Kevin Hamilton, Professional Rhythmanalyst
In one of the more delightful portions of the last book that he would write, the French Marxist philosopher Lefebvre sketched a “provisionary portrait” of the future practitioner of a new science or discipline, which he called rhythmanalysis. In speculation that borders on science fiction, he imagined this analyst of physiological, social, and other rhythms as a member of an organized profession, with his own laboratory, data, and clientele. One wonders, will the rhythmanalyst wear a white smock, or perhaps a yellow jumpsuit? Will he receive government grants, or subsist on the intellectual or technological equivalent of piecework? Will medical insurance plans cover his services? What will be his terminal academic degree? Will he fly to work?
In the series of works that share the title Department of Rhythmanalysis, Kevin Hamilton suggests a few possible answers, while multiplying the questions. His panels of green and red lights offer an example of what the rhythmanalyst’s instruments might look like, and how he might arrange his information. But by placing the rhythmanalyst in a department, one has to ask whether it occupies space in the academy, the government, the hospital, or the private sector. Are the employees of the department more like politicians, doctors, managers, dispatchers, sabermetricians, or dialectical materialists? Must one visit the department at regular intervals, or is it closed to the public? Does the department strike fear, provoke indignation, or serve the common good?
Hamilton first evoked the Department of Rhythmanalysis in an installation at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches art. This first prototype from the department consisted of an industrial console mounted to the wall and attached to a red alarm bell.
Beside pairs of green and red lights, the panel featured a series of labels with questions. “Is there daylight in Baghdad?” “Is the light green at Fourth and Peabody?” Hamilton programmed the lights for these first two questions to correspond to conditions in Iraq and just outside the Krannert, respectively. But only he, or the holder of his key, could manually change the lights for the third question: “Has there been another attack on U.S. soil?”
The red light for the following question—“Is consensus possible?”—remained illuminated. Using a switch, viewers could change the lights beside the label that asked them, “Is ‘Fighting Illini’ a racist nickname?” The panel ended with: “Are you keeping your voice down?” When the panel lights achieved a certain arrangement, the alarm bell would sound. As Hamilton explains in a claim reminiscent of Lefebvre, this piece “explores the potential of examining irregular temporal events as rhythmic, and thus more capable of change.”
In the following year, Hamilton simplified and multiplied the department panel for a solo exhibition upstate at the Gahlberg Gallery of the College of DuPage. Each panel in Deptartment of Rhythmanalysis: DuPage had just one pair of LED indicators, each with its own label.
This particular panel includes a turnkey, allowing viewers to indiciate whether “Barbara is in” or “Barbara is out.” Presumably Barbara turned the key as she entered and exited the gallery. Hamilton installed at DuPage a grid of sixty such panels.
The captions for these boxes demonstrate and expand the range of rhythms that Lefebvre assigned to his imagined analyst:
As you can hear in Irene Pérez’s installation video [linked from the footer menu], the DuPage panels clicked as the LED indicators turned on and off, producing a field of variously syncopated and irregular beats, which purportedly corresponded to the rhythms of a highly selective set of conditions in the gallery, on campus, and well beyond.
In the Department of Rhythmanalysis: On Location, the Flash piece that he made for Blackbird, Hamilton draws on the consoles that he had exhibited up and down Illinois. Each of the On Location panels features several labels and pairs of indicators, as had the Krannert prototype, in addition to the distinctive yellow facades of the DuPage devices. Also like the DuPage boxes, the green and red lights in On Location have their own captions, visible on the bottom panel of the screen, beside the controls. These controls ultimately direct one to seven sets of six panels, each set with its own soundtrack and visual setting. This organization results in a rather de-spatialized answer to the massive grid at DuPage, visible in a single interface. The controls also make a sound that mimics yet isolates the percussions of the DuPage installation. Unlike those of DuPage, however, the rhythms of the On Location punctuate those of the soundtracks, which feature aircraft, insects, footsteps, broadcast voices, conversational voices, check-out aisles, sirens, birds chirping and flapping their wings, water running over dishes, water dripping.
The lead soundtrack originally mashed up a doctored punk song with an excerpt from an old television show. This combination of soundtracks would seem to mix lyric with drama. Yet the television drama comes to feature a lyric poem of its own, eventually accompanied by music and concluded with that telltale feature of narrative: the narrator. The family of an aspiring, rural poet excitedly receives and reads aloud his first published poem, as wind instrument and piano softly swell, and the third-person voice-over shows off his omniscience.
Accompanied by this complex soundtrack, the introductory series of On Location consoles indicates that in 1978 “My Family” found politics and New York “Irrelevant,” and considered the following “Relevant”: service, real estate, prayer, “The Waltons,” and school. Contrast these values to those that Hamilton attributes to New York itself in 1978 and 2006, to “Rock Music” in 1978, to a 2006 issue of Artforum, and to his neighbors in 1978, who apparently found nothing relevant besides the television show “Dark Shadows.”
By introducing past times (such as 1978) to the department’s consoles, Hamilton frees the rhythmanalyst from attending to the fleeting present, like an operator of an emergency alert system or factory. Instead, he gives the analyst an archive of historical, biographical, political, and cultural data.
Another series of On Location panels features the dichotomy “Forgotten / Anticipated.” In 1983, “My Parents” had forgotten freshman year and poverty, but anticipated the weekend, grandchildren, sickness, a farm, and world war. In the year 53, “Paul the Apostle” had apparently forgotten grandchildren, a farm, and freshman year, but anticipated Saturday, sickness, world war, and poverty. On “Monday,” “My President” had forgotten sickness, freshman year, world war, and poverty, and instead anticipated the weekend, grandchildren, and a farm. In “January,” “National Public Radio” had forgotten grandchildren, a farm, freshman year, and poverty, anticipating the weekend, sickness, and world war.
In a set of consoles similarly distinguishing the “Invisible” from the “Visible,” we read that in “2007” in “Palestine,” radio waves and the end are invisible, while enemies, the dead, border, hate, and race are visible—as they are in Veronica Mars, season two. At the same time in “White Urbana, Illinois,” all of these things remain eerily invisible. In “My Walk Home” in 2002, all but the end was invisible. But by 2005, “My Walk Home” had come to reveal enemies, hate, and race.
In this fashion, Department of Rhtyhmanalysis: On Location oscillates between ostensibly objective conditions (such as those ascribed to 1901 London; 1909 F.T. Marinetti; 1972 El Paso, Texas; 2002 Firefly (television series)), and quite subjective ones:
Even the most apparently objective panels, however, turn out to rely on humorously idiosyncratic or anachronistic judgments. In 1901 London, for example, Damien Hirst, Christ’s Return, and Cell Phones were “Impending,” while Jackson Pollack, Foreign Occupation, and the Ramones were correspondingly “Impossible.” For both Marinetti and Firefly, Death, Wealth, and Fear were “Possible,” and the Beatles “Impossible.” Yet for Marinetti, and unlike the television show, Europe and Islam remained possible, while heaven did not. The Department of Rhythmanalysis thus expands its jurisdiction to ambitious proportions, inclusive of most anything that the analyst can subjectively perceive.
Some of the data that Hamilton attributes to the department facetiously suggests the impossibility of apprehending such a range of phenomena, much less of exhaustively recording and communicating it. Yet, rather than discount Lefebvre’s futuristic discipline before it emerges, Hamilton uses his iconic yellow box to exploit and demonstrate the possibility of new media. He provides in one accessible screen a mixture of autobiography, anecdote, history, and criticism.