Modernism and Time

Saturday 10th Sept, 9.30-11.00, Room CG06

Chair: Professor Jeremy Aynsley, University of Brighton

Twentieth century Modernism ostensibly sought to reject historicist thinking.  However, papers in this session explore the ways in which ideas about the past and of ‘timelessness’ were incorporated into apparently future-oriented Modernist designs in three different contexts, blurring the distinction between past, present and future.

‘An Experiment With Time’: Modern and Classical Influences in the Planning of an Early Modernist Landmark
Michael James Findlay

High and Over (1928-1931), one of the earliest modern movement houses in England, was designed by two young colonial architects, Amyas Connell and Stewart Thompson for the archeologist and director of the British School at Rome, Bernard Ashmole. The first images of the house appeared in a 1930 article in Architect & Building News entitled ‘An Experiment With Time: A House at Amersham by A. D. Connell.’ This title was drawn from an influential philosophical essay by the Irish aeronautical engineer JW Dunne on dreams, precognition and the human experience of time. Dunne’s central notion was that time is eternally present and that the past, present and future are all happening together, an apposite starting point for discussing a pioneering modernist design that also reflected classical Roman planning. This duality has posed critical difficulties in placing High and Over in the historiography of Modernism.

It is generally thought that the radial planning of High and Over, with its three wings extending from a hexagonal core and a fountain at its centre, was based on a Roman prototype. This theory will be discussed with examples of baths from Hadrianic Rome. Connell and Thompson used the geometry of the hexagon as a regulating system for the house plan, but this system also determined the layout of the extensive gardens. The landscape plan is considered here, with reference to French modernist garden design of the 1920s, including the designs of the Armenian architect, Gabriel Guévrékian at the Paris Exposition and the Villa Noailles at Hyères (1927). Connell and Thompson’s plan for the main house was part of a much wider scheme for an estate of similar houses in a landscape setting that combined elements of Roman urban planning, French modernist synthetic gardens and the picturesque traditions of the English country house. These combined with other structures on the Amersham site to produce a hybrid architectural space that has escaped close critical examination, instead producing an outcome seen as fragmentary and unresolved. This narrative affects the way that High and Over has been treated in histories of British architecture where it is central through its early appearance on the scene but also apart, as though the architects sought to reconcile formal elements that could not co-exist.

With previously unseen images, including unpublished landscape plans from early in the project, this paper will trace the complex planning and realisation of the architects’ and client’s shared dream of a fusion of Roman, British and French design that would establish a start point for British modernism. High and Over occupies a place where the traditions of classicism and the emergent features of modernism intersected.

42134488_AnaBaezaIn and Out of Time: Displaying Design and Art at Temple Newsam Country House Museum
Ana Baeza-Ruiz, PhD Student, University of Leeds and the National Gallery
E: FHABR@LEEDS.AC.UK T: @abaeza90 W: Profile

Since the early 1990s, a growing interest in British modernism has extended our understanding of the manifold ways in which artists and designers negotiated competing visions of modernity in the first half of the twentieth century (Conekin, 1999; Buckley, 2007; Matless, 1990). While this has expanded the spatio-temporal scope of these design histories, emphasising that modernism was not simply a foreign import but a movement which grew indigenously on British soil, this strand of critique has not always engaged with the temporal turn in a more theoretical and analytical manner. This paper addresses this gap by focusing on the role of museums in art and design education in the regional context of Leeds in the late 1930s. It specifically explores Temple Newsam as a country house-museum whose new director Philip Hendy co-opted modernist ideas to promote a different kind of public engagement and aesthetic education. In restoring the country house, Hendy responded to the demands of British contemporary designers and inscribed it with an agenda that could meld the ideals of function and beauty and combine artefacts of different epochs by virtue of their design.

The question of temporality is central in the process of remaking the house-museum: on the one hand, Hendy wanted to emphasise the material and everyday qualities of the country house as a domestic place that could be familiar and engaging, and as such reference what was unique, ephemeral, and distinctive about its past. On the other, the pedagogical mission of the museum demanded intellectual uniformity, it meant categorically locating its exhibits in space and time and displaying them unambiguously as specimen representative of a wider culture. Such conflicts echoed tensions at the heart of British modernism, which focused on the everyday but simultaneously undertook the task of disciplining its chaotic and disorderly nature.

The paper argues that in effecting changes to Temple Newsam, Hendy’s agenda to popularise a specific aesthetic education both reflected yet also made permanent the everydayness of the setting. The selective filtering of the past hereby privileged the Georgian and the modern as styles exemplary of ‘good’ craftsmanship and assigned them particular meanings at the expense of other historical periods. The paper thus examines the compromises emerging from attempts to turn a lived-in house into a museum of decorative arts and emphasises the temporal dislocation of the everyday as it became subsumed within a general history of design. In this way, the paper addresses wider questions concerning the manner in which museums – and particularly design history museums – can enable or disable certain kinds of temporality about the artefacts they display and the design histories they construct.

“We did not want to make it a museum!”: Timeless Modern Design and the Presence of the Past in the Finland Pavilion Kirnu at the Shanghai World Exhibition in 2010
Maija Makikalli, Lecturer, Faculty of Art and Design, University of Lapland

This presentation focuses on the Finland pavilion Kirnu and the exhibition within it at the Shanghai World Exhibition in 2010, and analyses them as designed artefacts representing the nation and its orientation within time.

Compared to several other European and non-European pavilions (eg Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Monaco and Saudi-Arabia), Kirnu does not include history in its narrative about Finland. The pavilion underlines the modern, future-oriented mentality, and as such it can be seen as a pure example of twentieth-century modernist, anti-historical thinking. However, as contemporary and future-oriented as it may be, the pavilion architecture (architect Teemu Kurkela, JKKM Architect) and the exhibition inside it (designed by Muotohiomo Ltd) include several continuums from past to present, such as Finnish modern design’s close relationship with nature. These continuums may have a tradition of more than hundred years. Classics of modern Finnish design, such as Tapio Wirkkala’s Ultima Thule glass (Iittala, 1968), or Maija Isola’s printed cotton fabrics (Marimekko, 1960) are exhibited alongside present-day design artefacts without any indication of the time when those were originally designed. Designed artefacts are exhibited without any temporal dimension, they appear literally timeless. The heritage of the twentieth-century Finnish modern design is incorporated in Kirnu, but this heritage is not made explicit to the visitors. The exhibition aims at a visually produced (almost without any words) here-and-now experience that combines temporal dimensions of past, present and future.

This paper draws examples from different kinds of representations of history in other countries’ pavilions at the Shanghai World Exhibition, and ponders the lack of history and the presence of traditions and continuums of Finnish design in the case of Kirnu.

Further Reading

BaezaRuiz, A (in production) ‘The Rhetoric of Looking: The Case of the National Gallery in London after WWII’, in: Proceedings of What does Heritage Change? Association for Critical Heritage Studies, Montreal.

Findlay, M and Barton, G (2015) ‘The Final Link in the Empire Route: New Zealand and the TEAL Short Solent Flying Boats’, in Cooper A, Paterson L and Wanhalla A (eds), He Taonga, He Kōrero: The Lives of Colonial Objects, Dunedin: Otago University Press.

Findlay, M (2014) ‘Waddell Smith Bungalow’, in Reynolds P and Stock N (eds), Bungalow: From Heritage to Contemporary, Auckland: Random House.

Findlay, M (2013) ‘Rutherford House’ and ‘McCoy House’, chapters in Hansen J (ed), Modern: New Zealand Homes from 1938 to 1977, Auckland: Random House.

Findlay, M (2012) ‘McCoy and Wixon Taiieri Mouth house’, in Hansen J (ed), Big House, Small House. Auckland: Random House.

Makikalli, M and Laitinen, R (eds) (2010) Esine ja aika. Materiaalisen kulttuurin historiaa (transl. Things and Time. History of Material Culture), Helsinki: SKS (The Publishing House of The Finnish Literature Society).

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