A Grain of Rice Under A Microscope^

05Oct2013 . Los Angeles CA > Re-edited 21Feb2019 Santa Fe NM

by Nuttaphol Ma

I placed my body within the confines of the clocking in and the clocking out.  For the most part, the day unfolded the mundane.  I stood on the hard concrete floors, occasionally, greeted customers.  I walked around and around, straightened pillows, flipped hangtags hanging off the merchandise to show the company’s logo.  

I cleaned.  My favorite ritual was to comb through rows and rows of glasses, wiping every one of them down with windex.  I would work on one row, then moved onto the next.  The sales floor became my stage to perform. I labored the mundane act of serving, the act of cleaning, the act of standing.

The company upgraded to an electronic time clock in 2010 where we clock in our time using parts of our fingerprint.  It’s pretty high-tech.  I cannot explain in detail.  At my initial sign-in, the manager logged me into the system.  She asked me to record one of my fingers in the fingerprint reader.  The system then extracted parts of my fingerprint that resulted in a number that’s to be my unique employee identity.  From then on, I would use my finger to log my time.  I chose to use my left middle finger.

I usually work a full 8 hour shift.  Time fluctuated between movements and stagnations.  On a busy Autumn Sunday in 2010, time stopped ticking.  One of my colleague approached me looking deeply distraught.  I asked her what had happened.  She said, “Nuttaphol, they’re watching us.”  I responded, “Who’s watching us.?”  She responded, “the managers .. they were watching us … on the computer monitor in the office … laughing at us.  I saw.  The door peeked open.”  I placed my hand on her shoulder.  Our distressed eyes consoled the moment.  I left the conversation numbed, angered.  I woke up feeling like a grain of rice under a microscope.

It took me a long while to process what had happened.  Conceptually, I understood that my every movements were being watched at all times given all the cameras around the store.  The abstract understanding became a reality the moment my colleague shared with me what she had witnessed.

I did not have an outlet to share my experience but to turn inwards.  I wrote - simply just streams of words gutted from my inner core.  It was a cathartic self reflection as I was able to visually see and read what I truly felt.  The result was not enough.  It was a bunch of text on paper.  I wanted to tell more but did not know how.  I exhausted my search for a way to share with others in a thoughtful way.  In the end, the circular thinking in my head left a loud scream that no one can hear.

Sometimes, letting go in the heat of the moment is a good thing.  After my outpour of words on paper, I simply walked away.  Three years passed.  It was 2013.  I was still bothered from the incident that happened on that busy autumn Sunday on the sales floor.  
An opportunity to enroll in a documentary filmmaking workshop came my way.  I took up this new medium thinking that perhaps this unfamiliar process will offer a different perspective.  I’ll simply wander and allow the camera to tell my story not knowing where I’m headed but it’s better than being stagnant.
In the workshop, I was given two rolls of super 8 film to make a documentary.  I honestly did not know where to start but was floored by the fact that I was holding onto what essentially to me was ‘time’.  Why?  Because each roll of super 8 film translates to 3600 frames which equates to approximately 3 minutes 20 seconds.  In essence, I was holding onto 6 minutes 40 seconds of time!  

Holding onto time and thinking of ways to use this ‘time-object’ to reclaim the time that was taken away from me when my managers watched my activities on the office computer monitor became the building blocks for my documentary response.  The film’s blueprint chronicled my journey to retrace what I’d experienced on that busy Autumn Sunday; this time around, under my own terms.  I searched for the right setting to film.  It turned out to be a seat at a fast food joint where I had the perfect view of the confines of the clocking in and the clocking out, the activities behind the counter and on the other side of the counter.  The site was primed for my staged ‘sit-in’ to observe, watch and record the managers’ activities.
The two rolls of super 8 film were deconstructed to shoot one frame for every four seconds in order to capture my 8 hour sitting to mirror the 8 hour shift of the workers behind the counter.  The unknown became the script.  What resulted were recorded unfolding moments and conversations that occurred between management, myself and two police officers.

Post production was completed by the end of 2013.  Along the way, I created an artist book that included my sketches and notations connected to the project.  I’m grateful to have found a way to share my story - whether through this short writing or through special screenings interwoven with my storytelling.

Recently, I was asked what reconciliation means to me.  I couldn’t give an immediate response at the time; however, after much thought, I see reconciliation as a transition from a broken circle to a completed one.  As in the case of this unforeseen incident that happened to me back in 2010, I’ve completed a circle with this essay film entitled “A Grain of Rice Under a Microscope.”

A Grain of Rice Under A Microscope has since been screened at the following locations:  a) Echo Park Film Center (2013); b) Monte Vista Projects (2015); c) Human Resources (2017); d) Santa Fe Art Institute (2018)