How does the present self-responsabilisation of time management condition one’s subjectivation processes? Where and how is asynchronicity constituted? And what are the effects of asynchronic time experiences? My inquiry started from personal experiences of stress and dealing with interiorized imperatives of pro-ductivity and efficiency. By looking into the discourses of acceleration including everyday concerns with speeding up and technological immediacy, I realized that such time conceptions remain in a spatial under-standing of time (rationalization) and lack the cultural dimension of temporal politics. Rather than an indi-vidualistic approach to time concerned with control and management, my artistic investigation aims to grasp through my filmic practice how time is differentially experienced in various, concrete situations and how rhythms are always relational.
To observe states of asynchronicity, I have chosen several concrete “cases” where a personal account of time does not correspond necessarily with social chrononormative time concepts. My quest for life situa-tions not (mainly) oriented by means of clock time and differing from a rationalized sense of time of the work logic steered the initial selection of “case studies”. Therefore, the criteria of different age perspectives as well as body rhythms disobeying the imperatives of productivity and performance brought me to follow 1) a child (and his family) during a three-year period of his school enrolment; 2) the development of new care centers for persons with dementia; and 3) a start-up producing and promoting a cycle tracker for women encountering difficulties with fertility.
Hence, heterogeneity has already been incorporated in the setting of these “case studies” and is part of my approach to generate and deal with materials as an artist researcher. By engaging with my writing and filmic practice in a narrative inquiry, serendipity and contingency play a crucial role in the development of the explorative process that constitutes material accounts of asynchronic experiences. The practicality of the “case studies” turns into a question of contingent viability: the materials, filmic footages and observation notes are depending on opportunities and dynamics unfolding during the research encounters. In that sense one could say the “case studies” have found (or abandoned) me likewise.
When investigating the experience of time of different individual subjects or groups, the question arises as to how such an experience is constituted and by what means it can be collected. The ‘crisis of experience’ was diagnosed in social and cultural theory to arise largely from the rationalization processes of technological modernity, rendering it impossible for the individual to make sense of her experience within a universal and communal framework, and at the same time organize these different time registers.2 For my investigation of asynchronic experiences, it is precisely the mode of experience impacting and persisting on the subjective level that is relevant. As partially mute inscriptions and invisible remains, could an experience not be considered an “archive” of events, emotions, and cognitions? How then are experiences “archived” in one’s body, in one’s memory? And how could asynchronic experiences then be explored by filmic means?
The filmic footage I collect from the different case studies can mostly not directly picture asynchronic experiences. That means, I do not consider the camera itself an archival tool, as if it could capture and record the reality of such asynchronic experiences. However, once I transition to the editing room, I do treat the footage as a kind of archive: this material does not only show what one can see, but reveals as well what is lurking beneath/below/within, what is missing and what might fail.
In the evening of an intense day spent with the boy and his mother, I told myself what a silly idea it was doing an interview with a four-and-a-half year old child. Already they do not like sitting still, and they rather prefer asking questions instead of answering them. I did not want him to answer questions, but hoped for moments that would speak for themselves. Interview - it was indeed mainly about our gazes meeting through the self-constructed medium format film camera. An attempt to open up this space between his perspective and mine.3
In one of the case studies, I followed a boy and his family over a period of three years, covering the moment of the boy’s enrolment at school.4 Although dialogue and talking about issues surrounding time perception where certainly an important part of the observation, the act of filming these encounters quickly seemed to become the most relevant element to me, as the boy was strongly responding to the given issues via bodily expressions, movements, gestures and facial expressions, rather than through speech. Similar to the school framework which obliged him to handle disciplinary rules, the filming framework confronted him with a setting where his attention and actions became significant in relation to particular time regimes. The footage of these encounters therefore reveals in manifold detail various aspects of asynchronic experience by way of his withdrawing, resisting, interrupting, imagining and appropriating the concrete settings. At the same time it points my temporal perspective as the filming subject, conditioned by expectations and unanticipated surprises.
In contrast, the camera turned out to be only indirectly a means for investigating asynchronic experience in a different, second case study. After several one-day visits at different Alzheimer care centers, where I spent time with patients at various stages of the disease, and several interviews with care auxiliary staff and directors of these institutions, the asynchronicities emerging between the time perception of dementia patients and the care environment open up highly ethical questions about an human being’s individual lifetime. The more the cognitive capacities get lost in the advancing disease, the more the timely dimension of orienting oneself gets unstable and extended into the (beyond-) biographical past. For example, styles and objects from the era of the person’s youth take increasingly hold of experience, but also apparently much deeper and earlier time dimensions emerge, such as, the need for the unceasing presence of others (of not being left alone), which might relate to the experience of collective living over thousands of years. My camera became an interface for looking at the facilities, the very places and environments where such asynchronic experiences supposedly take place – the current and planned care centers.
As Mary Ann Doane argues in her reflections on the emergence of the cinematic time, “there are always at least two temporalities at work in film” (Doane, 2002: 143). Referring back to the understanding of the filmic medium in its early age, the cinematic time as it is deployed in duration, evokes a permanent present tense, a “thisness” which she describes as the promise of indexicality. At the same time, similar to a trace, the filmic sequence carries historicity within itself. The spectator is aware that the images were produced at a particular past moment. Be it documentary or fiction film, not only the technology itself becomes ‘dated’, also the visible and audible elements bear attributes of the moment at which they were recorded. Both of these aspects of the filmic temporality are strongly related to contingency.
By contingency, the footage accounts, like traces, for elements of concrete life. Nevertheless, the footage always represents already a selection, a perspective that requires “recounting” - an articulation, a narration. Through different devices deployed in my work during mise-en-scène and shooting, such as a view-finder interface, a magnifying glass or computer screens, the shots were marked as “frames of vision”. At the very moment of recording, visible signs of mediality were inscribed in the nascent images, inscribing them their status as remains and debris of “events”.
Today is the beginning of spring. Anybody could claim that, replies another woman firmly. No, according to the calendar. The calendar - she would throw it out of the window. Observation location two, March 21, 2018, The Red Thread.
By introducing the looking-glass camera – a particular self-made camera – into the field research, I consciously introduced altered preconditions for encounters.5 The looking-glass camera is an old modified medium-format photographic camera combined with a smartphone. As a working tool, the camera differs from ordinary digital cameras by its handling as well as its aesthetics and thereby provokes a different relationship between filmer and filmed. On the one hand, I was giving up part of my power over the situation by handling a camera which to some extent “escapes my control” (disorientation through mirror-inverted viewfinder, less possibilities regarding sharpness and light conditions, framing depending on my body distance instead of zoom options). On the other hand, the low-res constraints relieved me from any sophisticated expectations and thereby helped me focus my attention on the actual situation thereby enhancing my receptivity for accidental and unforeseen happenings as and when they occurred.
Something else became significant about the camera experiment; ‘I’ as the filming subject could not “disappear” behind the camera, but holding the camera in front of my chest, I remained in eye contact with the other person and would move jointly with her. Instead of the camera being a tool directed at the other as an object, it became an interface supporting the tentative stance of establishing an inter-subjective time of coevalness beyond a subject-object opposition.6
Johannes Fabian distinguishes inter-subjective time from physical and typological time, which both are “given” time regimes.7 By contrast, inter-subjective time needs to be created by the encounter of a “common, active ‘occupation’, or sharing, of time” (Fabian, 2014: 31). Such experience of coevalness is valued in ethnographic field research, says Fabian, but solely as an empiric experience which gets mostly erased in subsequent scientific writing through the conceptual and practical employment of measurable temporal concepts. In contrast, in a narrative inquiry approach based on encounters where it is precisely the subjectivity of time experience that is at stake, inter-subjective time becomes constitutive of the thinking and writing process itself.
IV. Gap(s), Hole(s)
In cinema, the black screen is an efficient signifier activated for purposes as different as arousing suspense for the unknown to come; introducing a temporal transition or jump in the narrative; reflecting what cannot be seen, the absent; pointing out the mediality of the apparatus and the discontinuity of human perception. What a black screen will evoke, depends of course on the context. But the affective power of the black screen works by its fundamental referential ambiguity (Misek, 2017).
In the first place, the black screen was for me a placeholder for any images representing the experience of Alzheimer’s disease. As mentioned earlier, the lived subjective experience of fading memory remains inaccessible. When I spent time with Alzheimer patients, it were the fragments of conversation which revealed splits in the temporal perception. But how to relate to the experience of missing the word for what one has an image in mind? During one of my visits in one of the day-care center, a man told me about the time he had spent in South Africa as a young man. He spoke English to me, even though his mother tongue was Swiss German. That often happens with Alzheimer’s I was told by a caretaker - a patient talks in a foreign language which he once practiced in his early adulthood. He was aware that this was in the past and could remember many details of the place where he had lived. But suddenly his descriptions stopped in the middle of a sentence and he was lost for words, which made him increasingly angry. I thought it was the name of a precise place he was looking for, but it turned out to be simply the word “street” which he could not recollect. The black screen as a blank, an ambiguous nothing yet something, emerged as an effect I explored in the editing of the filmic material.
[black screen] – What’s your name? Auguste. [mirror inversed sign “Reception”] - Surname? Auguste. – What’s the name of your husband? Auguste D. hesitates, eventually answers: I belief… Auguste. – Your husband? Oh so. [black screen] – How old are you? 51. [another sign “Reception”] – Where do you live? Oh, but you have been at our house before. – Are you married? Oh, I’m so confused. – Where are you here? [black screen] Here and anywhere, here and now, [further sign “Reception” in front of a building] please don’t mind. – Where are you here? We will live there still. – Where is your bed? Where should it be? [“Reception” sign in front of a building] Dr. Alzheimer writes in the minutes: Ms. Auguste D. has pork with cauliflower for lunch. – What do you eat? Spinach (she is chewing meat) – What do you eat now? I first have potatoes and then horseradish. [black screen] – Write down a five. She writes: “A wife.” – Write down an eight. She writes: “Auguste.” While writing she says repeatedly: I have so to say lost myself. Notes from November 25th, 1901.8
The role of cutting to black is obviously to create an interruption, yet by suspending vision, it extends at the same time the images seen before. By repetition, the image/no-image alternation turns into a rhythm mirroring the question/answer voice-over. The disruptive confusion of the woman answering as ‘Auguste’ may resonate in the discontinuity of the image flow. Yet beyond that parallelism, the ambiguity between image-space/image-surface and black-space/black-surface increases. The relation between the image as a space, showing an outdoor sign indicating by mirror-inverted letters “Reception”, and the black screen as a surface, placeholder for the memory blackout, can be subverted and swap their forces as signifiers. By the affective impact of the voice-over, the moments of black can become interstices and can be read as spaces of shelter from exposure to images which become surfaces, when not making sense anymore (or sense differently).
On a different level, gaps and holes appeared within the filmic footage at moments of uncertainty about meaning and at places of visual obscurity which might conceal something invisible or offer a hideout from rationality. In particular in the case study of the boy’s asynchronic time experiences, such interstices where invested and produced by the boy in order to create space for himself to move, to imagine, to speculate, to escape etc. Sitting above a touch screen, he dictates repeatedly a sentence at the seemingly black screen of the tablet device (black because the surface is seen for the viewer from a side angle). Patiently, he repeats his wish to the vocal-research-engine and shifts to English after several trials in French: “I would like a meteorite to fall on earth”. In another setting, during the shooting of a memory game, he discovers a card showing a younger image of himself in a playground. Pointing at the picture, he exclaims that one might see a black hole in this image and he wonders why it did not suck him in. This shooting session took place in a huge empty cinema auditorium where the boy and an actress where gathered at an illuminated table around the memory game. Every now and then, he interrupted concentrating on the game and improvised an interlude, grabbing his light-sword off-screen and fighting an invisible attack from the dark surroundings. In all these examples of gaps and holes introduced by the filmed subject himself, I see a similar force in play as in the case of deploying the black screen in editing: the potential for discontinuity and uncertainty for overcoming surface for space, flatness for profundity, a given pattern for an escalation imagined.
Two different temporalities get discernable in the boy’s evocations of “dark matter”. On the one hand, the temporality of the given setting he is confronted with: the rules in the class room, the expectations at home or in the shooting situation and the rules of the memory game – these all present an effort to comply, worktime. On the other hand, the temporality of the unlimited possibilities of the unknown: his curiosity and imagination generating his own temporary laws (time travel machines, dinosaurs ages, ninja and samurai tactics etc.), playtime. To activate the black screen’s referential ambiguity, one has to shift precisely from an ongoing image flow to an in-between image space that plays with imagination.
Chiara reads aloud: ‘Then suddenly: surface; suddenly: air; suddenly: sound is light, dazzling white. How clear the world looks in this first total light. How purely form it is, without, for the moment, the shadow of meaning. I see everything all at once, without the delays of succession, and each detail is equal and equally lucid, before the sense of relative importance imposes the emphasis of eyes, the obscurity of nostril which is a face.’ (Deren, 1952: 261) Chiara stops reading and looks excited at me. This excerpt from Maya Deren’s description of her vodoo possession, Chiara claims, meets precisely Deren’s initial research intentions: to explore cultural forms of reality building rituals. Reality building rituals! Maybe the “cross cultural fugue” which Deren had in mind and, in her opinion, she failed to achieve by the means of her “Film in progress”, she could not address by editing diverse film footage together, but she had to stick to her lived bodily experience. Her decision to write a book, to account for it in words instead of finishing a film, that was still part of the research, don’t you think?
The fictive figure Chiara, a researcher in visual anthropology, appeared simultaneously with the beginning of participant observation in my field work. Although she was investigating a specific subject far from my case studies, the conversations with her turned out thinking-provoking for me. My imaginary friend (or alter ego) is obsessed with the experimental filmmaker Maya Deren, who explored in the 1940ies the Haiti vodoo rituals and reflected the failures and potentials of such artistic research. The encounters with Chiara have a wayward and surprising component, challenging the sense of possibility through (fictional) inter-subjective time.
In the third case study, the camera did not prove to be the appropriate tool for recording any observations. Not nocturnal obscurity troubled the shooting - rather the absent shadows of some uniform transparency. The four days I have spent in the start-up that develops a cycle-tracker bracelet for women who have trouble getting pregnant, attested to many aspects of the 24/7 globalized workflow and the self-employed entrepreneurial subject. But I doubted that filming these open office situations would make visual/visible any experience of asynchronicity. Rather the object of the cycle-tracker itself, the marketing discourse around and about it and its purpose testify to some crucial asynchronicity: the most original (in a literal sense) bodily rhythm, the fertility cycle, is supposed to become manageable “at the push of a button”.
Like a watch, one wears the sensor bracelet around the wrist, but only during the night. While sleeping, it measures body activities, such as breathing rhythm, pulse rate, heart variability ratio (an indicator of physiological stress) and temperature. As the product advertisement puts it, “the bracelet goes to work while your body is at rest”.9 The principle of observing bodily indicators to get to know one’s fertile cycle is one of the oldest contraception methods. Delegating the task to a device, recording the physiological parameters overnight, and focusing the function at conception instead, can be read as a metaphor for continuous productivity. Even when at rest, the body produces data that is available in the morning to detect “a women’s most fertile days in real time”.
It is not new that the market logic and productivity imperative reaches beyond the work sphere into the private sphere (including family).10 But only recently the 24/7 milieu of the continuous activity of the markets, networks and information systems also forms a predominant interiorized social model for permanent performance.11 The principle of creative self-responsibility and indeterminate disposability today constitutes a normative imperative on the level of personal expectations and self-optimization regimes. What gets lost in the 24-hours-global-continuity is a collective relation to rhythmic periodization of human life. Sleep, Jonathan Crary argues, is one of the few remaining experiences of community, in the sense of “periodic release of individuation” by the depersonalization in sleep (Crary, 2013: 126). Reaching back to premodern societies, Crary recalls, “dreaming [was accepted] as integral to the lives of individuals and communities” (my emphasis, Crary, 2013: 105) and collectively valued experience in the form of visions and voices.
Fictionalizing the filming of the boy in my first case study by way of a screenplay setting, including a professional actress, involved real time along another dimension of filmic reality. Instead of the indexical or empiric characteristics of the medium, the shooting of the memory game explored cinematographic means of affective perception. ‘Real’ in this sense is any image that shows a certain effect, captures attention and creates intensity. From the perspective of production aesthetics, the open experimental setting of the boy not knowing the screenplay but having to react to the process, recorded in real time with several cameras in one long take, fully focused the attention on the boy’s concentrated actions. From the perspective of reception, even though the edited sequence is of course technically not a plan-sequence, the sense of continuity suggests a real time that seems decelerated. Can this deceleration address what Alexander Kluge calls “the real time of feelings”?12 While following the boy’s temporal experience, fluctuating between being hyper-focused and distracted, the viewer is confronted with her own handling of attention, fatigue and boredom.
Although the three research destinations were far apart in time and place, I had to walk the last bit of the journey in all three instances in the rain. Thus, I always arrived at the reception in wet clothes. Maybe it was the fitful weather that impacted my mood, or it was the other way round: that I simply recognized my mixed feelings mirrored in the sky.
In French, the word temps is used for “time” as well as for “weather”, but this double-meaning, Michel Serres argued, does no longer coincide with recent living experience (Serres, 1992: 1–3). Such an experience belonged to peasant and sailor cultures where people lived through intemperate weather patterns. Nevertheless, some colloquial figures of speech conserve traces of such bodily time experience. In German, the expression durch den Wind sein (literally: “having gone through wind”) is used to describe an emotional state of exhaustion or confusion, and the wording actually goes back to the aftermath of turning a sailing boat in strong wind. During such a manoeuvre, when the wind blows unadjusted into the sails, there comes a short moment where one risks losing control unless one masters enough strength to navigate the sails against the power of the wind into the proper kind of angle and thus on the right course. Although the bodily experience of sea navigation vanished, current language keeps on describing today’s indoor working and living environments in terms of atmospheres and climates. Is there not perhaps a permanent connection (or confusion) between the weather and one’s mood, a bodily state of mind, beyond the metaphoric use?13
In an article on time and health, which he allegedly wrote in a state of jet lag, Michel Serres tries to show that, despite the different conceptual categories of time, such as biological, chronometric and meteorological time, what the body finally deals with is a polychonic mix (Serres, 2006). Following his reasoning, a healthy body is a body achieving synchronization of the polychronic temporalities, or rather it is “well enough” engaged in the constant activity of synchronizing. Thinking of time should be, according to Serres, thinking of this mélange.