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 efficiency and inefficiency.
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.