May 24-25, 2002

Experimental Arcades
The Materiality of Time Relations in Life Sciences, Art, and Technology (1830-1930)

Experimental systems are time machines, claims François Jacob, "machines for producing the future". They isolate phenomena from their circumstances in order to stabilize them in constant forms and to make them undergo variations. They also have a certain permeability that allows the "breakthrough of the unexpected" (Rheinberger). The materiality of experimental time relations manifests itself in art as well as in science. Marcel Duchamp keeps an arrangement of glass, wood, and color in his study and leaves it untouched for years, in order to integrate the dust that has accumulated into the piece of art. Helmholtz combines galvanic elements, frog muscles, and brass drums in order to record the velocity of nerve impulses. In neither case is time taken as a linear dimension. Rather, a multiplicity of times is brought into productive relations of anticipation and retroaction: the time of objects and models, the time of the observer, the time of the instruments, the time of their drive and supply, the time of the phenomenon under consideration, the time of its registration and storage, and finally the time of the related utterances, be they textual or pictorial.

While in recent years historians of science and scholars from cultural studies have investigated the "spaces of knowledge" (be they real or symbolic), this conference will focus on the problem of time. Its topic will be the exteriority of time with special reference to those realms of the life sciences (physiology, psychology etc.), of art (painting, literature), and of technology (photography, cinema, but also the clock industry) that developed during the period 1830-1930 around the "experimentalization of life". Thus, the question will be not be how the human perception of time has historically changed (or not changed). Nor will we regard time as a self-contained "fourth dimension" that is to be immediately represented or to be registered. The question will be how time is literally made, constructed, produced.

In what kinds of material cultures did the laboratories of experimental physiologists and phoneticians organize (and disorganize) time, and how did this happen in the workshops of sculptors and architects? What are the histories that can be told about the production and distribution of clocks in the 19th century, e.g. how did the products of the clock industry find their way into the daily life of scientists and artists? How was the distribution of time secured in the public sphere of large cities, and how did it invade the relatively isolated sites of scientific and artistic production, so that it could leave its imprints on related discourses? How was time linked to objects in museums, archives, and comparable institutions, and how could collections of "time related objects" be made productive in epistemological and/or aesthetic contexts?

Taking these questions as starting points, the conference aims to contribute to the history of objects that allowed for the production, coordination, and distribution of time in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Historians of science, art, and technology are invited to deal with topics such as:

1. Constructing time (instruments, devices, found objects, stones)

2. Organizing multiplicities of times (experiments, laboratories, work shops)

3. Networks of time (clock systems, time discourses)

The conference will be the second public event within the research project "The Experimentalization of Life: Configurations of Science, Art, and Technology (1830-1930)". That project was initiated by the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science in Berlin (Dept. III, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger) and receives funding from the VolkswagenStiftung (Hannover). It is carried out in collaboration with the Humboldt University, Berlin, the Bauhaus University, Weimar, and Stanford University, California.

Dr. Henning Schmidgen
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Wilhelmstrasse 44
D-10117 Berlin

Phone: (+49-30) 22 66 7 118