Experimental Arcades

2 Organizing multiplicities of times

The heterogeneous components of scientific and artistic experiments and experiments in art, transport respective “intrinsic times (Eigenzeiten)”. Models and research objects, canvasses and brass drums, easels and instruments, require different spans of time to become effective, just like the single steps in an experiment (preparation, observation, evaluation). Similarly, the formation of an artist or a scientist takes more time than that required to carry out an experiment, write a preliminary report, or make a woodcut, but probably less than the time needed to establish and furnish an institution (Academy, Institute, etc.)

In the life sciences especially, the activity of experimentation can be conceived of as a critical synchronization of diverse intrinsic times. As James Griesemer and Grant Yamashita (1999) have shown in their history of biological institutions, the production of knowledge relied on a time management that aligned “phenomenon time”, “investigator time”, and “study time”. Research in evolutionary biology encountered (and still encounters) a crucial problem in the time that model organisms needed for their reproduction. As Griesemer and Yamashita demonstrate, that problem was dealt with in different ways: by choosing specific model organisms and designing their surroundings, by stretching the investigator time, by compressing and intensifying the phenomenon time.

Not only institutions but also single experiments can be investigated in terms of the time management they display. The Spirometer in the figure above, constructed by Charles Verdin from a plan by Paul Regnard in 1882, was designed to investigate the respiration process in human beings physiologically. It would allow the experimenters to determine the amount of expiration while recording the movement of the lungs and the time required for the respiration process. In Regnard’s set-up, one recognizes not only the alignment between the frequency of an organic function (respiration) and the movement of a clock pendulum. The set up also combines the revolving speed of the kymograph drum (driven by another clock work device) with the time span during which the galvanic elements powered the set up. In addition, the age of the experimental subject (adult or child) and even the season, mediated through climate and temperature, marked the experiment. However, only some aspects of the above-mentioned times were recorded by the tambours that registered the data on the drum in a coordinated way. Other aspects of time were regarded by scientists as uninteresting or self-evident and thus did not become explicit. But, one can argue, only in view of the ensemble of time relations within an experimental set-up can the question be answered as to the precise point at which something new emerges that eventually will

be understood as a scientific fact or an aesthetic phenomenon.

In photography and cinematography, the synchronization of diverse intrinsic times is always a problem. Thus, the length of exposure, i.e. the time in which the film and the apparatus (camera lens, shutter etc.), must be aligned with the time of the motif that one wants to photograph or film. One must also think about the timing of the natural or artificial light and the time of development required to expose the film. If the aesthetic of some photos (also scientific photos) relied on the precise synchronization of such intrinsic times, it was the transgression of synchronized time relations that created special effects in other “time images”. Short-time photographers as A. M. Worthington and Harold Edgerton tried to “freeze” movements in images, partly because they wanted to obtain new starting points to make further time constructions by means of sequencing. In turn, “photo dynamists” such as the futurist Antonio Bragaglia, but also scientific managers such as Frank Gilbreth, used long time exposures in order to show movements “as movements”. What some photographers viewed as disturbances of the photographic image, became an interesting phenomenon for the dynamists: the dark, the vague, and the faded away.

The precise or imprecise alignment of different times in experimental set-ups (be it voluntarily or involuntarily), the experimental organization or disorganization of time institutes the second topic of the conference.