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    Capturing the essence of the cuckoo clock

    Twenty-four designs that reimagine the cuckoo clock are on display at Northeastern University’s Gallery 360.
    Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University
    Twenty-four designs that reimagine the cuckoo clock are on display at Northeastern University’s Gallery 360.

    The strangeness of the cuckoo clock makes it a fun choice as the object for a design competition. To reimagine something you need to understand its essence, and what is the essence of the cuckoo clock? An ongoing exhibition at Gallery 360 tries to provide the answer.

    24 Hours in the Life of a Swiss Cuckoo Clock” contains 24 cuckoo clock designs created by students and faculty the Geneva University of Art and Design. The pieces, on display at Northeastern University’s Gallery 360, update the look of an old and whimsical way of telling time.

    Cuckoo clocks developed in the Black Forest in Germany in the mid-18th century; the classic version features a wooden bird inside a small rustic chalet that emerges periodically to chirp the hour. Nathan Felde, chair of the Art and Design Department at Northeastern, helped bring the exhibition to Boston. He sees a fundamentally mocking quality in the device, as the cuckoo ever so pleasantly reminds you that time is ticking.

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    “In a funny way it evokes nature [along with] this idea of measured time,” Felde says. “It’s 3 o’clock, what have you done for me?”

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    Some of the designs in the exhibition pick up directly on this mocking quality. In one, the cuckoo comes out every 20 minutes and asks “what time is it” in French, then broadcasts the answer out to the room, essentially delegating its only task. Other designs strip away the romance of the cuckoo clock. The bird-and-chalet motif gives off a warm feeling that hides the mechanical activity within. Some of the cuckoo clocks in the exhibition put the mechanics of the clock front and center, to show time grinding on — and maybe remind us that long after we’re gone, the weird old cuckoo clock will still be here.

    24 Hours in the Life of a Swiss Cuckoo Clock” runs at Gallery 360, 360 Huntington Ave., through July 11. The exhibition also features a poster design contest that is open to the public.

    Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.