The Missing Half Second

Zeynep Çelik Alexander (Turkey), Venessa Heddle, Elliott Sturtevant (Canada)

Alt Art Space


“Recently, scientists and philosophers alike have been debating the implications of a series of neuroscientific experiments conducted in the 1980s: that there might be a half-second delay between the voluntary action of our muscles and our brain’s consciousness of the action. … Although the so-called ‘missing half second’ may seem like a recent neuroscientific discovery, in fact it has a long history. … Modern design is the epistemological offspring of the very same idea. This was especially the case in late nineteenth-century Germany, where the word Gestaltung, meaning at once ‘form’ and ‘formation,’ equated the design of humans to the design of things. The ingenuity of modern design was this relation of reciprocity–that is, the promise that humans would be made as they made things.” –ZÇA


The Missing Half Second offers a new kind of history of modern design by exploring a series of experiments that preceded contemporary neuroscience. Late nineteenth-century attempts to codify emotional response, Bauhaus tests, and tests of the power of televisual images in the 1980s share a central and persistent assumption of aesthetic modernism: that the relationship between form and affect is one of immediacy, and that “modern design is, first and foremost, the design of the human sensorium.”