Art and Technology
Glitching Time and Time-Based Media
Michael Mandiberg appropriated Chaplin’s classic by hiring gig workers from Fiverr to reproduce scenes for Postmodern Times (2017). Mandiberg’s new media work makes a kind of Allan Sekula-like move to position art and its practices within a social and technological history attached to labor relations. Fiverr is a global site for one-off jobs introducing an international element into this film and a reminder that industry’s response to desiring an inexhaustive labor force was to expand around the world for a 24 hour labor force. By splicing scenes together, the film also enacts the cut and paste exactitude that is crucial to film as a medium and made me consider the fracturing of thought I can accept due to the cut and paste nature of writing now.
In 1970, UNIX time provided a centralized international standard for digital timekeeping that organizes all computers when they come online, except its failure is set for January 19, 2038. If you remember Y2K, this is similar as UNIX time uses a 32 bit integer system that can’t compute past a set number of seconds since the launch on January 1, 1970. I have argued elsewhere how digital time, represented in the Pulsar Time Computer wristwatch that launched in 1972, abandons duration for the instant and so atomizes our experience contributing to an alienated and hyper-individualist culture. Media culture emerged amidst that tension between centralized hierarchies and atomized individuals, and the artists of this period did wonders to showcase the effects we now decry.
Nam Jun Paik’s T.V. Clock (1963/1981) presented an electric line across 24 televisions, each screen showing one hour of the day, in an allusion to the global technocratic connectivity enabled by this device even before the global broadcasts of Our World (1967) or the moon landing (1969). Lynda Benglis interacts with a prerecorded image of herself in Now (1973), dissolving the audience’s ability to distinguish between the real and the virtual, which ironically occurs despite the fact that both are mediated. To be now, to be present, to be current is to be mediated. Even in person, we carry with us the mediated encounters of our shared histories. The static effects in color and sound of Benglis’s work produce that glitch effect that problematizes the real we want to ascribe to the virtual and invokes the real that is in the virtual anyway. It’s remarkable to think that Benglis made this work 50 years ago.
The writer Jeremy Rifkin wrote in 1987 about the impact of computer programs in Time Wars, arguing that astronomical timekeeping introduced the notion of cycles, mechanical timekeeping produced the concept of fixed, linear time, and computers unraveled that for associative relations, “It is a stepchild of psychological consciousness, just as the concept of linear time was a stepchild of historical consciousness.” Mandiberg’s Quantified Self Portrait (One Year Performance) (2016-7) includes the line “I worked late, got caught in loops, and had a meltdown; zero progress, but no way to let go” which speaks to the free associative wandering that the internet encourages with hyperlinks from which we force ourselves to return to the original point. How many have bemoaned lost time in a YouTube rabbit hole. Yes, it was designed that way. The quote also points to the cultural value of the looping aesthetic found in some digital art.