Of toothpicks & design: “A Million Time” at Changi Airport, Humans since 1982


It took four years to complete this uncommon clock, that you can admire in the Terminal 2 at Singapore Changi airport, at the entrance of the departure hall. But to be fair, it took over ten years to its designers, Stockholm-based studio Humans since 1982, to refine this one-of-akind concept; the Changi example is one of its variations.

“A Million Times” at Changi is both a kinetic sculpture and functioning clock composed of 504 smaller clocks and 1008 motors. With a width of 7.5m, the entire ‘clock face’ is wider than that of London’s Big Ben (7m). Each of the 1008 clock-hands (504-minute hands and 504-hour hands) are fitted with individual motors, giving the kinetic sculpture the ability to show various patterns, as well as the time and greetings in various languages across different times of the day.

Bastian Bischoff and Per Emanuelsson are the founders of Humans since 1982. Since meeting as postgraduate students at HDK Göteborg in 2008, the duo are renowned to have produced works that defy easy categorisation, situated between visual art and product design. Creating objects and experiential installations, they describe their work as “analytical, with a healthy dose of escapism“.

Metaphorically speaking, we liberated the clock from its sole function of measuring and reporting the time by taking the clock hands out of their ‘administrative’ roles and turning them into dancers.”

We experimented with animated typography and developed a font that was based on a grid of clocks, whereby we made the clock-hands stop in certain positions in order to create letters and digits. Once the clock-hands rotated again the characters would fall apart. Using clocks to show this circle of formation and decline was intriguing and after some experimentation it proved to be beautiful too. (…) Regarding the visual aspect of the artwork there was another experience that influenced us. Back in 2008, we conducted experiments with patterns of random fallen toothpicks (see picture below). We were curious to discover when something appears random and how much human intervention is needed in order for dozens, formerly random spread toothpicks to be recognized as artificially arranged. Though the scientific method and result were questionable, we saw in those fallen sticks a pure and mysterious visual language. During this small experiment, we noticed the beauty in the
contrast and interdependency between chaos and order, an aspect that is now seen as central in A Million Times.

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