Thursday, 14 February 2013

Employment of Time (excerpt)

I recall one weekend, aged 8 or 9, going with my father to his place of work. An occurrence not necessarily out of the ordinary - I have a series of recollections of my mother refusing to leave the car, constantly complaining of the smell (my dad worked in sewage) and generally not looking very pleased at all to have her weekend imposed upon her husband’s work ethic. Anyway, she wasn’t present on this occasion. I think my brother was, but he has no part to play in this story so might as well be left out.

On this particular trip, in one of the offices my father set up some apparatus: a television, VHS player and a home video camera (VHS) mounted on a tripod. He played a video on the television, checked the sound levels, and started recording on the camera.  We left the room and occupied ourselves for the next hour or so - For me this usually involved riding down a hill on my skateboard.  I never stood up on this hill as at the time it seemed very steep.  Instead I would lie down on my chest, much like a surfer or a skeleton-bobsledder might lie, or perhaps, in later years when I’d become too large for the skateboard, in the way a Vietnam war veteran who has lost the use of his legs might sit on a skateboard - calves folded under thighs, using my hands to paddle along. I should also mention here, that this hill was excellent for sledging, and was, due to it’s location on a sewage works, a private ski-slope of sorts. After the recording was complete we returned to the office, dismantled the equipment and went home. I remember the film being Short Circuit 2.

Over the intervening years, on several occasions I’ve spoken to my dad about this trip. He says he doesn’t remember ever having made a copy of a film, and has no recollection of the specific event outlined above [Though almost any of this may be a false memory -  from the recording of the film through to my memory of my father failing to recall having done so, the skateboard (which had a ninja printed on it’s underside) and that hill were both most definitely REAL and TRUE].

The lack of corroboration from my father doesn’t really concern me, the memory seems such a strong one for me because it was a little out of the ordinary while for my dad it was just a typical weekend trip to work (there were a lot). Recently while I was thinking about this memory, it struck me that this may have had an impact on my later interests,  my own (art) practice, my writing things such as this thing you’re reading now, and even my job (I photograph and scan things in a library), but the idea of somehow condensing the seed of all future developments into this one event on a weekend from childhood is too simplistic to bear any interest or to glean any real meaning from.  What I do find interesting in this memory is the real-time-ness of the experience, the scale of the passage of time  in the undertaking of this analogue recording, the 1:1 ratio of it all, the fact that the recording of something will take the time it will take to occur - you know, like in real-life.

[A few years after this Short Circuit 2 incident, I recall my brother bringing home a copy of Predator 2. Upon further questioning it was revealed to me that this copy was created not by the screen/camera setup outlined above but in a Double-Decker video recorder (made by Amstrad?) which still took an analogue real-time duration to record, but provided the operator the opportunity to watch something else while the copying was being done. A development in technology which blew my mind at the time.]

It’s interesting to think of the 1:1 ratio now, these days, when it’s possible to digitally copy time based media very quickly indeed. It would seem that the transition from analogue to digital in these media has affected the very nature of our relationship to them.  The shift in the user experience of these digital media has precipitated the erosion of it’s relationship to our attention: that because things are so readily available, abundant, and free, they become somewhat more diffuse or disposable, providing the user the opportunity to graze or browse rather than immerse. Instantaneity means experiences can be cherry picked for immediate gratification. I’m uncomfortable with this kind of relationship as I’m sure a lot of other people are too, but I tend not to answer my phone (and subsequently don’t call people back), and I take a long time to reply to text messages or emails.  Why should this be the case when everything is so readily available? 

Perhaps it is precisely because of this abundance and availability that postponement becomes a seemingly reasonable manner in which to communicate.  I have several draft responses to emails where the intent to respond is most certainly there, but the actual response, the part that matters, isn’t. I’ve been sent emails from friends with links to youtube videos that I don’t get around to watching in their entirety, or .mp3s that I download then never listen to. Recently I received a .pdf copy of Notes on Cinematography by Robert Bresson. I know because I download it, it’s on my desktop, though I have never had a look inside [However, in the course of writing this, I’ve since had a brief look, so you’d best discount that last sentence]. I’d like to argue that this is a matter of technology, that if I owned an iPad or Kindle, that I’d of course read it straight away, and this would be precisely because of the availability and malleability of the media, but I’m not so sure. Likewise, if I had a comfortable room where I could listen to these mp3’s on a good stereo, of course I’d listen to them. But perhaps it’s just that I never seem to find the time, because, to do so I'd have to care enough about these ephemeral items, and because they don’t have any weight - they don’t exist through time expended (on my part) in accessing them - I don’t give them any intellectual weight.  Maybe this is a side effect of having grown up alongside these technological developments - I still have hundreds of CDs, untouched in years, at my parents house - I wonder whether I’ll ever listen to them again - DVDs that I meant to get round to watch but just never-managed-to-find-the-time. Maybe the cause of this is an internal confusion of what exists and what doesn’t, that because these are here in an instant I can get them anytime, however much I know that anytime roughly translates to never.

This text is an excerpt from the piece Employment of Time written for the exhibition of the same name curated by my friend Pernille Leggat Ramfelt. It has been (very minimally) adapted. The full text can be found here.

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