Christian Hendricks, Contributing Editor, Lookie-Lookie
Shad • ow • time noun
A parallel timescale that follows one around throughout day to day experience of regular time. Shadowtime manifests as a feeling of living in two distinctly different temporal scales simultaneously.
The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is an ongoing project that is building a new vocabulary for describing and understanding the Anthropocene. Among their emerging lexicon is “shadowtime.” Occupying the space of shadowtime is to both live in the present reality and also temporarily halve oneself simultaneously into a different time scale. Through shadowtime it is possible to cognitively experience unimaginably large but unlived events (what Timothy Morton has called “hyperobjects”¹), such as, according to the BLR website, “when one is preparing a meal for their child and suddenly realizes that an endemic flower that had evolved over 42.7 million years has gone extinct within their child’s lifetime.”² It is typically used to describe unfortunate and colossal happenings.
As a thought experiment, shadowtime pulls on the thread of existing lines of inquiry regarding simultaneity. Einstein’s train and platform paradox demonstrates a divergence of conscious witness of the same, simultaneous event. But perhaps this paradox can also occur on a hyperlocal level, within our individual selves. If we could cognitively, simultaneously occupy multiple temporal locations, what could be produced? As artists, can we maneuver our practice in order to occupy shadowtime more long-term, and convert it into a factory of productive labor?
When you meet a fellow artist, it's common to ask what they do for "work," as most artists have what you might distinguish as a labor-based work in addition to their art-work. I recently asked an artist friend what they were doing for work these days and she replied "fabrication." What she meant was that she gets paid to use construction type materials to repair or duplicate commercial products or spaces and mimic or fabricate the existing appearance. This isn't surprising, as she often uses these same materials and techniques to produce her art-work. And making art is of course work and rightfully classified as labor. Therefore, as an activity, her work-work and art-work are, ontologically, nearly indistinguishable: they are both forms of labor that produce new objects.
I have another artist friend who is in the cast of the show STOMP. I got to thinking about STOMP in terms of its creative labor and I realized that STOMP is a great example of strategically occupying shadowtime. STOMP doesn't exclusively produce the same things that most other live performance shows or theater produces, such as entertainment and spectacle. In addition to these theatrical epiphenomena, STOMP actually produces time.
STOMP is a show that does something rather unique. Theater, typically, takes recognizable objects onto the stage and uses them as proxies for the very things that they are – props, which is short for “properties” (notably, a peculiar lexical instance invoking the politics of ownership). A book is a book, a table is a table and so on. STOMP, however, transforms objects that are not what they become – a plunger is not a percussive instrument but quickly becomes one. Using alternative objects as musical instruments is of course nothing so radically innovative, but what is notable about the props of STOMP is their class status. STOMP employs a distinct category of functional objects: piping, plumbing and other industrial fragments -- "working class objects" you might call them. Because of this shared origin, the objects activated by the performers are actually transformed twice over. First as a musical instrument, and second as a proxy for the working class object as itself. A plunger as a drum is still a plunger, and it's still a plunger on stage, but there is a simultaneity forged by the specific activities in the show that doesn't occur on the stage of a traditional play or the floor of a traditional factory. We witness this all unfold on a stage that's less a traditional theater and more a complex factory of a specialized labor. It is of course no coincidence that the performers wear outfits more commonly associated with industrial work. STOMP reveals the labor of performance, doubling down on its status as a productive force. But the STOMPers aren't actually working with these industrial objects to build something: the pursuit of their labor is in fact one of producing a new form of labor itself – a unique new kind of labor that disrupts the regular, linearly perceived flow of time.
If we agree that the sacred status of the theater is a social construct that is arbitrarily prescribed, we can better understand this specialized labor. Put another way, this suggests that the delineation of where a stage begins and ends is arbitrary and at some point in history we collectively agreed that stages are specialized places where the things people do on them are fictional. But the real energy exerted and the growing, visible signs of sweat on clothing of stage performers indicates that this isn't fictional at all. It is labor indeed, but STOMP in particular not only reveals this, it uses it as its creative fuel.
A colleague who is formally trained and educated in theater (unlike myself) was concerned that this reading of STOMP stemmed from what he considered to be otherwise unremarkable decisions of costuming and stagecraft. For him, these decisions are simply intended to seduce me into the illusion of the performance. He suggested that I had been duped into projecting something unique onto a kitsch piece of performance. However, this assumption operates within the aforementioned, socially constructed framework of theater in which the theater apparatus is ontologically distinct from life. We know this cannot be true. It turns out that the illusion of theater can, in fact, be shattered by the same devices that support it. What may at the outset be formulated as a deliberate costume choice ultimately manifests as attire on a subject. All of the creative, premeditated deliberation evaporates the moment it occurs.
By directing the cognitive attention of spectators towards a singular activity, and then splitting it through simultaneous labor formats, creative labor turns shadowtime into productive space.
In addition to real jobs that employs real performers, the labor of shadowtime, as demonstrated by STOMP, is a special labor which differs from both traditional time based labor (in which wages are determined by the number of hours you work) as well as the particularities that describe the activities STOMP: music, dance, athleticism, etc. To employ a working class object such as a disembodied kitchen sink for a purpose besides washing dishes (or related tasks like building or installing sinks), and use it for percussion-based entertainment is still to use a kitchen sink for the purpose of labor. But what's truly unique here is the great number of classist rungs over which the kitchen sink has been pulled. Our expectations for the kitchen sink aren't disrupted simply by its musical utility, but by its ability to occupy both its new functionality on stage and its active working class identity! The performance of labor and the labor of performance bafflingly present at the same time. This is a form of overtime (shadowtime!) that punctures not only the illusion of theater, but our perception of time itself. To achieve this simultaneity is to bend time over itself in a way that traditional time-based labor exchange can't grapple with.
If it’s possible to activate shadowtime for the common good, we should strive to pry it open and occupy collectively. STOMP may just be a microcosm of shadowtime’s true potential. As purposeful activists, we could scale up from alternative forms of dance and music to alternative forms of social organization; simultaneously performing and toiling, fabricating and strategizing; feigning and striking. In short, shadowtime, as a site, has the kinetic potential for staging the next great transformation of time-based labor.
1. Timothy Morton, http://www.hcn.org/issues/47.1/introducing-the-idea-of-hyperobjects
2. Bureau of Linguistical Reality, https://bureauoflinguisticalreality.com/portfolio/shadowtime/