhibition that looks at many different ways of displaying the time. Watches and clocks naturally have their place, but those on display are primarily there to show different ways in which the time can be displayed. From world timers to jumping hours and luminous displays, the exhibition covers the numerous ways in which time can be read off a humble watch face. It also reserves space for some of the watchmaking world’s UFOs, such as the Hublot La Ferrari, where displaying the time is secondary to a display of mechanical watchmaking prowess.

Hublot watch

With their bigger dimensions and more fluid boundaries, clocks offer even more reign to the designer’s imagination. How about a “grandfather” (and “grandmother”) clock, for example, where it is the image of a grandfather or grandmother that stares back at you as he or she draws each individual minute (in reverse) on an imaginary clock face (Grandmother Clock by Maarten Baas)?


Or interactive, touch screen clocks that have to be wound up in order to work correctly (Rewind by Pauline Saglio)?

Interactive clock

The objects in the exhibition seem to play with our perception of time, particularly the immediately recognizable presence of a “small” and “big” hand, twisting these into mind-boggling interpretations that force us to think about what we are looking at and, inevitably, to forget why we were looking at it in the first place (to tell the time!). 
My favourite exhibit is Gegen den Lauf by Alicja Kwade. It is a simple wall clock by that rotates on its own axis once per second: although it displays the correct time, its movement cancels out that of the seconds hand, which appears to remain “stuck” at 12 o’clock.

Rotating wall clock

No such exhibition would be complete, or at least up to date, without a selection of smart watches. Yet the Seiko watch with a TV screen displayed alongside the latest technological marvels dates back to… 1983. And the futuristic looking Girard-Perregaux from 1976 was actually the inspiration for a much more recent piece by MB&F.

Other, more ephemeral, means of displaying the time include a 24-hour clock that displays the time “digitally” with the help of a crew of workman who detach and attach planks of wood around a scaffolding on a derelict plot of land in central Berlin (Mark Formanek’s installation Standard Time); or two men who methodically sweep a pile of leaves around in the form of hour and minute hands – luckily on a windless day.

But the most unusual means of telling the time in the entire exhibition is not by hands or by numbers but by smell. Marti Guixé’s Time to Eat is an “olfactory” wall clock that emits smells evocative of three times of the day: cappuccino at 9am, the smell of fresh basil around the time of the aperitif and that of a tomato sauce for pasta around dinner time.

Much more than a display of the finest in watchmaking, the exhibition “Telling Time” is about the imagination and creativity of mankind. It has been made possible with the generous support of Vacheron Constantin, which has also loaned a number of pieces from its private collection for the exhibition and the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie.

The exhibition is open from 27th May to 27th September 2015, Tuesday-Sunday from 11am until 6pm (Monday-Sunday 11am until 6pm in July and August), with free admission on the first Saturday of the month. It will move on to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2016. 

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