With only about three and a half hours left, I’m seated on the floor of the Museum of Fine Art scrawling words on page. I hadn’t planned to do my assignment so early. I didn’t even have anything planned originally. The MFA sports a price tag of “optional donation” on Wednesdays and my boyfriend’s only in town for a week, so off to the museum we went. What I didn’t expect to find here was my story.
The MFA currently has a performance art piece in session in the middle of the contemporary art section. Marilyn Arsem presents “100 Ways to Consider Time.” It’s a performance art piece in which the artist, Marilyn, sits in a stark white room for 6 hours a day for one hundred days straight. The MFA’s website explain performance art stating “Like time itself, performance art is ephemeral. All that remains following a performance is how it is subsequently recalled through memory and retellings.” So here is my retelling of experiencing “100 Ways to Consider Time.”
Marilyn sits in a chair across from and to the left of the entrance. The room has also white benches lining two of the four walls. There is a desk in the corner adjacent to the entrance. Another chair sits next to her, empty except for a black cloth that I assumed was for cushioning. The only other fixations in the room are a rock (centered) and an odd clock, and Marilyn herself.
For the past ninety eight days the artist has spent six hours a day in this bleak room. The performance is meant to explore time. It’s meant to make the audience personally consider time and how they spend their own time. The description outside the room makes clear that the piece is not meant to answer any questions, but it certainly raises a lot. Why is she doing this? What is she thinking? What has she been thinking for all this time? Does she hear the tick and the tock of every second? Does she hear anything at all or is her conscious contained within her own head? Is she glad it’s day ninety eight? The description outside the room is similarly ambiguous and question raising. It touches upon how audience and artist can interact to create and morph the art. Does she speak? Can you speak to her? It’s unclear; the description doesn’t clarify. But she sits with an empty seat next to her. This raises even more questions for me.
People fill the benches, so I sit down on the floor in the corner. I wonder if she meant for this silence to shroud her show. I wonder if she had hoped someone would sit next to her. I wondered what she did with the other eighteen hours of her day. She had a ring on; I supposed maybe she went home to her husband and lived a normal life for the rest of her day. Looking at her drawn, somber face I doubted that her non-museum hours were particularly pleasant either. People go to work for much longer than six hours a day. I wondered if the piece was also a commentary on how people spend much of their time working.
The description was correct and clear in one regard: none of my questions seemed to have any answers. Questions in mind with no answers on hand, I went to find my boyfriend.
Reunited, I asked him what he’d seen and he asked me the same. I told him that I’d been in the performance art room. He had seen the piece from outside the room, and he immediately brought up some of my same questions.
“Can you sit by her? Can you talk to her?”
The ambiguity of the board, intentional or unintentional, lead to our selective reading that we weren’t explicitly not allowed to sit with her. The board read
Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time debuts a new performance by Boston-based artist Marilyn Arsem (American, born in 1951). For six hours a day, every day, for 100 days, Arsem will be present here in the Towles Gallery, inserting her living presence into the Museum. Her performance is an invitation to pause and experience the present moment together, providing a temporary respite to the frenetic pace of our modern lives.
Arsem has dedicated her career to exploring the unique characteristics of performance art. These include the unpredictability of its final form and its ability to encompass all the sense—sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. The medium blurs traditional boundaries between audience and artist, and we encourage you to spend time in the gallery with Arsem. When she is not present, you will hear an audio recording of Arsem made following the end of the previous day’s performance.
If viewers have the time to allow themselves to slow down with me, small details will become visible. The work could be viewed as if it were a minimalist or abstract painting or sculpture. In that respect, it operates similarly as a kind of opaque or seemingly simple surface that reflects back to the viewers the complexity of their own thoughts. This is not a work that offers answers, but rather provides an opportunity to consider one’s own concerns about the passage of time. –Marilyn Arsem
Stuck on phrases like “the unpredictability of its final form,” “the medium blurs traditional boundaries between audience and artist,” and especially “when she is not present, you will hear an audio recording,” I became convinced that we were meant to bridge the gap. I also became more and more excited about her piece. Beyond questioning time, it seemed to question the boundaries of art. It questioned the relationship between the artist and the audience and the bindings that create those roles. Nowhere was a sign that said “Don’t Touch the Art.” Was she simply sitting alone because no one had chosen to enter her sphere? Was it the Bystander Effect but stretched to encompass any interaction at all? We thought about asking some museum representatives outside the room if we were allowed to speak to her, but they were engaged in a passionate conversation and interrupting seemed rude (somehow ruder than potentially interrupting (but potentially adding to) a hundred day long performance piece). Austin and I went in and sat on the benches.
Marilyn remained straight backed and silent in her seat. The clock ticked.
I couldn’t take it. I had to know.
Maybe it was impatience; maybe it was the desire to understand; I couldn’t take the time, and I couldn’t take the questions. Whatever it was, I whispered
“go sit next to her.”
Austin, intensely curious as well, rose to fall in next to her.
As he approached the seat she stood and swept down on him, suddenly large. She abruptly pointed to the bench.
“YOU sit THERE.”
Hands clenched, she began to pace around the rock. Counterclockwise.
Another woman came over to scold him.
I was furious. Didn’t she understand that she was practically asking us these questions? Didn’t she realize that the second empty chair practically begged for someone to fill it so she wouldn’t seem so alone? Her description didn’t forbid it. If anything, it seemed to encourage interaction. Was her scolding of him a part of the art? Were we all meant to experience time in solidarity?
Feeling protective and confused, I angrily imagined punching her in her old gut. I’m not proud of it, but I did. I imagined punching her right in her black sweater sheathed belly. I glared at her. What was she trying to communicate? It seemed like the piece was supposed to be about spending time together. Why was she dressed in all black, neck to toes? Did she think it made her more of an artist? I didn’t understand. I yearned to understand, but I just didn’t. Arsem’s piece was really raising questions, but I didn’t feel like I got it. It was interesting to me in a few ways. I liked the noisy clock. I liked the unyielding symbolism of the rock. I liked how she paced in a circle as if she herself was inside of a clock. But I didn’t understand. I felt on the cusp of understanding, when my boyfriend stood to leave. I stood with him.
“What did she say to you?”
“She told me not to sit there. When I got close I could see that there was some oily substance on the chair next to her.”
Suddenly, everything fell into place.
The chair wasn’t meant to be sat in.
She wasn’t meant to be interacted with.
Every day for 98 days she had sat in silence, markedly alone, for 6 hours a day. She didn’t go home to her husband. Her husband had died. The piece was a performance art piece dealing with time in regards to mourning.
Clothed in all black except for her gray hair and her gold wedding ring, she was the icon of a widow. She spent her time publicly mourning her husband instead of at home alone. And she was intensely aware of the time spent. Similarly brilliant was Arsem’s implicitness. Only with interaction (or nearly interaction) would a person know that the chair was unavailable for sitting in. Only then would a person know that she was certainly, decidedly alone. Only then would a person know that when she paces, she paces to turn back time.
Googling the piece later, I learned a lot. Marilyn’s piece changes each day. I found that she changes the setup of her props each day. Some days she counts aloud. Some days she talks with her audience. Some days she watches ice melt. The Globe touches on a number of ways in which the artist conducts performances dealing with time. The only article I could find about her personal life involved a recent interview. Before starting the piece, Marilyn was interviewed by Jeffrey Byrd. In this interview, she speaks of her husband. He had come to almost all of her showings for 30 years. He died in 2012.
Marilyn’s piece is personal, introspective, and ephemeral. Each day it changes. But each day, she wears all black and she considers time.
I am not a designer. At all.
Luckily, Canva allows me to compensate for what I lack in design sense. It’s a fairly easy to use tool (even if it is restrictive).
Canva is a graphic design tool that uses a drag and drop UI to allow you to create anything from blog graphics to posters. The essence of it is that you choose a theme, add elements to that theme (like a grid structure, lines, icons and charts) to create an infographic.
Pros: It’s easy to use and it’s sleek. The icons are, for the most part, designed well and you can add your own images to build on what Canva provides.
Cons: If you’re looking to represent percentages that aren’t quartiles in a chart, good luck. Canva, for the most part, provides quartile percentages for its graphs (so stats have to be 25%, 50%, 75% or 100%) and the bar graph sizing isn’t great — you essentially have to guesstimate the proportion of the bars you use.
If you’re willing to forego a perfectly accurate data representation (for the bar graphs) and can live with using a pie / circle chart for quartile percentages only, Canva is a useful tool to display information beautifully. You can even be creative and forego the typical pie chart to display stats in a more innovative format — Canva has several templates that provide decent inspiration like this one:
If you have any questions about using Canva or how I created my graphics for my media diary, let’s chat!
Navigating SQL is daunting at first, but completely doable, even if you have little programming experience. I’ll walk through how I ran SQL queries against my Chrome browsing data and the tools I used to do it.
Finding the SQL database
First, make sure you know where the SQL Database is in your computer, and make sure you have the appropriate permissions to access it. For example, when I was accessing my Chrome browsing data, I needed to get to this location on my computer:
Where “~” means my home directory and “History” is the name of the SQL database file.
If this is daunting, don’t worry! This is what you’d type into a command line. If you don’t know what a command line is, either Google it or come talk to me — I’d be happy to walk you through it. *Note, if you’re looking to access your Chrome history database, make sure you’ve quit out of your Chrome browser. I learned this the hard way.
Notably, the Chrome history database is SQLite and not SQL. For our intents and purposes, this is fine. Functionally, they’re similar in usage; SQLite is a subset of SQL. Just be sure you know what type of database file you’re working with before you start.
How to access and browse your database
So you have your database file. How do you access it and browse through it? The tool I use is sqlitebrowser, made specifically for SQLite. You can open a database file or even create your own. Once you open your database, it looks something like this:
You can browse through the data row by row, view the structure of the database and execute SQL commands. The “table” dropdown refers to all the different tables in a database; for the Chrome history example, there’s a table for downloads, a table for URLs, and a table source for visits.
It’s great that you can view all this information, but you’re probably also looking to make some meaning from this. To extract rows that are relevant, you’ll want to write a SQL query. I’m not going to go into the details of writing SQL queries here, but I do recommend W3school’s tutorial for the quick version which should be good for most basic queries.
In general, your queries will follow a structure that’s something like this:
where "last_visit_time" > 13099253131722513
and "url" like "%facebook%"
or "url" like "%twitter"
or "url" like "%github%"
or "url" like "%linkedin%"
“select” refers to which columns you’d like to select from the table (I just choose to display all columns by default), “from” refers to which table you’re using and “where” acts like a conditional — if x is true for row i , then include row i in results. You’ll notice my use of “%” for matching strings — these are wildcards (and is easiest to Google as needed).
Below is what’s returned when I run the SQL query I wrote above:
You can also group together results (like I could’ve grouped by “url” to see how many of each type of URL i visited) and sort by a column.
If you’re new to programming, this probably seems overwhelming, but I definitely think reading the tutorial and just playing around with some SQL queries will help you get the hang of it. I learned basic SQL by having a test database and running queries to figure out what did and didn’t work, as well as how syntax works.
If you have any questions about the post, about databases or about SQL, please reach out! I’d be happy to chat. 🙂
This last week I kept a log of my media consumption through digital devices (desktop, laptop and cellphone). Quickly it became evident that I was logging nearly everything that I did except sleeping. In some cases I was also leaving out talking to people (when it didn’t involve Skype, the quick Google to illustrate a point or notes typed out in a Word Doc) and on occasion I would spend time walking from place to place without texting or listening to a podcast but I learned this was rare.
I am reminded of my first Bikram yoga class as I reflect on my experience over the last week. The 90 minutes of class felt like the longest stretch of time I had gone while being awake in the last 2 years without wanting to reach for my phone and check my email and Facebook. For those blissful 90 minutes I just tried not to die in that over heated room. I wasn’t fighting the impulse to check my phone, instead my brain was occupied with just trying to fight for the most basic of my needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy. If I couldn’t breathe I couldn’t think about my cellphone.
The next class when I returned it was easier to breathe, my body had acclimated a bit and I found my attention drifting. This week I learned that I basically need to be in complete physical peril, focused on an immediate task that will have real time consequences without my undivided attention or, asleep, to not be either thinking about consuming media and fighting the occasional impulse or just succumbing to that impulse.
The other reflection I have about the week is that I couldn’t figure out a good way to measure engagement. I was constantly acknowledging the existence of media surrounding me (advertisements on digital screens at the T stop or catching a glimpse of a neighbor’s laptop screen) that I did not engage with in a meaningful way. Instead this content just fluttered in and out of my periphery. But what I felt more curious about was how much content I chose to engage with (i.e. I clicked on something to learn more, selected a podcast or played a TV show) without feeling like I had comprehended it, consumed it or leaned from it. Throughout the week my use of media broke down into the following primary categories
- media as background white noise
- media as stimulation and elected distraction
- media for learning through consumption
- media for tools for learning through production
- media for communication
SIDE NOTE:I was fairly effective at tracking numbers 1, 3, 4, and 5 but media as stimulation and elected distraction was very hard to log. This type of consumption is often so automatic it is inconspicuous. I would get home and realize that I had checked my email and Facebook on the train but had forgotten to log it.
(media log and coding)
The bulk of my media consumption was to stimulate, distract or sooth me while I was engaging in another auxiliary activity. I would often find myself re-listening to episodes of podcasts because I would disengage in the narrative for long periods of time while I focused on something else and then re-engage only to realize I had lost my place in the story. But also sometimes this would not bother me. XFiles would play in the background as I edited videos while I had no intention of following the story plot.
By the end of the week I felt like it was not enough to have tracked what I had consumed but I also wanted to know what I had retained and my level of comprehension from the content consumption. (I couldn’t tell you the title of one article I clicked to from Facebook this week but I know I clicked on at least 20. ) That exercise I suppose is for another time.
Using RescueTime, I attempted to track my media diet and general digital activities. I was excited that I could download the application to my laptop, desktop, browsers (firefox/chrome), and even my android phone.
I reviewed my patterns after 7 days and was pleasantly surprised to see I appeared to be fairly productive – given that I am clearly expert at managing my attention… or so I thought.
The chart that stood out most to me was the one indicating my most used app was for SMS. It turns out that I consume most of my media through conversation.
Perhaps, the assumed productivity was just a capture of idle screens while I busily texted with friends about a range of topics.
Just as I was dozing off after 7 days of capturing data, I felt a buzzing on my wrist. I looked down to see a tweet from EthanZ on twitter and a message from a friend.
None of the tracking applications I downloaded could document the notifications I consumed on my smart watch!
In fact, I had recently discovered I could text from my watch by speaking directly to it and even send emoticons by just drawing them. Productivity has been tanking ever since this discovery. This explained my seemingly constant use of SMS which is tracked by my phone even when I do it through my smart watch.
This weeklong exploration revealed the difficulty of tracking activities even when being very intentional. I am glad I have clear evidence for why I should turn off my watch when I need to focus. My observations reveal that Rolf Dobelli was right is speaking to the time wasting side of news (to which I add social media). Productivity increases as media decreases, but I spend most of my time on media.
1. Mornings are for work, evenings for play.
I generally only ask three things of the internet: to inform me, to entertain me, and to make me better at my job. Apparently, that last one stops being important after two in the afternoon. That’s when my consumption of work-related media — stories about science or journalism — trails off and my consumption of general news and entertainment picks up. By midnight, I’m gorging on music, pop culture, and politics.
2. Kanye West might well be a genius, but he’s no Einstein.
I’m not too ashamed to admit that the Kanye circus sucked up a lot of my internet time this week. But the data don’t lie, and the data are saying that I was even more enthralled with the discovery of gravitational waves, whose existence was predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein.
3. Old media is dying, not dead.
More than eight in every ten stories I read, watched, or listened to originated from the internet. But I found it refreshing to ruffle through the pages of a magazine, let talk radio play in the background, or watch a show with the family.
In tracking my media usage for the week, I gained something that I imagine most people gain when engaging in this exercise: anxiety. Anxiety and paranoia that I have stopped paying attention to what media I was being exposed to / exposing myself to, that there were aspects of my media consumption that I was significantly less aware of, or that I was generally unconscious of the majority of my consumption on a daily basis. In other words, it worked.
My strategy for designing my media journal was not simply to find out how often I was accessing media, but to develop an ontology for engaging with media and test it to see what properties of media access were the most revelatory about my habits. What follows is a breakout by each of those properties, some of which are revelatory, and some of which might benefit from collecting over a longer timeline.
First, I categorized my media consumption by what it was about. One thing about recording this was that it drew attention to how frequently I was consuming more than one form of media at the same time. Obviously the largest category, music, was mostly consumed while also engaging with a number of the others. It is no surprise to me that work and social are among the biggest categories, but it was surprising just how large of a percentage was dedicated to art (and Instagram, which I struggled to categorize given that it is a platform with multiple types of content; I went with “social;art”, since my primary use for it is to follow artists and designers).
One of the aspects of the journaling I was most interested in was how much media consumption was a choice vs. forced on me by context and environment. Admittedly, I am likely to have dramatically underreported the media I was involuntarily exposed to. Reflecting on walking through the city, it already occurs to me that e.g. I stood in front of a number of advertisements on the back wall of the subway platform that I was subconsciously aware of, but which didn’t rise to the level of conscious consumption. That said, I do thing what I realized from this process is that, for the media I am at least partially engaged with, most of it is quite purposeful. Non-discretionary is listed, as some media, such as presentations, or readings for classwork were voluntary, but not optional/assigned by others. (This chart is based on number of engagements, not amount of time spent on each piece of media. If this were based on time, it would look dramatically different, skewing toward nondiscrentionary.)
Media type gives a bit more resolution in terms of what I was consuming. What was surprising for me was the variety. If I was to imagine the various types of media I was engaging with on a daily basis, I would have guessed perhaps only 3-4, but it appears there is still diversity in the ways I consume media. Again, advertisements are not broken out here, which might have been interesting. A stand-out is the “platform” category, which represents types such as Twitter, Instagram, Instant Messaging platforms, etc. bringing into focus the amount of times I engage with media in an ecosystem where I am likely to be exposed to many other types of content.
I tracked what channels the media I consumed came to me from. No surprise that I’m the top culprit here in terms of choosing to expose myself to media. Community, friends, and classes are about on equal footing, but on a long enough timeline, I’d be curious to see how this actually played out. My suspicion is that class would spike and the influence of my friends or online communities would stay mostly the same. (I recently purposefully locked myself out of Facebook and handed the keys to a trusted friend, so it was an interesting time for me to journal. I shudder to think what these charts would look like if my usual habits of being tempted into admittedly a lot of good, yet likely superfluous content.)
The amount of social media content here is alarming, even without Facebook. I think that if I spent more time counting the various exposures during class time (when I appropriately wasn’t diverting my attention to log every item) this would balance out with social, or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself…
In terms of what devices this media is experienced through, I would have expected that “laptop” would have dominated my phone accesses much more. Another comparison I’m going to continue to keep my eye on. Again, this is not based on time spent on engaging with the media, so this chart would likely skew toward “laptop” given the amount of times I use it to read long-form items, which I can’t stomach via my phone. At the same time, if I added up every one of the micro-engagements I had on my phone, it’s possible the gap would be smaller than I’m imagining.
In general, I think the voluntary/involuntary comparison and source of media analyses were the most educational in understanding my own habits of consumption. No doubt, even tracking a handful of metrics for a short time period heightened my conscious awareness of the beginning of an interaction with a given form of media dramatically.