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    Referencing the Passing of Time In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau creates a relationship between the metropolis and its inhab… Read More
    Referencing the Passing of Time In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau creates a relationship between the metropolis and its inhabitants on one side, and the practice of writing and speaking on the other side, and how they are “writing an urban text as they move through it”. A given message evolves in perpetual flux and its context is permanently shifting, regardless if its support is an advert or public signage. Who is its audience? Where is it read? What is the weather like? What is everyone talking about on that day? Are they in a hurry? Does it smell of hotdogs as they’re reading it? A static printed message cannot adapt to a changing situation; it therefore belongs to the platonic ideal world rather than the hic et nunc (here and now) of the real world. I believe this could explain the difficulty in constraining my research to a single context that I have encountered while experimenting with contextual letterform. Because of the instability of the circumstances of message delivery, a context is bound to change and never be the same twice, just like Heraclites’ river (“One never steps twice in the same river”). This thought lead me to concentrate my research on referencing the passing of Time. From the former experiments, I initially kept the idea of using the temporary letterform of wearable typography to comment on situations as they happened: a group of people standing in a public place would spell out a comment by becoming different letters, one word at the time, a bit like an analogical tweet (from Twitter) that would involve a group of people rather than an expression of individuality. I first tested the idea in a studio rather than in a public place, with a series of words talking about temporality. Standing on a line, the bolero-wearing actors created a letter each with their body, forming the words flow, flux, fluid, shift, shifting from one word to the other in a movement. The notion of ephemeral was contained in both the form and the meaning of the message. But the list of words involving temporality was bound to dry out or turn into a loop at some point, which would have created a rupture with the real time flow that the letterform was meant to mirror. Also, even if this was just a practical test, using the black backdrop of a studio rather than a real life situation seemed to be missing the point. I therefore later reproduced this experiment with the words wait, halt, hold and interval spelled out by performers standing on the zebra crossing of Abbey Road. Ephemeral typography was used to induce people to feel the weight of passing time, with its flow symbolically interrupted by halting the traffic. This typographic performance was only recorded by taking screenshots of the images transmitted by a public webcam onto a computer. As this medium displays one “real-time” image every 4 seconds, a fraction of second seems to be extended for the length of time necessary for the image to be refreshed. I was also interested by the fact that using a public webcam to display a message considerably broadened its audience. I became aware that in order to pursue this exploration I needed to reduce my field of study to the essence of the notion of time, rather than to its general definition. During the studio session for the alphabet photoshoot, another group of people was asked to pose as a set of numbers, from 0 to 9, wearing the yellow sleeves. These images have been used to produce an on-line clock, set on the Greenwich Mean Time. The numbers are humans performing an everlasting choreography referencing the (real) passing of time, people standing as the Hours moving only once every 60 minutes, while the one acting as the tenths of Seconds executes a very fast routine in a continual move. Incidentally, a bomb-sprayed piece of graffiti on a wall, reading “Time doesn’t exist, clocks exist”, drew my attention to two layers coexisting in the perception of time. One refers to the flowing entity, while the other invokes the intellectual, man-made structure that we use to sequence events and place them in a chronology. The notion of time also opposes the mathematical abstraction calculating periods of time and the concrete mechanism of clocks counting its passage. This begs the question: is there something called Time, other than the counting activity? Isn’t the consciousness of time a typically human experience? The final experiment of this research took place in a busy train station during rush hour, in order to reflect the flow characteristic of the place. It involved eight people mimicking a digital clock in real time with their arms and shoulders. Standing in line side by side in the middle of the station, two of them acted as the hours units, two for the minutes, and another two for the seconds. The two other performers were acting as the colons separating each unit of time. The wearable letterform, with its specific flexibility, allowed the message (in this case Time) to change from one second to the other, following more or less accurately the ticking of the station’s clock. The numbers each of the performers enacted were enhanced by day-glow long-sleeved boleros, which besides making them visible, also echoed the yellow of the train schedule boards above them. Used in this specific context and by using people as a medium, this temporary letterform confronts the economic value of time (as in time is money) with the individual perception of it. The final outcome of this experiment is its recording, in the form of a set of photographs fixing the message in the time, space and audience (commuters in a rush) it was addressed to. The letterform was contextual at the actual moment it was mimicked. What is left is a trace of it, as the message displayed (the time the photograph was taken) will not be accurate anymore when looking at the photograph. What was achieved with this latest experiment of wearable type was a hic et nunc letterform, a letterform for the here and now, finding its raison d’être when used in real time. Read Less
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The use of people’s body as a display medium in exchange for money has been a fairly common vision in the streets of London for almost two hundred years. One of the only work prospects for non-English speakers involves standing on a busy street while holding printed advertising at the end of a stick or wearing it on boards around their neck, a position known as human billboard).
Using the human body as a message display facility is a way of evading a tax on advertising by making it mobile, but also by using the humanity of the subject and its “freedom of speech” as a legal argument.

The flexibility of this casual form of communication, combined with the performative potential of togetherness, provided the right components to start thinking of a malleable letterform expressing an ephemeral message.

MORE here: http://www.amandinealessandra.com/letterform_for_the_ephemeral/