Memories of the Future: Umbrellas are Time vessels

How can the past of World Exposition curate an experience of time travel, journeying both into the past and future?


‘The past is an exotic place – that makes it good for considering possible futures. Re-forming the historical in a new way using techniques and technologies of the present, the artists explored elements of the 1862 London Exhibition and the 2015 Milan Expo to build a bridge from the past to the future. Everything you see here was a reflection and refraction of past, present and future. Memories of the Future was an exhibition curated and designed by Royal College of Art students looking at the mechanics of the past world expositions, subverting historic designs and rediscovering the role of mechanics within the exhibition. It was the result of a collaboration between Information Experience Design and History of Design at the Royal College of Art.


Within the Memories of the Future exhibition as a whole, Umbrellas Are Time Vessels addressed the brief, speculating about the future of world exposition by contemplating and investigating how movement can be considered as a tool when curating and designing a narrative, taking visitors of the exhibition on a journey.

Umbrellas Are Time Vessels considered the world exposition history of architecture and how a building creates a physical as well as an experiential sense of inside and outside. Originally coming from the idea of developing a transportation system or vehicle, the installation ended up using the movement inside the vessel rather than the movement of the vessel itself simulated though both audio and visual narratives. It was therefore the purpose of Umbrellas Are Time Vessels to act as catalyst, transporting visitors through the various eras of wold expositions as well as guiding the visitor through further exhibits of the exhibition; to provide an overarching narrative.


Ten umbrellas are hanging from the ceiling, placed as if they are each a frame of one scene in which an umbrella is tumbling through the wind. Walking through the installation, the visitor “travels through time” through the sounds of mechanical and technological objects that have shaped their own time and changed the future ahead of them. There are five sound compositions in the installation, each played by speakers placed inside the umbrellas. The visitor starts at the 1862 umbrella that has the sound of the beginning of the industrial revolution (semi-automatic looms, cotton mills etc.) and eventually arrives at 2015 where hard mechanical pulsation has been replaced by compressed, seemingly random notification sounds coming from mobile devices.

The floor is covered in white lines, creating the visual illusion of movement and the warping of time and space. The visual element, inspired by optical illusions of depth perception and the visualisation of sound waves, is creating a sensation of lightness similar to what often can be experienced when first walking after having sat for a prolonged period of time, which often is associated with long journeys. This visual elements guides the visitor through the entire exhibition.