Initial foundations (theory)
Conceptualism – German conceptualism
Hanne Darboven (1941-2009)
Und schreibe: heute (…) , 1983
Pen on paper
41.5 x 59 cm. (16.3 x 23.2 in.)
A tremendously inspiring artist and someone to whom I will return throughout the project. Darboven is part of German conceptual and in her work she devised her own mathematical and linguistic systems to deal with the passage of time.
- She particularly focused on writing as a temporal practice, and a labour made meaningful through time. From a prolific practice of correspondence with loved ones and friends, to entire notebooks filled with laborious ‘motion of writing’, but no words, she dealt with the practical matters of written language through it’s process.
- Darboven also explored the format of the calendar (several examples on the left), where time, out of scale (constructed as an abstraction on the page), gets filled with the process of writing, itself linked to much shorter gestures. A labour of a minute fills a day.
Contemporary art and time
Art as purposeful:
On Kawara ‘Today Series/Date Paintings’
24,698 Days (100 Years Calendar), 2000
Kawara represents 100 years day by day, in terms of how many date paintings he did
A ridiculously overused, but nevertheless powerful example of art as ritual, commitment, and signifier, seriality assumes an absolutely fundamental role as a formal quality.
There is significant degree of subjectivity to the seemingly mechanical action Kawara returns to, as he borrows time-marking conventions from the current contexts, picks certain days over others, and uses subtitles.
‘Above all, however, the Today series addresses each day as its own entity within the larger context of the regularized passage of time. The series speaks to the idea that the calendar is a human construct, and that quantifications of time are shaped by cultural contexts and personal experiences.’ (Guggenheim entry on ‘Today Series/Date Paintings’)
Additionally, On Kawara’s work functions on a very clearly defined set of rules, the conversations with which provides the spine of his work. For example:
- Every piece has to be completed in 24 hours, on the day it describes
- The data is in the language and format of the place he is currently in
- There are 8 possible sizes of canvas
- Each painting can have an accompanying binder with documents from that day
- A canvas will have a box and the box can have a newspaper of that day glued inside
- The text colour never changes, the background is one of several
- A day can have a multiple canvas done during it, and most days don’t have any
The role of cinema
‘What constitutes the crystal-image is the most fundamental operation of time: since the past is constituted not after the present that it was but at the same time, time has to split itself in two at each moment as present and past, which differ from each other in nature, or, what amounts to the same thing, it has to split the present into two heterogeneous directions, one of which is launched towards the future while the other falls towards the past. … Time consists of this split, and it is this, it is time, that we see in the crystal.’ (‘Gilles Deleuze and Film Theory’ by Nasrullah Mambrol)
‘If every single day, at exactly the same stroke of the clock, one were to perform the same single act, like a ritual, unchanging, systematic, every day at the same time, the world would be changed. Yes, something would change. It would have to. One could wake up in the morning, let’s say. Get up at exactly seven, go to the bathroom, pour a glass of water from the tap and flush it down the toilet. Only that!‘ (Alexander in the opening scene of Andrej Tarkovsky’s ‘The Sacrifice’ 1986)
The quote has stuck with me for years, ever since I heard it quite young, as my parents introduced me to Tarkovsky. It alludes to both the impossibility of true, utter commitment to an action when separated in time, the myriad of ways the world does change, consistently, unrecognizably, because of many small actions in conglomerate, to the beauty and meaning of simplest acts of devotion.
Randomised rituals – Terrence Malick
While impossible to trace back, a lecture I heard back in the Netherlands, about Terrence Malick’s cinema, and his commitment to something he called ‘randomised rituals’ on set. He encouraged experimentation within the repeating parameters of daily, workable functions, commitments, and events, rearranging them into new combinations. This shuffling of the day’s ‘contents’ really struck me as a novel, exciting way to approach time and structure when creating.
Knowledge organisation systems 1
History of calendars
Julian to Gregorian calendars
The Julian calendar was introduced in 46 BC by Julius Caesar and was changed for the now common Gregorian calendar in the 16th century by pope Gregory. Protestant countries, including England, did not accept the change till much later, 1752 in England’s case, because of mistrust in papal authority.
The Julian calendar was essentially abandoned because it had ‘incorrect’ month lengths, which only becomes evident as the cycle repeats. This is particularly interesting to me, as an error in ‘stacking’ of time, in it’s assembly through periods. Since what can be ‘objectively’ wrong about time is concerned with movement in space-time, speeds approaching speed of light, reversal of second law of thermodynamics, all questions not reaching our daily concerns at all. And yet the somewhat arbitrary splitting of passing time, on which our society relies, causes havoc when misconstrued.
‘When the Gregorian calendar was first adopted, 4 October 1582 was, in some countries, immediately followed by 15 October 1582. (The days of the week, however, ran on in their normal sequence.) The calendar was adopted across the world gradually: it only came into use in the British Isles in 1752, when 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752’ (Ruper Shepherd)
Give us back our 10 days!
Because England took around 200 years to catch up, when the change was prompted here, 11 instead of 10 days were lost.
To the right: Calendar of the dates of Easter, for the years 532–632
There was significant political and religious ground to cover for these changes. It had to do in particular with the way of calculating the date of Easter for each year. Problems arise since Easter depends on both solar and lunar months/cycles. They miss-align every year, and so the most convenient, easy to comprehend algorithm follows.
The fake calendar riots. As part of the transitioning story in the UK, riots are frequently mentioned, supposing the populous was so daft they thought 11 days were actually going to be lost. There was great confusion, since ‘natural dates’ and financial year, ‘civic dates’ go misaligned – natural days moved in numbers, since they had to stay in place with the astronomical clock, and the rest stayed in place numerically, but changed time-wise. THIS SPLITS NATURAL AND CIVIC TIME!!!
An Election Entertainment (Four Prints of an Election, plate 1), 1755
In 1755, 3 years after the calendar change, William Hogarth makes a print about election riots, in which a poster says ‘give us back our 11 days’. This creates a legend of calendar riots, while none actually happened in the UK. There was great confusion because of the civic/natural time split, but not fully fledged riots – the myth more probably originates in the higher classes looking down on the rest of the population. Hogarth himself was commenting on the diminished value of Tory election slogans, and used an event from 3 years ago as a catalyst.
History of indexing
A massive indexing project+machine proposed for the Paris police in 1749.
‘The new conception of the city that emerged from ‘police science’ constructed a new rationality of the city. This holistic understanding can be seen, according to Birignani, as the origin of Urbanism: the knowledge of the management of the city. The city, which previously had been approached just by punctual interventions, now became a complex object of study. Paris began to be projected as a network of nodes and links in an urban system. This knowledge was not just to make the city clean with straight streets and smooth circulation; in fact, it was to limit and thus to define the city by documenting and numbering every single object.’ (The City as a Project)
Classification systems and libraries
Dewey Decimal system
My aunt’s journals (logs)
Detailed analysis of particularities:
Letterpress meaning (theory)
Letterpress day 1 – typesetting (practice)
- Learning about the equipment and terminology, processes and limittations.
- Learning to set type in the type case. Particular way of holding, lines, spaces, measurement types: points, picas (12 points), em’s, en’s, hairspaces, etc.
- Learning to set type with leadings.
- Learning to use a galley to take type out of the case.
- Learning to set type using furniture and coins.
The mathematical nature of relationships between symbols, spaces, the constant need to calculate and adjust, linearity of setting row by row all allude to the processes I have been identifying in my aunt’s journals. Relationship with time is particularly important – the process involves specific time spans for each 12 point quadrant, connecting to their function as data entries.
There is also the flipped axis that need to be mentioned – my aunt’s journal is filled horizontally, each day fills a column, but each row is read linearly as a progression. It is easier to get a grasp of the number of coffees in a span of a week, than how many coffees were drunk in relation to work hours on a particular day, since that is a vertical read.
Typesetting is then based around categories. It has to be done row by row (potential for exploration – flipping?) and so fully encourages reading not by totalities of every day, but by progressions of categories in time.
Coffee cups per day: 3 3 3 4 4 3 3 3 3 3 4 2 3 3 3 3 2 ~ ~ 3 4 5 5 3 etc
December 4th, Thursday, 2008.
- Gathering of information
- Following other newspapers
- Hours worked
- Lithuanian language
- English language
- Morning exercise
Letterpress day 2 – printing and more typesetting – first tangible outcomes (practice)
Conversation starts revolving around making my own symbols – crazy thought with infinitely many complications. Ed directs me towards his friend working with casting type at a letterfoundry. He has worked for the Smithsonian for many years.
The central question within the exploration is of the driving force – what is a fruitful path to pursue and what is more or less a waste of energy and time. Time being central to the work, the realtionship between time and labour in all of my experiments is at the front. I could lasercut letters, but that removes the labour. Must the labour be time-consuming, must it involve physical making? In response – can we deal with time without spending it? Can a cycle be understood without repeating it?
Caseroom books (theory)
Typewriter art and concrete poetry
Into the ancient pond A frog jumps Water sound
‘Notes from the Cosmic Typewriter’ The Life and Work of Dom Sylvester Houedard (dsh)
If it was possible to talk to someone who understands the relationship between writing and time, it must be monks, scriveners, people who had to reproduce texts, whether it be ‘grey literature’ or manuscripts.
Grey literature – “information produced on all levels of government, academia, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing” ie. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.” (Third International Conference on Grey Literature in 1997).
At the center of various avant-garde movements in Britain and likely the one to bring concrete poetry into this context, dsh seems to be the perfect crux of knowledge, spiritual awareness and artistic practice. Exploring the power of words on a page as a plane, the efforts imbued with metaphysical weight.
Now my interest is far more specific, I began enjoying the rhythm, temporality, physical force exerted by the typewriter.
Additionally, the form of the type (after having set metal type) is metronomic, repetitive, all characters assuming the same space, but not the same width, MONOSPACED, I’ve been told. This establishes a universal, immovable coordinate system from the first time the plane of a page is struck with a hammer. An origin is dropped.
For my own exploration, I intended to lean on the limits imposed by the medium, to bounce my themes off the walls of a type-written page. What does the process of hammering language incite? How does the process that defined professional writing for centuries unfold within my calculation-machine context?
Photo lithography (theory + practice):
I went through the labour of reproducing a particular page of my aunt’s journal by hand, in order to print by via photo lithography later (immortalise something specifically temporal).
- The drawing on the left is a tracing. The work of tracing is both shunned as a method (within amateur drawing setting tracing would be ‘cheating’), and is somewhat redundant, taxing, both meticulous and unavoidably interpretative. Additionally, it is the ultimate reduction of an image to it’s visual parts. More than any form of manual copying, tracing would imply the need to visually reproduce – and it does make certain things, like invoices (carbon sheets) less time consuming to replicate.
- Drawing versus writing. When tracing, the speed necessarily reduces the action of writing (the original process) to drawing, although the boundaries are obviously blurred and fascinating in their grayness. When copying by hand, manuscript-process like, aka scribing.
History of shorthand/history of scribing (theory)
There are three main categories of written shorthand:
- Stenographic (symbols and simplified letter forms)
- Alphabetic (normal letter forms)
- Hybrid – combines both.
Shorthand developed as a practice of shortening written language through the use of symbols and abbreviations. Already used in ancient Greece, shorthand has different names depending on the intended purpose of writing:
- stenography – process of writing shorthand – stenos (narrow) and graphein (to write).
- brachygraphy – if compression is the main intent – brachys (short)
- tachygraphy – if speed is the main intent – tachys (swift, speedy).
Shorthand was more widely used before the invention of dictation machines, but it retains its place in the courtroom and reporting settings.
Of particular interest to me are the modifications to language in order to modify the time it takes to write. Time-ritual-labour.
Much as with experimental musical notation, I delved into the wonderful world of experimental writing systems.
Obviously, my aunt’s symbols are easily compared to a form of personal shorthand, and it is a future task to work it into an alphabet.
Concrete poetry v1 (practice)
Data haiku (single gesture):
Picture poems (direct curation of the scanned notebook)
Knowledge organisation systems 2
History of planners since the first one published in the US by Robert Aitken – ‘Complete Annual Account Book and Calendar for the Pocket or Desk for 1773’