In 1947, a group of scientists from Chicago affiliated with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists thought up the Doomsday Clock. This is a symbol that is meant to visualize how little time separates us from the end of the world. If the existence of our species were to be compared to a twenty-four-hour period, today we would have only ninety seconds left. When the clock was made, we had seven minutes.
In its first decades, the clock’s hands moved closer to midnight at times when the specter of nuclear war became more real. Analogously, an improvement in the situation made the hands move back. In 1991, when Russia and the USA decided to cut back their nuclear armaments, the hands moved a full seventeen minutes from midnight. Today we are the closest ever to symbolic midnight—we need not really explain why. Apart from the threat of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe is looming over our heads, and the word geopolitics is not coincidentally heard more and more often.
The clock is a visual representation of human anxieties—and perhaps it is a touch too simple. Despite all the dangers, it is hard to believe in this metaphor, and in the fact that the end is near, even with the authority of American scientists. Perhaps no one truly believes in it. Let us consider our everyday lives, our plans for our career development, for our apartments we’re buying on thousand-year loans. We’re building a Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, we’re paying our health insurance, we want to pass our final exams or shed a few pounds. Is this how people behave when their existence is critically endangered?
What is behind our stubbornness in ignoring the threats? Maybe the scientists have created a metaphor that is too effective, and because of that, no one will listen to them? Or maybe the truth is that we really are fools and suckers, doomed to see the annihilation of the whole planet?
Agnieszka Polska’s exhibition is made up of kinetic objects—Fernand Clocks. The allusion is to Fernand Braudel, a historian who studied time and wrote it was a social construct. I know this from Agnieszka, because I myself have not read even one of his books. Nor any other history book, for that matter.
Every object is composed of round discs made of aluminum and Plexiglas with printed designs—all of them joined with a clock mechanism. Every layer moves at a different speed, marking the seconds, minutes, or hours, sometimes going counter-clockwise. The layers hold depictions connected with technological phenomena, human and non-human imaginings, micro- and macro-universes. All of them twirl in their own orbits. A laundry capsule, a straw (as we know, these are the worst), batteries, chocolate bars, screws. Things from the natural world: ants, birds, a blue sky, daisies, a bone, preserved moths. Agnieszka’s objects are spectacular, beautiful, made in Germany.
Fernand Braudel did not comprehend time as linear and homogeneous. According to his vision, the world was made up of complicated, layered structures and beings, developing and passing at their own speed. One clock measures the time of a laundry capsule, another of a black moon, another still measures the time of a monkey admiring the beauty of a butterfly. Whose time, then, does the Doomsday Clock really measure? Maybe if we had a closer look at its gears we would see a more complex, disseminated structure, or maybe even more doomsday clocks—exactly as many clocks as there are clocks, watches, and alarm clocks in the world?