Poly-temporal Spaces: Time and the Inhabited Interior

Friday 9th Sept, 11.30-13.00, Room CG06

Chair: Dr Portia Ungley, Kingston University 

Papers in this session address, in different ways, the idea that lived interiors are not static but exist in several temporal dimensions at once, in a “continuous state of becoming”.

Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in Interior Design
Professor Ben Highmore, Centre for Material Digital Culture University of Sussex
E: b.highmore@sussex.ac.uk T: @BenHighmore

The title of this paper reworks Mikhail Bakhtin’s 1938 essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’. The chronotope, for Bakhtin, is an amalgam of space-time that can be used to characterise specific literary genres and historical moments of literature (the picaresque novel, the Bildungsroman, the modernist “one day in the life” novel, and so on). This paper pursues the idea that the chronotope, as an orchestration of time and space (or times and spaces), can also be an important analytic for studying the interior and for understanding genres of interior design.

Few actual lived-in rooms contain items from a single moment in time (showrooms, bydefault, would be the exception that proved this rule). An average ‘1950s’ suburban sitting room, for instance, might have had furnishings from the 20s, 30s and 40s, and ornaments that were older still. Such rooms were often the result of haphazard accretions of time, of inheritance, of making-do, of purposeful care and retention, as well as a desire to embrace the modern and the new. In the 1960s and 70s (which will constitute the main case study of this paper) this poly-temporal aspect of the interior took on a particular chronotope as internal spaces were created to fulfil the needs of media technologies (for instance, modular shelving systems designed to house hi-fis, TVs and record collections), new practices of informality (for instance, the much desired, but seldom realised, “conversation pit”) and fashionable “retro” and “exotic”accoutrements (a Bovril advert made of tin, a rug from Afghanistan, a batik tablecloth from Bali, and so on). And just as in the 50s such rooms might also have theinherited furnishings from earlier decades.

Using a range of sources, including novels, films, advice literature and historical photographs of 60s and 70s interior space, I will attempt to establish the chronotope of this genre of interior design.In doing this, I think it is possible to see interior design as articulating a contradictory set of hopes and possibilities for domesticliving played out across temporalized spaces (the mythic “timelessness” of the Orient, the rational futurology of modular systems, and so on). In many ways this chronotope is a material ideology of affective living for an emergent class formation at this time and can be seen in some of the most iconic cultural works of the time.

42134488_slatterThe becoming of Wesleyan Methodist space, London 1851-1932
Ruth Slatter, Postgraduate Teaching Assistant, UCL
E: ruth.slatter.13@ucl.ac.uk T: @ruthslatter

Existing approaches to spaces of Wesleyan Methodist practice have largely studied chapels as architectural structures. Interested in their external style and internal arrangement, they have focused on their moment of construction, unconcerned with how these spaces changed and developed or the effect of time on material things and spaces (Dolbey, 1964; Stell, 1991-2002).By contrast, Tim Ingold (2012) has claimed that material things are in a constant state of becoming, arguing that their material qualities always change as they interact with the world around them. Similarly, Graham and Thrift’s (2007) emphasis on the importance of considering maintenance and repair has demonstrated how material things are never static, but are constantly broken, worn down, updated and fixed. In response to these ideas a growing body of literature has begun to demonstrate concern for how spaces and things change and evolve over time. For example, Tim Edensor (2011) has applied Ingold’s definition of material things to St Ann’s Church, Manchester, considering how a range of non-human agents have resulted in changes to the material qualities of this building.

Alternatively, Connelly (2015) and Gregson, Metclaff and Crew (2007) have used changes in the material qualities of things as the foundation for broader discussions about the development of their social purposes and meanings. Using Wesleyan Methodism in London between 1851 and 1932 as its example, this paper will consider developments in both the material qualities and social meanings of spaces of Wesleyan practice, arguing that a combination of both approaches allows for a more comprehensive appreciation of these spaces’ constant state of becoming. Moving through different moments in the life-cycle of Wesleyan chapels, mission halls and Sunday schools, it will demonstrate how they were engaged in material and social becoming before they were permanently constructed, while they were being built and even after they might conventionally be considered ‘finished’. Concerned with becoming on a range of different scales it will consider moments of construction, large-scale alteration, tinkering, maintenance, and repair, demonstrating how all made equally important contributions to the becoming of these spaces.Finally, this paper will argue that appreciation of Wesleyan spaces’ material and social becomings can provide insights into how Wesleyanism was experienced by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century congregations. As such, it will demonstrate the value of paying close attention to the ways things and spaces continue to become throughout time.

Oral History, Housewives and Memories of Rural Electrification in 1950s and 1960s Ireland
Dr. Sorcha O’Brien, Senior Lecturer, Design History and Theory, Kingston University London
E: s.obrien@kingston.ac.uk T: @_sorcha

The historical discourse surrounding the electrification of the Irish countryside in the 1950s and 1960s has focused heavily on ‘modernisation’, positioning the time period as the tipping point where traditional rural ways of life, cottage interiors and the material culture that furnished them were swept away by a tide of electric kettles, washing- machines and ‘Hoovers’. Twig brooms, mangles and open cooking hearths have become objects of curiosity, today only seen in archive footage and as exhibits in museums of farming and country life. The same impulse that led to a wave of 1970s concrete bungalows based on the sample plans from Bungalow Bliss (1971) has been attributed to the wholesale adoption of electrical labour saving devices throughout the Irish countryside, in the wake of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) Rural Electrification Scheme. The heights of this scheme were in the 1950s and 1960s, as successive governments tried to combat emigration and rural isolation with development programmes to bring electricity supply and piped water to the approximately 60% of the population living outside a city or town. Supported by the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, a network of ESB demonstrators, and a series of ESB shops and exhibits promoting the virtues of electrical cooking and cleaning, the archival material from this time period depicts a wholesale enthusiasm for this new ‘modern’ electrified lifestyle. Newspaper and magazine advertisements fell in line with governmental policy, which positioned the value of the Irish housewife as coming from ‘her life within the home’ (Constitution of Ireland, 1937), promoting a range of electrical products in an emotionally weighted manner.

However, this paper intends to query this official, institutional discourse of sweeping modernity by re-introducing the voices of the Irish housewife herself. Based on a series of oral history interviews with rural Irish women in their seventies and eighties to be carried out this summer, this paper will allow the rural Irish housewife to speak for herself, outside the official histories. It will present the voices and opinions of the interviewees on the rural electrification process, and their acquisition and use of domestic electrical products as young women in the 1950s and 1960s. As these women reflect on their memories and personal lived experience at a remove of fifty or more years, the paper will reflect on the process of collecting and eliciting oral histories from elderly women, particularly in terms of the telling, retelling and polishing of stories that follow a long life. Their oral testimony will be considered in terms of the challenges and nuances it brings to the more official narratives of the rural electrification of Ireland, but as an emotional history of electrical products in the same time period.

Further Readings

Clear, C. (2000) Women of the House: Women’s Household Work in Ireland 1922-1961. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

Connelly, A (2015) ‘Continuity and Adaptation: Archway Central Hall, 1934-2010’, The London Journal, 40.1, 33-55.

Constitution of Ireland (1937) Article 41.2 Available here.

Dolbey, G (1964) The Architectural Expression of Methodism; The First Hundred Years, London: The Epworth Press.

Edensor, T (2011) ‘Entangled Agencies, Material Networks and Repair in a Building Assemblage: The Mutable Stone of St Ann’s Church Manchester’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36, 238-252.

Fitzsimons, J. (1971) Bungalow Bliss. Kells: Kells Art Studies.

Graham, S and Thrift, N (2007) ‘Out of Order: Understanding Repair and Maintenance’, Theory, Culture and Society, 24.3, 1-25.

Gregson, N, Metclafe, A, Crewe, L (2007) ‘Practices of Object Maintenance and Repair: How Consumers Attend to Consumer objects within the Home’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 25.4, 682-700.

Highmore, B (2017) The Art of Brutalism: Rescuing Hope from Catastrophe in 1950s Britain, New Haven and London: Yale University Press and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art) (in production).

Highmore, B (2016) Culture (Key Ideas in Media and Cultural Studies), Oxford and New York: Routledge.

Highmore, B (2014) The Great Indoors: At Home in the Modern British House, London: Profile Books.

Ingold, T (2012) ‘Towards an Ecology of Materials’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 427-442.

Shiel, M. (1984) The Quiet Revolution: The Electrification of Rural Ireland. Dublin: O’Brien Press.

Stell, C (1991-2002) Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-Houses, 4 vols, London and Swindon: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and English Heritage.

Thompson, P. (2000) The Voice of the Past: Oral History. 3rd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.