Calvin Hutcheon
Abacus

Accounting for Crisis

Responding to the recent UN climate report giving us 12 years to develop systems of resiliency in the face of catastrophic climate change, I prototyped ways of accounting for the remaining time. These experiments focused on rapid itteration within a variety of mediums, resulting in the creations of a chrome extension, a tabletop clock, a ceremonial candle and a website.

the felled trees an abacus
tallying the years.”

A False Start

Inspired by lines "the felled trees an abacus/ tallying the years," from a poem by Sam Olsen, I attempted to create the digital equivalent, tallying loss in concrete images. However, as soon as I had mocked this idea up, I realized it involved too many variables. From there, I paired everything down to the idea of a countdown. This was the single point of orientation that informed the rest of the project.

years,
days,
hours,
minutes, and
seconds

Material Terms

Finally, I put together a simple website that put this time into a quotidian perspective. In addition to measuring the remaining time in days, I also included metrics such as hair length, number of meals eaten, and number of steps taken.

Point of Orientation

Hoping to make the impact more rooted in the material world, I decided to prototype a climate countdown clock using an arduino. The intention was to create a device resembling an alarm clock that would serve as a constant point of orientation. From the time indicated on the clock it would be clear: there are only so many days left to prepare.

New Rituals

Exploring other ways of tracking time, I experimented with candles. I was interested in both analog and the performative qualities of the object. In particular I was drawn to the way the object changed form overtime and the uneven way the wax melted as it marked the passage of time. In addition to producing the candle, I also drafted a proposal for a shrine where one-thousand (the number of candles needed to burn for the entire 12 year period) candles could exist. This religious context seemed useful and provocative.

Close to Home

To account for a changing climate, I created a chrome extension. This would constantly orient the user’s browsing. The end result is a clock that is shown every time a new tab is opened. However, it took time to reach this solution. I had ideas for a much more complex plug in. These focused on surfacing electricity usage and data consumption. It was only by working through and designing this complex system that I realized I needed to create something simple—something that could be understood in an instant. Based on conversations with my friend Martín, I was inspired by the idea of a clock and used that as inspiration moving forward.