Wednesday 11 December 2019

A beautiful, breathtaking account of human endeavour

The Visual Time Traveller - Alison Hackett, 21st Century Renaissance, €45

STRIKING: Alison Hackett’s book considers major moments in the history of exploration, history, sport and science
STRIKING: Alison Hackett’s book considers major moments in the history of exploration, history, sport and science
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

When she was Ireland's representative at the Institute of Physics, Alison Hackett attended a conference at CERN (home of the Hadron Collider) and spotted a poster illustrating a timeline of physics history made by schoolchildren in a striking collage format.

Now her version of Physics in Time posters are in classrooms the length and breadth of Ireland, graphically presenting significant physics discoveries with major milestones in the history of exploration, art, history, politics, sport and science.

Whether you like your history served up in malleable morsels, serious chunks or intensely savoured, Hackett's compendium is a superb production. The format is striking. A spineless cover reveals the bookmaker's craft, and a rich tapestry of post-Renaissance history is stitched and bound with all its colourful thread and knots on show.

Each double page is a delicious display of data framed in a unique graphical and typographical image, presenting 12 historic facts for each decade from 1420.

The selection of facts is based on pivotal moments in history. It is not meant to be defining. Hackett selects gems to portray parallel achievements across the globe.

Of particular interest are the art and architectural milestones – you can visualise paintings and buildings. While other milestones mark moments of discovery, it is these enduring artefacts that preserve genius and craftsmanship for us to study today. One of the most important inventions of our time, the Gutenberg printing press, was invented in 1440.

Hackett communicates through various elements of print: lino cut, colour block, silk-screen and diverse typography. The major landmarks of human genius and endeavour, whether cultural, scientific, political or artistic, are linked in pictorial detail, in a manner no internet search engine could ever emulate.

The timeline, stretching from 1420 to 2013, is a fascinating catalogue of the human race's journey to the digital global village. My only criticism is the sporadic use of script and small print, but then, that's part of the paradigm. This book is a beautiful tool of discovery that will appeal to bibliophiles, hipster nerds and anyone with an inkling of curiosity about our world. It has huge international appeal, with a satisfying level of Irish contribution to history.

The design, illustration and production are by Irish company Origin Design. An exhibition of the work featured in the book will be held at the RDS until May 15.

  • Deirdre Conroy is an art and architectural historian

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