My proposal stems from the concept of measuring and representing anxiety. I was inspired by certain countries' efforts to impose a quantifiable value to the “happiness” of its people—Notably, the tradition of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. Or even contemporary articles in magazines such as Business Week that aim to measure the worlds “happiest countries”. It follows that if you can “measure” happiness than you can also “measure” unhappiness. Taking this as my point of departure, my work investigates the idea of quantifying the subjective, in this case, anxiety or unhappiness. By doing this, I aim to apply what I find poetic and interesting about this idea, to the contemporary American problem: a nation in crisis, and a state of palpable, national anxiety.
The work I’m proposing is a series of sculptures that exist in domestic environments. They are designed as tools or appliances, for people to use in their homes or other spaces of dwelling. The sculptures function as systems, using as their input, the behavioral, physical habits of anxious people and representing/visualizing those gestures in various physical, absurdist, imaginative forms.
The second phase of the project is crafting a context around the sculptures. I propose to document the projects as sets of instructions so that anybody can rebuild them. One context for doing this will be online “do-it-yourself” communities, such as instructables.com. Making the work open-source is a gesture that implies the potential for these objects to be deployed in real spaces. It begs the question of whether anybody would actually rebuild or improve it, and explores open-source culture as a medium for a conceptual media-art practice.
Below are three examples of pieces in this series, investigating sighing, pacing and foot-tapping. These three habits were selected for their questionable position between conscious and unconscious behavior.
A wearable device that monitors sighing. When a sigh is detected, it sends a wireless signal to a stationary sculpture, which inflates a red air-bladder a small amount each time. The ‘bag of sighs’ grows larger and rounder each time, and comes to represent the amount of huffing and puffing in a household.
A 12 foot track specifically designed for pacing on. The track is built on a subtle see-saw, so that it simultaneously acts as a knocking, meditative sculpture and also registers, at each end, the amount of distance traversed. This amount translates to a length of red yard, dispensed from the ceiling. The yarn could be left to pile up on the floor, becoming a visualization of the distance anxiously paced, or recovered and used.
A machine for registering when the foot is tapping, designed as an accessory for any chair. The device communicates wirelessly to a sculpture in which a block of concrete is slowly chiseled at. Each foot tap correlates to one chisel tap. This piece represents anxious tapping and drumming as a violent and destructive behavior.
Misc. Prototypes and Sketches
Possible Extensions:This project is more than a series of sculptures; it is a conceptual framework. For that reason, it is rife with possible extensions beyond the state of the current proposal.
For example, I have considered developing the idea of “measuring” happiness into a series workshops and community-oriented activities. I am interested in exploring mass production; a “kit of parts” model rather than a strictly sculptural one. I would also like to engage in a process of gathering actual survey data in the Los Angeles area about how people define happiness and unhappiness, and how the objects surrounding them reflect that. All of these approaches would feed into a body of research and work, heavily documented online; alive and dynamic.
PREVIOUS WORK SAMPLES
Removal Studies are a series of videos made using time-lapse photography. These videos are sleep studies that observe the reaction of the unconscious body to the negative stimulus of removing the covers.
The covers are removed by a machine that attaches to the bed and tugs a slight amount off in increments throughout the night. By studying the sleeping body, my aim was to capture something very honest and very animal about human beings. I was interested in this gesture of removal — and subsequently, exposure — and how it could function as a larger metaphor.
The imagery is generated by a DSLR camera taking 30 second exposures every two minutes. This video is what I view to be the most successful iteration from a series of studies. It was shot during a full moon.
WHAT YOU MISSED
The initial inspiration for this project was the idea of amplifying a seemingly insignificant gesture; I chose blinking because it is a gesture that we as humans perform multiple times a minute without considering. This presented an interesting challenge to me: What if the act of blinking could be expanded or harnessed for some kind of benefit, such as documentation? For example, what if I could capture everything I missed while blinking? If this were possible, then I could experience any situation in its totality; I could miss nothing.
The device I built to answer this challenge was a headpiece containing a lever that physically attaches to my right eyelid. My blinking moves the lever in such a way that bridges two contacts on a hacked mouse circuit, connected to my laptop. The consequent “mouse click” asks a short Processing program to grab an image from a live webcam feed. This piece involved several performative walks in which I use the system to experience my environment more fully than the average human.
Film editor Walter Murch, who edited many of Francis Ford Copolla’s films, developed a theory about edits while working on The Conversation (1974) He noticed that in many cases, the best place to make a cut was when he blinked. Subsequently, Murch wrote about the human blink as a sort of mental punctuation mark: a signifier of a viewer’s comfort with visual material and therefore, a good place to separate two ideas with a cut.
This sculpture is a physical test of Murch’s principle. I watched The Conversation while wearing a custom device that recorded the pattern of my blinks during the film. Using this information, I created a display in which the left mallet taps out the paattern of my blinks, while the right mallet taps out the pattern of Murch’s edits. When the two match up, the cymbal chimes for success.
SCHEDULE AND BUDGET