Entangled Time: A Nonlinear History of a Deep Future

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In his book A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History philosopher and artist Manuel De Landa claims that in a new world—in which the human hierarchy cannot be sustained—linear causality, that is, “the simplest form of causal relations, simple arrows going from cause to effect”[1], needs to be re-worked. De Landa shows how causality works in a non-linear fashion, as a dynamic meshwork; “causal relation does not form a straight arrow, but folds back on itself, forming a closed loop.”[2] In the Anthropocene the human conception of ‘time’ cannot be sustained and needs to be re-worked.

At the bottom of an elevator shaft on the ground floor in the East Wing at MoMA in 1972 time was unfolding, forming a closed loop. In the shaft of the abyss one of the works in the exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” was mounted and displayed (see image 2 & 3). The Italian designer Gaetano Pesce had made a two-level bunker cast in brown polyurethane that played with the notion of temporality. The bunker was not produced in 1972, but discovered underground in northern Italy in an archaeological excavation in the year AD 3000 and the archeologist that discovered the plastic bunker was Pesce himself. After researching the underground shelter, the archaeologist assigned the structure to the year 2000 and the bunker was then completely excavated and moved to MoMA, back to 1972. The archaeological excavation in 3000 revealed that humans had been in trouble in the years around 2000. Although the exact reason for why humans had to seek shelter underground in 2000 was not quite clear, the archeologist concluded that an immense cataclysm must have been a factor. The archeological research team from 3000 established that it somehow had become impossible for humans to breathe, and they had to withdraw from the surface of the earth.

Pesce’s intention of the exact reason to why humans had to withdraw from the earth’s surface was in fact unclear. In the exhibition catalogue Pesce/the archeologist was listing possible, but vague, situations. Amongst many situations, we can read: “Incompatibility between human environment and the atmosphere”, “Need for isolation”, “Rejection of human contact”, “Non-communication as a characteristic of life”, “Decline of the technological dream”, “Insecurity as the prospect of the future”, “Tendency to overcome fear through inflating the idea of death.” [3] However, Manuel De Landa’s notion of causality as a dynamic meshwork might hold a key to expand our understanding of time as an entangled entity.

In 2013 Pesce was interviewed at The Architecture Foundation about his participation in the exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”. Pesce made a statement that confirms that time is not necessarily working according to the human conception; it is an entangled play:

“When I presented this project, I presented it as an archaeologist. Not as a designer, not as an architect. I am an archaeologist from the year 3000 discovering in north of Italy, underground, in a huge cavern, an empty cavern. Supposedly from oil. This cavern is empty. Three years later in Europe, there was the crisis of oil. […] I said ‘people had decided to go and live inside earth.’ Why? Maybe because outside [it] is impossible to breath. Interesting, later, it came out, the story of the pollution—it was interesting. Because with a project you are able to evoke a situation that was coming two or three years later.”[4]

At a first glance, this statement might not seem very controversial. Pesce is saying that pollution was not one of his (and the archeologist’s) situations of why people needed to withdraw from the surface of the earth. He had suggested that one of the possible situations was an “incompatibility between human environment and the atmosphere, ”but at the time, (according to Pesce in 2013) pollution was not thought of as one of the reasons for this incompatibility. However, in the following year the crisis of oil emerged, and in the following years the story of pollution became more pervasive, and the work at the bottom of the elevator shaft at MoMA in 1972 seemed to have been articulating a deep future. 

Pesce is saying that the project “evoked a situation that was coming two or three years later.” Evoke, meaning to draw forth, cause; produce, or to summon—that is, to request to appear. Did the plastic bunker at MoMA evoke the oil crisis? Did it cause global warming? Then the causality would “not form a straight arrow, but [would] fold back on itself, forming a closed loop.”

Geologic time, often called ‘deep time,’ refers to the notion that time is not confined to the human understanding of time. What humans can understand, preserve and describe is not necessarily the one and only conception of time. A stone might be entangled in time very differently than Gaetano Pesce. The plastic bunker in the shaft of the abyss seemed to have been articulating a deep future, in which human understanding, preserving and describing is not necessarily the one and only conception of the future. Gaetano Pesce was working with the past, and playing with the future—a future that was beyond the linear conception of time. It was a dynamic meshwork of potentialities.

  1. Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Swerve Editions (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 67. 
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Emilio Ambasz, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape: Achievements and Problems of Italian Design (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1972), 216.
  4. Gaetano Pesce in conversation with Peter Lang. “Architecture on Film: Italy - The New Domestic Landscape, MoMA, 1972 + Q & A with Gaetano Pesce and Peter Lang.” The Architecture Foundation 28.11.2013.

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