Operation: GRASP

In 1906 George Bunker Gilbreth designed the Georgetown Steam Plant.  Based on a field of research he and his wife Lillian pioneered called the "Study of Time and Motion," they studied the body at work. They isolated the body's gestures into elemental parts (which they called "therbligs").  Later they utilized (or tried to utilize) this knowledge of the body to design efficient systems/processes and industrial spaces that optimized work flow.  They collected film, made photographs, wrote books, gave talks and transformed the future of what we now call our industrialized nation. 

In 2014, I became fascinated with both the Gilbreths and the Steam Plant.  The couple, the Gilbreth's, dedicated their lives to de-contextualizing gestures (ephemeral actions) for the sake of optimization.  This was before the assembly line.  Work was done slowly.  They studied collections of minuscule moments and questioned how we could re-arrange them to be better... to eliminate pain in the body, to optimize effort.  Initially this wasn't for the sake of the economy but rather so we had more time for happiness.

And then, then there is the steam plant.  The Georgetown Steam Plant was designed to be "cutting edge" and yet now it is a huge, inefficient monument for fleeting moment in time. It's gorgeous, dirty, cold in the winter and summer, wet when it rains hard, vast, resonating with the sound of aircraft over head and your footsteps under foot. And it is still. Very still.  You can feel the time invested in each detail of it's creation and the affects that lack of care have had over time.  

Collaborating with choreographer Tamin Totzke we began to ask: 

How could the body translate these layers of this history?
What role do George and Lillian's "therblig" gestures have on contemporary occupants of the vacant steam plant.? 
How do we reveal answers to these questions within our bodies? 

In May of 2015, with a group of skilled performers, we began problem solving.  Guiding the group from the outside (behind the camera in this instance) I recited basic therblig directives.  This improvisational operation:

Collectively enact each of the Gilbreth's 18 elemental gestures of efficency and inefficency. 


Years later I still find myself thinking about these operations... The collective flocking. Arms, hands and fingers plucking at the air. Bodies lifting invisible loads. Physical touch. Intimacy. Task oriented assignments decontextualized from the task but contextualized in the space that the-study-of-the-task designed.  

18 kinds of elemental motion

An excerpt from Wikipedia (Feb 26, 2015):

Therbligs are 18 kinds of elemental motions used in the study of motion economy in the workplace. A workplace task is analyzed by recording each of the therblig units for a process, with the results used for optimization of manual labor by eliminating unneeded movements.

The word therblig was the creation of Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, American industrial psychologists who invented the field of time and motion study. It is a reversal of the name Gilbreth, with 'th' transposed.

A basic motion element is one of a set of fundamental motions required for a worker to perform a manual operation or task. The set consists of 18 elements, each describing a standardized activity.

  • Transport empty [unloaded] (TE): reaching for an object with an empty hand. (Now called "Reach")
  • Group (G): grasping an object with the active hand.
  • Transport loaded (TL):moving an object using a hand motion.
  • Hold (H): holding an object.
  • Release load (RL): releasing control of an object.
  • Preposition (PP): positioning and/or orienting an object for the next operation and relative to an approximation location.
  • Position (P): positioning and/or orienting an object in the defined location.
  • Use (U): manipulating a tool in the intended way during the course working.
  • Assemble (A): joining two parts together.
  • Disassemble (DA): separating multiple components that were joined.
  • Search (Sh): attempting to find an object using the eyes and hands.
  • Select (St): choosing among several objects in a group.
  • Plan (Pn): deciding on a course of action.
  • Inspect (I): determining the quality or the characteristics of an object using the eyes and/or other senses.
  • Unavoidable delay (UD): waiting due to factors beyond the worker's control and included in the work cycle.
  • Avoidable delay (AD): waiting within the worker's control which causes idleness that is not included in the regular work cycle.
  • Rest in peace (R): resting to overcome a fatigue, consisting of a pause in the motions of the hands and/or body during the work cycles or between them.
  • Find (F): A momentary mental reaction at the end of the Search cycle. Seldom used.

a response to my sketch, "between"

In early May, I shared a sketch titled, between.  In response to that drawing, I composed the following piece using Anne Carson's 'short talk' poetry form.   This work was installed on a plaque at Smoke Farm for the Lo-Fi Arts Festival // Ad Hoc.  It was situated at the intersection of two diverging paths.

Short Talk on Pairs

Socks are worn in pairs, usually matched.
Brackets are always used in matched pairs.  
When writing, brackets can be used to inject or
set apart text. They can denote an idea related to
but separate from the original idea discussed.
Empty brackets indicate omitted text.
Before I leave the house I put on my shoes.

Press your hands together in front of your chest.  
Pause. Separate them slightly. Pause. Repeat.

silent structures (a performance score excerpt)

The following text is an excerpt from the performance score for my Aug, 23 2014 work, Five Silent Structures.  Adapt, embody, and re-envision these words as suited for you:

The body is:  building. structure. flesh. waiting. being. past. future
The building is:  body. structure. canopy. awaiting. being. history. tomorrow

The body is a building.  A building is a body. 

We are extensions of the buildings we inhabit, the places we know through repetition and time.   Through our daily lives we enact the process of being with these spaces.  Through this performance we will enact the process of being with these spaces attentively.  The Fort Lawton structures are restricted, vacant, and empty.  They contain histories of use but are now silently observing the world, patient and overlooked by most.  Create silent spaces in yourself that mirror the spaces within these buildings.  Stand with them as you might stand with a dear friend experiencing deep struggle, a family member undergoing incarceration, or a loved one constrained by limitations that prevent them from enacting their basic humanity.  Become observant, patient, perceptive, generous, and open.


"to make meaning from the fragments we get, which are also all we get" -Anne Carson.


1. How do our daily rituals activate a building?
2. What is lost when a space is constrained?
3. How does a structure (a home, a shelter, a refuge) transform our bodies.
4. How do our bodies and the spaces we inhabit break silence? 

short talk on housing

For days these words have been resting on my tongue, slowly dissolving.
The lines have begun to settle into my hips. 

Here is one thing you can do if you
have no house. Wear several hats -
maybe three, four. In the event of rain
or snow, remove the one(s) that get(s)
wet. Secondly, to be a householder is a
matter of rituals. Rituals function
chiefly to differentiate horizontal from
vertical. To begin the day in your house
is to ‘get up’. At night you will ‘lie
down’. When old Tio Pedro comes
over for tea you will ‘speak up’, for
these days his hearing is ‘on the
decline’. If his wife is with him you will
be sure to have ‘cleaned up’ the
kitchen and parlour so as not to ‘fall’ in
her opinion. Watching the two of
them, as they sit side by side on the
couch smoking one cigarette, you feel
your “heart lift’. These patterns of up
and down can be imitated, outside the
house, in vertical and horizontal
designs upon the clothing. The lines
are not hard to make. Hats do not
need to be so decorated for they will
’pile up’ on your head, in and of them-
selves, qua hats, if you have understood
my original instruction.
— "Short Talk on Housing" by Anne Carson

research: on the creative practice (list)

Writings and radio conversations that investigate the creative practice and making processes.  Worth further investigation.

The Power of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk
In Praise of Copying by Marcus Boon
What is Original, TED Radio Hour on NPR
Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work by Anne West
Creative Block by Danielle Krysa (the Jealous Curator)
Imagine, How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
Steel Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
Art and Fear: Observations on the Pearls (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles
Education for a Socially Engaged Art by Pablo Helguera

Essay Collections:

EDUCATION: Documents of Contemporary Art published by MIT Press
ART SCHOOL (Propositions for the 21st Century) edited by Steven Henry Maddoff
THE STUDIO: Documents of Contemporary Art published by MIT Press
PARTICIPATION: Documents of Contemporary Art published by MIT Press

For continued research...

list started on May 1, 2014
last updated on July 8, 2014

quietest place (assignment)

The Art Assignment is a really rad weekly video series produced by PBS Digital Studios.  It's a sophisticated, playful, fun program hosted by curator Sarah Urist Green and author/vlogger John Green. The Art Assignment takes you around the U.S. to meet artists and solicit assignments from them that anyone can complete and then post on their website:  theartassignment.com

It's a genius series (and curiously happens to mirror the model of assignment making that I have in my own studio practice *grin*).  The newest episode really sings to me.

Jace Clayton, aka DJ /Rupture, challenges you to take a walk from where you live and find the quietest place. Once you're there, take it in for a moment and then make a short video or take some photos there.

(The Art) Assignment:  Quietest Place

1. Go outside and talk a walk from where you live or are staying at the moment. 
2. Continue until you’ve found the quietest place possible.
3. Take a moment to absorb it. Then document the place through photography or video. Upload it to your social media platform of choice using #theartassignment.
4. Fame and glory. (Your work might be featured in an upcoming video.)

Artworks mentioned include John Cage’s 4’33” (1952/53) and Charles Baudelaire’s essay The Painter of Modern Life (1863). 

horizon: intimate distance

Between my body and the horizon stretches an indeterminate distance and infinite time. Simultaneously, I embody it.  My feet rest on earth.  My head, the sky.  I am within the horizon, yet it is unreachable.

The horizon (or skyline) is the apparent line that separates earth from sky, the line that divides all visible directions into two categories: those that intersect the Earth’s surface, and those that do not. At many locations, the true horizon is obscured by trees, buildings, mountains, etc., and the resulting intersection of earth and sky is called the visible horizon. When looking at a sea from a shore, the part of the sea closest to the horizon is called the offing.[1] The word horizon derives from the Greek “ὁρίζων κύκλος” horizōn kyklos, “separating circle”,[2] from the verb ὁρίζω horizō, “to divide”, “to separate”,[3] and that from “ὅρος” (oros), “boundary, landmark”.[4]
— Wikipedia


Three types of horizon (from Wikipedia). 

Poet Ann Lauterbach continues in her article "The Thing Seen":

Indeed, as the Internet continues to flatten time and space into a scan that erases the “horizon” (the classical metaphor of both spatial depth and temporal aspiration), young artists are faced with a deracinated landscape. How to steady this mobile map, in which one’s own presence-one’s personhood-is without discernible evidence or local? ....[Artists] need to find ways to claim a physical, embodied presence within the increasingly dematerialized modality of connection.
— Ann Lauterbach. Art School: Propositions for the 21st Century

research: organizations + collectives, models for new thinking (list)

Organizations and collectives that are (possibly) experimenting with new modes of learning and thinking.

BMW Guggenheim Lab
Site Sante Fe
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Radio Lab
The Pedagogical Impulse
Room 13 International
The Art Assignment
No Longer Empty
The Laundromat Project
The Project Room (Seattle)

For continued research...

list started on March 5th, 2013
updated on April 17, 2014

repetition as a sense making mechanism

Published on www.brainpickings.org:  Gertrude Stein reads from her early novel The Making of Americans (UK; public library) — a pinnacle of her signature use of repetition as a sensemaking mechanism.  Written between 1902 and 1911 while Stein was in her late twenties and early thirties.  Recorded in 1934-1935.

research: worth further investigation, april 2014 (list)

Worth further investigation - Reading list, Spring 2014

Operative Design: A Catalogue of Spacial Verbs by Anthony Di Mari + Nora Yoo
Lines, A Brief History by Tim Ingold
Material Computation, Architectural Design.  March/Apr 2012. (Anisomatic Action)
The Prop Builders Molding and Casting Handbook by Thurston James.  (Capturing the Negative)
Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows
Cornelia Parker by Iwona Blazwick.  (Definition of Gravity)
Object of Labor by Joan Livingstone and John Ploof
Nature and Workmanship by David Pye

For continued research...

list started on March 28, 2014

what is (not there)

scissors (finger holes), drain (water holes), bobbin (gap around the barrel, center of the hub), needle (eye), door latch (inner hole of hub for door handle axis), wheel (center hole of the hub), button (eyes/corresponding button hole), dust pan (flat or curved scoop), pipe cleaner (gaps between bristles), sponge (pores), spirit level (bubble), trowel (flat or curved scoop), spade (slightly angled scoop), rotary blade (hub), bicycle chain (cutouts between links), cone wrench (u shaped cutout), crank spanner (hex bolt shaped cutout), tire lever (c shaped cutout), spoke wrench (spoke nipple indentation), bike pump (hand operated piston), pipette (inner cylinder), vise-grip (space between the jaws, hub, inner space around spring, space within grips), pliers (space between jays, hub, inner space within grips), baster (inner cylinder), bottle opener (space around the lever), bowl (inner), spoon (dish), sieve (small holes for particles), fork (gaps between tines), cake server (area above the flat face), garlic press (inner scoop and holes on the face), potato peeler (oval or rectangular shaped slot in the face), colander (inner bowl and holes), funnel (inner pipe and conical dish), corkscrew (space around the twisted screw), chinoise (conical inner area and small holes), cheesecloth (gaps in weave), cherry pitter (gap for lever and inner void the size of a spherical nickel), egg poacher (inner dish and holes), egg separator (slots between the spiral cone shaped head), egg slicer (slotted dish and area around individual wires/blades), fish scaler (slots and grooves), flour sifter (gaps in wire mesh and handle lever), slotted spoon (slots), grater (holes and divots), ladle (dish), lemon reamer (grooves), juicer (donuts shaped dish and grooves), mandolin (rectangular slots), pick ( gaps between tines), measuring cup (dish), measuring spoon (smaller dishes) , meat tenderizer (grooves), mortar (dish and miniscule granular divots in base), nutcracker (grooves in head and gap for nut), oven mitt (inner space generally shape of a hand), pastry bag (conical tip), pastry blender (area around each individual blade, ricer (inner scoop and holes on the face), poultry shears (area between blades), roller docker (space around prickly heads), rolling pin (inner hub), salt shaker (holes in face), spider (holes in mesh basket), whisk (area around wire loops), wooden spoon (shallow inner dish), zester (spaces around perforated head)

initially posted February 18, 2014
updated March 22 + March 24, 2014
still in construction

motion drawing (assignment)

Assignment: motion drawing

Identify and label actions/motions observed in day to day life that are interesting, notable, curious, satisfying, or disturbing.

With an open sketch book/ blank piece of paper/ electronic tablet and a writing device attempt to attentively record the motions.  Look closely and record only what actually happens.  Avoid looking at the canvass whenever possible.  Let marks accumulate.  Keep mind empty of judgement.  

Possible additional parameters:
1. Set a timer and work continuously on one drawing until timer goes off.
2. Only record very fast gestures.
3. Only record very very slow gestures.
4. Do not lift drawing device off drawing surface.
5. Work very quickly.
6. Work very slowly.

Motion locale:
1. Sink
2. Front stoop
3. Computer screen
4. Plant life (bushes/trees)
5. Traffic
6. Beyond windows