"For centuries, the religious orders had been masters of discipline: they were the specialists of time, the great technicians of rhythm and regular activities. But the disciplines altered these methods of temporal regulation from which they derived. They altered them first by refining them. One began to count in quarter hours, in minutes, in seconds."     

-Michel Foucault

 

This project investigates how human labor, mathematical models, and digital media can be grounded together in rules that govern time. Time Discipline began during our travels in China where we observed and documented forms of physical labor in major urban centers including Beijing, Chongqing, and Kunming. We collected around fifty videos of human action. As we processed this material we became intrigued with the temporal forms that underlie body movement that is coupled with equipment. 

The actions in the videos display an affinity between body and tool, such as the torque in swinging a pick-ax or the horizontal revolution in spreading mud with a trowel. At a more fundamental level, there are temporal relations among the different forms of labor. Each action is a duration and the duration is repeated. These shared durations provide an ordering principle that serves as the base for a program — a disciplining of time and movement.

In the first iteration of the project, we selected three second durations from several clips of labor and then cut each of them into six units: 0’’ - 1’’, 1’’ - 2’’, 2’’ - 3’’, 3’’ - 2’’, 2’’ - 1’’, 1’’ - 0’’.  We then rolled dice to determine when and where these“units” would be displayed on a set of screens. Our intention was to have the underlying harmony in the actions emerge from randomized display, a sort of performance residing in disjointed regulation of body, time, and movement. The result is displayed below. However this attempt at a random method was betrayed by our desire for an aesthetic with patterns, symmetry, and other harmonies. In short, we could see our signature in the sequencing of clips. This has led us to consider how to give greater control to an automated program.

In this proposal, we develop a digital model based on graph theory. The program works with the same temporal units described above but it is additionally equipped with metrics that determine its order and display of clips. The metrics include “distance,” “connectivity,” and “isomorphism.” These metrics are the driving force that choreograph the videos, directing them out of discord into disciplined movement.

We grapple with questions that arise from resigning control of sequence to a machine. The video content is suggestive of a historical moment in China when manual labor is still prevalent, yet is being displaced by Western techno-capitalist models of labor. The temporal structures that emerge from the videos have been informed by these modern economies of time, such as clock-time with its regular cuts and divisions in time flow. Still, in Time Discipline we seek forms that predate clock-time. The relationship between body and technology, whether manual or digital, is structured by durations more primal than conventional notions of time. Units based on repeated actions — swinging a hammer, pushing a broom — are the subject of the program. They provide the formal structures that the metrics of Time Discipline sift through and coordinate, while the socio-historical context of the videos stand in as a natural placeholder, analogous to the point, line, and plane that lend visual models to a geometry.