powers of ten


The film Powers of Ten was first made as a trial version in 1968, and then remade and released in 1977 in the familiar form that has been so widely disseminated in both film and printed formats. Produced by the Eames Office, the Los Angeles-based firm founded by the husband-and-wife design team, the 1977 version was one of the couple’s final films.4 In the postwar era of US corporate expansion and ascendancy, the Eameses established relationships with some of the key companies of the time. The development of their practice across the period parallels the larger transformation of a modern economy, based on the production of material objects, to a postmodern or informational economy, based on the production of signs. From their early designs for office and consumer objects—such as their famous chairs—they moved increasingly into exhibition and media productions for clients such as IBM, an early commission being The Information Machine, a film produced for the 1958 Brussels world’s fair. While work for corporate clients destined for the international exhibitions of the Cold War period was inevitably situated in an arena of national representation and geopolitical contest, the Eameses were at the same time receiving major commissions explicitly driven by such imperatives. Most notable of these was the film installation Glimpses of the USA, produced the year after the Brussels exposition for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow, coordinated by the United States Information Agency (USIA). This event has been described as “the first cultural exchange between the two countries since the Bolshevik Revolution” and was the site of the infamous “kitchen debate” between (then vice-president) Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev, itself an object lesson in the highly symbolic role that technological consumer products played in the period.5 The Eameses’ presentation used simultaneous projection onto seven large screens that hung in the main exhibition pavilion, a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller.

more from Mark Dorrian at Cabinet here.