Circle of Moment Measurement #1

This is first in the series of notes about the Circle of Moment Measurement, a participatory workshop and performance at Los Angeles County Museum of Art(LACMA). It’s a collaborative project with E Roon Kang made possible with a grant from Art + Technology Lab at LACMA and a growing team of artists and engineers. This posting is a work in progress and the final version with a video and more photographs will be posted in the project website.

Assembling the Personal Timekeepers and having a virtual meeting with Wonyoung So.

For the past month, I worked on The Personal Timekeeper, an electronic device that gives form to the personal sense of time.

The Personal Timekeeper is initialized by pressing down the button for how long you think is a minute. After releasing the button, the Personal Timekeeper proceeds the time on the speed based on your perceptual minute — If your perceptual minute was 30 seconds, your 1 minute is going to be very fast (30 seconds in Universal Time).

Workshop participant Min Choi navigating the museum with the Personal Timekeeper.

Technically, it’s a wooden box with a button and numeric display and a custom board that connects all components with a small computer (Raspberry Pi) and batteries that’s connected to the Internet via cellular signal. When you initialize your time, it’s constantly broadcasted on the project website under custom URL.

Here, one of the workshop participant Kyle McDonald initialized his time on 2:46pm on 7/18/2015 Pacific Time and he’s currently living in 7:27 pm on 7/20/2015. As of writing, it’s 8:58AM on 7/21/2015 Pacific Time, and we can tell that his personal time is slower than the Standard Time.

If you participate in the Circle of Moment Measurement, you initialize the Personal Timekeeper and hold the button down to record a moment. The moment is defined by whatever period of time that’s significant to you. Each moment may hold different meanings.

These moments are saved in the server and visualized as dots and lines on the website. In this picture, you can see the moments I held down the button over the course of the day.

These moments also affect the time by advancing your time. If you record 1 minute as a moment, your time will jump 1 minute to the future upon releasing the button. This means if you have more moments, your time will be nearer to the future than others.

Prompts. Photo by E Roon Kang

You can also trigger prompts (instructions and suggestions) to spend your time. When the Personal Timekeepers are triggered by a quick tap on the button, a random choice of prompts including the following are assigned.

  • Change something small in the space that you are in right now, like moving a pebble on the curb. Think about everything that might have changed due to your action.
  • Watch other museum visitors walk by and observe for five minutes.
  • Try to fall in love with someone as fast as you can.
  • Ask a museum visitor “What time is it, where you came from?”

The participants are asked not to verbally engage with other participants unless both parties agree to speak by circling around each other. The museum guards were informed about the performance and there were signs around the museum about it to inform the visitors.

Photo by Jon Moeller

This project is a manifestation of our shared curiosity about how to materialize the perception of time and also the discuss about agreement of time. The public event was an open experiment to reach at a Consensus Time, an abstract idea and proposition for agreement of Time shared by a group of people.

The Circle of Moment Measurement workshop was organized in the following steps.

1pm. Participants come in. Registration on to make their account.

1:15 Begin presentation for the project.

2:15 Participants sign in at the Museum entrance.

2:30 Participants initialize their moments with the Personal Timekeepers at the BP Grand Entrance in the first day and LA Times Court in the second day.

2:30~3:30 Performance. Participants explored the spaces and time in the museum.

3:30 PRST (Personalized time) Participants meet back in the Lab. Since their times are different, they arrive in different times.

~4:00 Participants recorded short videos about their moments.

4~5pm. Roundtable discussion about what they think about the Consensus Time.

In the final stage of the workshop, the participants joined a roundtable about their Consensus Time. In preparation for the workshop, we designed an online system to calculate and display the consensus time. We hoped to arrive at some kind of consensus among the participants about the shared time and broadcast the consensus time on the dedicated page as well as one of the Personal Timekeeper to be displayed in LACMA.

Everyone’s time is different. The conversation renewed our interest about the multiplicities of times. After about an hour of conversation, we didn’t get to reach the consensus. Maybe that’s rather revealing about the nature of consensus. However, on the process we agreed to live in this moment, and to reflect that we have already made a consensus to be present here and now. It may have been an unachievable question to begin with. After all, similarly to the ‘moment’, an intentionally obscure term that may mean anything, Consensus was intentionally designed to provoke conversation. On the first day, we agreed that we can’t reach a consensus, and the on the second day we listed up a guidance for the consensus which every participant contributed one statement. Everyone got three stickers to pick their choice, an exercise in primitive democracies of time (The picture above).

Photo by Lauren McCarthy

The project involves complex technical system: custom hardware and software, web client and server that we were developed for the project. There’s no romance in procrastination and the team has done an incredible amount of work in the past month to prepare for the past week. However, we were working until the last minute to put all the pieces together. The delay was partly due our insistence to do things the right away, and to hand build as much as possible, and to consider the fabrication and development process as part of the artistic exploration.

Jon Moeller relieved after the initial test worked.

We had a working system on Friday, one day before the event. Until that point, we were working with technical challenges and unknowns because there wasn’t a way of testing the system before completing the hardware. Only when then Timekeepers were assembled, we were able to control it from the server. Many of the technical challenges were overcome by the team making fast adjustments as we go.

The team had a nice division of responsibilities and specialties. I spent most time to build the Timekeepers and a cart for them, soldering the electronics and glueing the CNC cut boxes and plan the performance. E Roon was leading the design of the website, UX and facilitating the communication between the developers. On top of conceptualizing the project together, E Roon also handled communication with the museum and the collaborators with me. It has been a super fun and exciting experience to work with Jon Moeller, a fantastic artistic engineer who designed the hardware and designed the system in general. Jon worked with Wonyoung So who built the client- server architecture and back end. Much of the website and the server was coded by Wonyoung who joined us from Cambridge in very late nights. The prompts for the performance were prepared by Charlotte Stiles. Anastasis Germanidis hacked the large 7 segment displays to display the participants personal time. Anastasis also began working on ios hacks which will apply Personal time to the end users devices. Joel Ferree of LACMA Art + Technology Lab made the event possible by promoting and organizing two days of public event.

The external box for the Personal timekeepers were CNC cut in a Build it Makerspace in Los Alamitos, about an hour and half from LA. It was across the street from the high school I went to some time ago. I had the pleasure of visiting the concrete creek I used to go do nothing. The boxes were assembled in the backyard of a house we rented in Venice beach.

On the first day, the anticipation of event was met with a surprise rain. Someone said “It never really rains like this in L.A.” The rain was something more familiar to the tropical places, thunderstorm accompanied by lightening and sudden splash. As we neared the museum, it became apparent the rain will continue throughout the day.

The system worked well in general except when the FONA board (GSM module) lost signal. In that case, the system had to be reset. There was no reset button in the hardware, this meant whenever there’s a glitch, we had to open the box, unscrew four small screws and turn off the GSM modem and unplug the battery for Raspberry Pi and plug it back in. This made the debugging inefficient.

Now, it’s 9:15 AM, I’m writing this at the Business center of Line Hotel in Koreatown, LA. I will come back this afternoon. To be continued.