By Joe Ferguson
There is an early scene in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club in which Tyler Durden has erected five driftwood logs on a beach. Tyler asked the protagonist if he knew what time it was. “I always wear a watch,” the protagonist responded, and then added that it was 4:06. Tyler had created a sculpture in which the shadow of the driftwood logs created a giant hand. Tyler went and sat in the hand. At four thirty the shadow hand was perfect, and Tyler sat in the palm of perfection for exactly one minute. “One minute is enough,” Tyler said. “A moment was the most you could expect from perfection.”
What Chuck Palahniuk is referring to is the ancient Greek sense of time kairos. The ancient Greeks had two words for time. The first was chronos and referred to time that could be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, years. Like the protagonist in Fight Club, we keep track of chronos time with a watch, or more recently, a cell phone. Kairos referred to the right time, or opportune moment. It did not measure minutes or hours, but moments. It was qualitative, whereas chronos was quantitative.
These two ways of measuring and experiencing time were explored in Katharine Hawthorne’s new dance performance Clockwork, performed at the ODC Theatre November 20-22. The piece was composed of two parts.
The first part was titled Pulse. It featured four dancers who pulsed, leaped, and even exercised, in response to the feel or sound of their heartbeats. One of the most interesting aspects of this part of the performance was the use of a digital stethoscope. At various times, a dancer would place the stethoscope over his or her chest--the theatre would fill with the sound of the dancer’s heartbeat as the performance continued in sync with the beats.
Hawthorne tried various types of stethoscopes but settled on a Thinklabs Digital One. “The sound quality is pretty incredible,” she told me. “I love the moment when it first is used in the piece and the volume is much higher than you are expecting it to be. It makes me feel like I am inside someone's heart.” When I asked her why she used a live stethoscope she replied, “It was important to me that the heartbeats be live as opposed to being pre-recorded, and that you could clearly identify a dancer with his/her heartbeat--you get a sense of the variation among individuals…I wanted to include Pulse as a sort of biological analog to the more technological forms of time-keeping.”
There was no intermission between the parts, there was an appropriate pause.
The second section was The Escapement, and was an exploration of humanity’s first external chronometer. An escapement is a geared device that transfers energy to a timekeeping element--the stopping of one of the escapement’s teeth is what generates that characteristic ticking sound in mechanical clocks and watches. Unlike the pulsing, reactive performance in Pulse, the dancers moved in predominantly circular motions, often interacting, each dancer provoking movement in another. At one point in the performance, a sphere of light traversed the back wall of the stage and the dancers moved in synchrony with the passage of the light. The light passed, and gradually, over the course of the piece, the dancers became more animated, evoking the technological development from the sundial to more advanced timepieces.
Katharine Hawthorne trained in ballet from a young age, but after an injury pursued a B.S. in physics from Stanford University. Katherine told me, she “was really invigorated by approaching dance with as much rigor as science, and it served as a way for me to filter ideas and concepts from physics through the experience of the moving body--as opposed to an abstract intellectual exercise in my head, or even more hands-on pure science research.” She remains in the San Francisco Bay Area and continues to create work that incorporates art and science. For video clips of some of her performances, click here.
Whether you’re like the unnamed protagonist in Fight Club and wear a watch every day and say 4:06 instead of a little past four, or you’re like Tyler Durden and live for the moment, you have at least some way of keeping time. ClockWork begs us to question time a little differently--through its two pieces we see time measured physiologically, technologically, and spatially. Katharine Hawthorne doesn’t comment on which of these forms is best, or whether they are disparate or interrelated, but perhaps if we spend a little time reflecting on what she’s saying in her work, we can find a few more of our own perfect moments.