This is the day’s longest bodily stage. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, peaks, and the body experiences its deepest sleep with the lowest alertness, temperature, and gastric activity. Absolute darkness is ideal, and lying is the ideal posture.
The Sleep Phase lasts the longest. For obvious reasons, we should say that we are having this conversation only partly in the Sleep Phase, when we’re normally sleeping. But, like many people, we occasionally awaken in the middle of the night. And this bi-phasic sleep pattern, having two shorter sleep periods separated by a period of waking, can be creatively productive.
Yes, this is the time for poetry and reflection, as well as making connections. Everyone knows that if you are struggling with some problem in the evening, you often wake up with a solution. There has been extensive research on the benefits of sleep, both scientifically (m.c. schraefel went into this in detail in the Physical Performance Phase), and artistically (going back to the Surrealists and their obsession with dreams). In his Surrealist Manifesto, Breton states that sometimes the absence of an object causes us to question the object. We could say that this is your aim with time: only when we step outside the system of clocks and calendars do we see the absurdity of it. Participants in your Zeitgeber experiments (see the Wake-up Phase) discovered this: when their clocks were taken away, some people became obsessed with knowing what time it is. Many people, however, did not want their phones back; they were quite happy to step out and stay out of clock time (see Chapter 4 of Helga's (2020) book, as well as our co-authored publication (2021)).
According to Olivier Richon (2016), Head of Photography at the Royal College of Art in London, the concept of ‘practice as research’ denotes an anxiety; why not just research? Why, for example, distinguish between the visual and verbal? He notes that the Surrealists did not make such a distinction. (For example, Magritte.)
In the Sleep Phase, there was only one thing for our event: Michaela French’s ‘Sleep Dome’. That is a great example because it began during her PhD research with me at the RCA. We started making full dome films with MA students, and then she started a Fulldome Research Group, which is still active. It is research in the best sense of purely artistic, rather than scientific, experimentation, and the results are always 360-degree films.
Her Sleep Dome was a four-metre inflatable dome that could accommodate up to ten people laying down. And, as we discussed in the Sleepiness Phase, people did fall asleep in there, though not overnight.
Michaela created a new piece called ‘In Here Out There’, which features moving stars, flowers, and other shapes falling from the sky, as well as quotes from Walt Whitman and others. The title refers to something Federico Campagna said about perception and reality during his talk during the Intuitive Phase, that each of us creates our own world at every moment, thus connecting 'in here' and 'out there'. This connection happened entirely by chance. It also calls to mind Heinz von Foerster, who we mentioned in the Wake-up Phase. ‘In Here Out There’ is also a nice description of dreaming.
Her partner, Richard Godbold, composed the soundtrack for her film. The projector inside the dome overheated right before we opened the event, and it did not work until the next morning. (You could say that it went to sleep.) As a result, there was only audio for the evening portion. But you know what? Nobody seemed to mind. They were happy to come in and lay down, listen to the audio, and gaze at the dome. Michaela brought some coloured lights inside. People assumed that was the whole experience and were perfectly happy with it.
Many people returned the next day, and they had a completely different experience with the film playing. But it just goes to show how people seem to welcome any opportunity to relax. We do not do it on our own; you need a push or trigger, like the external Zeitgeber I mentioned earlier. This is depicted in my book as someone pushing you on a swing, creating a certain rhythm. This 'push' is what makes sleep concerts, sleep pods, and other similar things so successful.
As we lay here in the middle of the night, let’s reflect on the event, the research, the process, the key questions, and the methods. Our research question was how we could change people's perceptions of time by treating it as a material and sculpting or moulding it using this event. Scientists like Debra (see Cognitive Performance Phase) conduct rigorous experiments with randomised groups and controlling for variables. But you cannot do what we have been doing in science. It is a different approach to a topic, and we are not looking for empirical findings.
What is potentially original here is the use of these bodily phases as methods in and as artistic research for ourselves and to structure entire lives, rather than just as a means of designing spaces or events. Sleeping, for example, as a legitimate method for creating work or conducting research! It is not necessarily new; there are models of creativity (for example, from Graham Wallas) based on the idea that you do research, then sleep, and then you have this ‘aha moment’ in the morning. I believe scientific research supports this, that you should sleep before taking a test, for example.
Yes, but not only sleep, but also movement, intuition, concentration, and so on; it is using all phases as methods, and not in a scientific way to increase productivity, but simply because you get different ideas and results at different times of day. There are numerous other factors to consider, including coffee and other drugs, your surroundings, health, financial situation, and so on. Artists already use movement, intuition, and other such skills in their practice and for research. The originality (and I realise we are speaking research council language here) I believe is in formalising these into actual methods; that is also the ‘rigour’ part that research councils value. In this regard, I believe that there is still work to be done.
However, spreading these methods to other artists, designers, and practitioners is also part of our goal (the ‘significance’ or ‘impact’ in research terms). This, I believe, is accomplished through our collaborations, and we hope that some of these practices are adopted by our collaborators. It is also worth noting that many of those who attend the events are artists or designers, including our students, and that is why try to incorporate uchronian thinking and practices into our teaching and curricula. I would also add that we hope that this exhibition will reach many artists and researchers through the Research Catalogue and the Journal for Artistic Research.
Longer term, the goal is to truly influence society at large, ideally by embedding these practices in everyone’s daily lives, and to move away from clocks and calendars and our entire embedded time system. This will take some time.
To summarise our findings to our research question: to treat time as a malleable material, one must first step outside of it, drawing attention to it as an artificial construct, a material. Previously, you accomplished this by removing people's clocks, as well as through the concept of Zeitgeber, time-giver, which is any external way of providing us with a certain rhythm. Time, according to Federico Campagna in his talk at this event, can be defined as the rhythm of 'worlding', which each of us does at all times. The primary external time-giver is the day-night cycle, which appears to have influenced even the smallest cells and life on Earth. Using that as a starting point, there are colours, bodily postures, and actions throughout the day, and your bodily phases are based on that. We then address these through materials and the senses for the event, recovering a sense of time through the senses, as Sarah Sze states.
The atemporal event, then, is one method in your uchronian methodology, a methodology that, in Ruth Levitas' words, aims to ‘be otherwise’. It evolved through dialogue between us, with the artists, institutions, and suppliers with whom we collaborated, as well as with our tools and materials. This entails embracing multiple perspectives, whether through the relativity of the physics of time or by seeing through the eyes of others, as in UVA's VR installation that allows you to see through the eyes of an autistic person. To use Hartmut Rosa's (2016) phrase, social resonance develops through such alternative perspectives, as well as collaborative dialogue and actions, such as how our participants navigated sharing those big round beds.
Thus, rational language is only one component of such dialogue or collaboration. How and how much you describe something can have a significant impact on how someone experiences it. However, language also entails going beyond description and into poetry and playfulness.
Dialogue with tools and materials also involves a poetic approach, drawing on Surrealism, for example. To treat time as a material, you can materialise it in matter, but you must also treat all matter (including humans) as ephemeral, temporary, and not fixed. Things and places as temporal and temporary, and time as a place: for example, rooms sized and adapted to different phases of the day, but not fixed: one room can change throughout the day to suit the Wake-up Phase or the Intuitive Phase. We worked with light, sound, fabrics, furniture, and the paper on which money is printed.
Then there are actions and activities. Drawing, for example, can be used to distort or represent time; time can be represented as linear, branching, points, or circular. Such actions and designed activities can influence how time moves: how it accelerates, slows down, stops, branches, or breaks into particles. Not only do we design activities for others, but we also take actions to shape our own time.
This, we contend, is programming, both in the sense of programming an event and computationally programming the future. It is performance not only in the programmatic, theatrical sense, but also in the way things and people perform. Rhythm, then, as a programming tool, whether musical rhythms or changing daily rhythms. For example, 'How long is now?'
Transitions are something interesting here. Byung-Chul Han (2017) discusses the loss of transitions, which are places where meaning is created in relation to things and events. For example, the transition from dreaming to waking. However, the design of transitions is an area for future research.
Finally, when we consider time’s malleability, what kind of material do we imagine it to be: clay-like, solid, liquid, or gaseous? When matter undergoes a state change, such as when boiling water or heating something in an oven, such as in a cake. (Because of time’s irreversibility, a cake cannot be unbaked back into its individual ingredients.) But, speaking of cake (you are a keen baker), we can consider how to fill time, qualitatively not quantitatively, by adding depth and thickening. However, there can be multiple times at once, in our heads, on our phones, in things and materials, with their own timescales.
We did not conduct a summative or scientific evaluation of the event to determine whether or not our participants 'got' any of these concepts. However, because we were working with an education and events team at Somerset House, they did. We know that 355 people between the ages of 25 and 59 attended the event. 75 percent were 'intellectually stimulated', 67 percent were 'inspired', and 50 percent learned something new. The venue described the event as having a 'Brilliant overall outcome, atmosphere, experiential environment, aesthetics’ with 'plenty to participate in across ages, learning styles and interests, academic, vocational, social, artists, industry’. They said that the event 'certainly represented new approaches and perspectives to time and rhythm through each of the activities and formats'.
That is all nice, and we can see where we might be able to improve some of those audience figures. But, more importantly, we are interested in the broader concept of challenging and replacing clocks and calendars on a large scale. This may necessitate more events in different locations and with different audiences. However, we will also conduct large-scale experiments online (read about our subsequent project in Schmid and Walker 2021), possibly communicating with other audiences through publications or talks. I would also like to create the Circadian Space (described in Chapter 6 of my book(2020)), of which this event was a pilot study, a bespoke space in which we could conduct more and longer experiments, as well as a public exhibition space and a research institute.
We can return to Byung-Chul Han's concept of the vita contemplativa, which we discuss in the Wake-up Phase. He discusses it in his book (2017) in relation to Hannah Arendt, who promoted the vita activa, which she equated with political action: 'To act means to begin something altogether new', he paraphrases her (Han 2017, p. 102). This is a deliberate act, not just automatic labour. Han agrees with her; he is opposed to what he refers to as 'hyperactive restlessness', which he believes characterises much of today’s society. For him, the vita contemplativa is not without movement or action; such action, he says, is in intellectual operations; it prompts action. 'In temporal terms,' he continues, 'acting means letting time begin anew. Its essence is revolution.’
As a general call to action, a copy of my Uchronia Manifesto is included below.