Erin Cooney's Project Collects 300 One-Minute Videos, All Taken During the Same Minute, at 8 a.m. PST on Nov. 13, 2010
|A scene from Erin Cooney's video project|
A day begins at a research outpost in snowy Alaska. The scientist on duty steps out into the darkness, gazes longingly at her warm cabin, then wonders why her sled dogs aren't barking. Elsewhere in the world, at that precise instant, a child tries to distract her father, a jazz musician, from his practice session. Leaves fall in the Midwest, and a leaf blower rumbles to life and pushes them around like an invisible hand. In a fancy Atlanta condo, a man stands on a balcony and kisses his boyfriend on the cheek. A few states away, girls chop wood in a forest in the Ozarks. A dog named Gracie wags its tail. A pot of water begins to boil. A baby squeals. A cat purrs.
These are the moments 35-year-old Los Angeles-based artist Erin Cooney discovered when she asked people to film themselves for exactly one minute at 8 a.m. PST on Nov. 13, 2010. She asked everyone she knew. She went on the radio and asked people she didn't know. She also begged on message boards frequented by videographers. Ultimately, 300 people submitted videos, resulting in 300 perspectives of a single minute in time.
"When I first started getting the videos, to realize they were all shot at the same moment, it was just so cool," Cooney says one year later, on the phone from Berlin, where her professor husband is teaching for six months.
She did the project, essentially, in search of a feeling. Call it awe, or maybe wonderment. She did it because she wanted the experience of looking up at the sky and realizing the vastness of it all. Because her interests include consciousness, perspective and getting out of your own head. Because, one suspects, it is the closest you can get to feeling like God -- omniscient and omnipresent. Cooney, a Catholic turned atheist, does not believe in an anthropomorphic deity: "Everything that exists in this world, that's God.
"It was a gift," she continues. "I feel so grateful. So honored. It's magical. It blows my mind." Cooney speaks in a great rush, the words tumbling out. "The fact that you see so much is going on is humbling and scary. You realize the things you worry about are so small."
As proof of authenticity, people "time-stamped" their footage by first filming the face of a clock. Then, without stopping, they turned their cameras to whatever they wanted, for one minute. Participants synchronized their clocks -- cellphones, wristwatches, laptops -- with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's official atomic clock.
Cooney received videos from all over the world: the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Thailand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Panama, Mexico. The moments are a study in contrast -- of time, place and mood.
A guy in Minnesota films in a snowstorm. Evergreen trees surround him. You can hear the snowflakes hitting the camera.
A woman in England films herself at home, playing the piano. The piano is out of tune, and the song sounds strange. "I like that one a lot," Cooney says.
People film themselves doing Sunday chores. They rake leaves. They mow lawns. They tend their animals. Someone on a ranch in New Mexico films his horses eating hay.
One guy films himself on an ottoman, watching TV, while his wife sits next to him, clipping coupons. She acts like she doesn't even see him. You can hear his kids laughing from elsewhere in the house -- the very picture of domestic bliss.
Another guy, in Orange County, films himself alone in front of the boob tube. He sits in a recliner, watching the news. Is he happy or sad? Content or melancholy? Hard to say. You never see his face, only his feet.
One man films himself on a plane flying across the country. He pans from the face of his gold Rolex to the clouds out the window, to the airplane wing, to the stewardess serving beverages in the cabin. The engines thrum with possibility. Elsewhere, a different guy -- a different sort of guy -- unloads his dishwasher.
There are night shots and day shots and night-to-day shots. Sunrise in Hawaii means evening crickets in Thailand.
The one-minute videos are a story with no beginning or end, only a vast, overwhelming middle. They capture the beauty of the world, as well as its mundaneness. There are videos so boring they might as well have been aquarium shots. Hell, one person sent an aquarium shot.
Some talked to Cooney during their one minute. "My work is just over there. I work at Costco," narrates one man in Colorado Springs. "These are the mountains."
"Well, the sled dogs were howling just a minute ago, and now they're all quiet," says the research scientist in Alaska. You hear her nylon parka rustling as she walks outside. The sky is pitch-black. "It's snowing lightly. ... Oh!" she murmurs. Then, faintly, the snow dogs whine in the darkness.
Cooney herself went to the ocean. She crouched in the sand and filmed the waves at Venice Beach, rolling up onto the shore. A handful of participants filmed near there, it turns out -- one at the skate park, one at the Santa Monica Pier. "And I didn't see them!" she says.
She wasn't the only one to wonder about the others. Riding his motorcycle around Beverly Hills, one man thought he saw someone else filming. He tried to catch the person's attention but couldn't.
Cooney was half expecting to get "someone pulling their pants down." She didn't. One kid did send a video of himself smoking weed, but he forgot to time-stamp his footage, so Cooney couldn't use it.
This winter, the Streaming Museum in New York will show the result of Cooney's labor -- the Simultania Project -- in its gallery. "It was tricky to figure it out," she says. "They only had one screen."
She ended up piecing the videos into a massive grid, an endlessly streaming quilt of moving images. Viewed simultaneously, the images blur together after a while. "What do the cognitive scientists say? That our minds can't take in more than seven objects at a time?" Cooney references the classic study, whose author she can't quite recall.
Given Facebook and Twitter and reality TV, the world is already too much with us, or at least it feels like that sometimes. But Cooney remains undeterred: A second Simultania Project is on the agenda, date to be determined.
In a moment she returns to what she'd been doing in the minute before the phone call, relaxing at the dining table in her rented apartment, assembling a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. "The experience of first-person consciousness is a paradox," Cooney says before hanging up. "It feels like everything, but it's not. It feels lonely, but it's not. It feels like there's just one reality, and I'm living it. But that's just not how it is."Follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.