As an observer, there is something fascinating in repetitive actions. Time and motion studies, as investigated by Frederick Winslow Taylor (time) and Frank and Lilian Gilbreth (motion) document the time it should take to complete a process and how breaking down the process into components and removing unnecessary ones increases efficiency. A difficulty of the studies is how to account for the human element: maximum efficiency may have a direct correlation with both repetitive strain injury and psychological deterioration.
Over the past 6 years, having had three children with my wife, I have become increasingly aware of the amount of work that is involved in running the family home; the quiet chores that need to be done everyday to keep the home running efficiently. My wife’s feelings about these daily chores are: “Is this all I am? A cleaner or maid?” People take pride in their job titles and the idea that their work relates to their self worth or is a part of their identity is important. Repetitive, monotonous work for little reward eventually takes a toll on both your conscious and subconscious mind.
The documentation for my work took place in our darkened kitchen, where lights were attached to my wife’s hands. As she began her daily chores of washing and putting away clothes, I photographed her hand movements, using the camera as a drawing tool; long-exposures that track the transient lines of light and their gestures over time. The result was photographic light drawings that traced the lines of her actions.
Within the artwork, an important part of the process for me was to record the timing of my wife’s breath. I correlated the different inhalation rhythms to match the sequence of the neon lights as they dim on and off, embodying the real-time kinetics of the original performance, activating the space with dark pauses in one instance and bright glows in the next. The repetition of the kinetic breathing light patterns relates to the repetition of the same actions on the same jobs. Day in and day out this too will eventually become mind-numbing.
The work is designed to be immersive. The box represents the inside of my wife’s head and the height of the box is in relation to my wife’s height. The reflective outside surface determines that the viewer is inside the work before they even enter the box. The square pattern not only represents motion studies or the measurement guide, but also the idea of repeating actions. When you are inside the box the weight of the repetitiveness of the actions should be claustrophobic, just as it is for my wife and the millions like her and Sisyphus that are sentenced to repeating the same action over and over again.