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.
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
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.
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
A guy in Minnesota films in a snowstorm. Evergreen trees surround him. You can hear the snowflakes hitting the camera.
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,”
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
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.
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.
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
“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
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
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.”
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