Taking Time and Art

Irish artist Paul Hughes talks about how taking the time to observe, listen and let things happen is at the core of the creative act.

Snail Mail…

All around the world artists are grappling with our addiction to speed – hardly surprising given the intimate link between slowness and the act of creation. I know of at least oneSlow Art Manifesto. And every week seems to bring the launch of another exhibition exploring the tension between fast and slow. A few days ago it was the turn ofNo Time To Losein Aberdeen, Scotland. But today I want to draw your attention to a charmingly eccentric slow art project at Bournemouth University in the UK. It’s called Real Snail Mail and its aim is to make us rethink our impatient relationship with time and technology. It works like this: Three genuine snails have been placed in a tank and fitted with devices that send emails on behalf of visitors to awebsite. When a snail slithers past one of the transmitting nodes in the tank, it collects a message that has been downloaded from the site. It then slithers away at a very unhurried 0.03mph (0.05km/h) . When the snail passes within range of another node, the email is dispatched to the recipient. The whole process can take hours, days, weeks, or even longer. One snail, Austin, has emerged as the fastest delivery boy of the three: he has sent 10 messages with an average delivery time of 1.96 days. But his pal, Muriel, has so far failed to dispatch a single email. Anyway, I’m wondering if I can file my tax return this way.

Everyone (almost) gets it

If you can gauge the strength of a cultural shift from the range of people taking part, then things are looking up for the Slow revolution. I get invited to speak to groups right across the spectrum, from schoolteachers, doctors and yoga coaches to business executives, IT specialists and architects. In fact, I’ve just agreed to speak at two events on February 7th in London. In the afternoon, I will give the second talk in a series of lectures and debates on slowness organized by the Royal College of Art. Then, after a very slow break, I’ll join an evening debate held by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council at the Hayward Gallery. The questions on the table are: “Are we moving fast enough? Does more speed always mean a society is making progress? Or is it time to put the brakes on our breakneck world?” Artists and engineers are seldom natural bedfellows but even they are finding common ground when it comes to challenging our fast forward culture.

By the way, the Hayward Gallery event is open to the public so maybe I’ll see some of you there…

Slow museum

I suppose it was only a matter of time. The world’s first Museum of Laziness has opened in Bogot·, Colombia. It is full of hammocks, sofas and beds for lounging. Funded by the municipal government, the aim of the museum is to challenge the modern obsession with work and wasting time – and to find a balance between striving and skiving. The only catch is that it is not a permanent museum. It closes next week. So if you’re too lazy you’ll miss it altogether…

Read the BBC report by clickinghere.

Slow lunch

When was the last time you took a real lunch break? In workplaces around the world the mid-day meal has shrunk or vanished altogether. Never mind dining al fresco; these days you’re lucky to find time to dine al desko. What a waste. Stopping for lunch makes us more productive, more creative and less stressed. It allows us to enjoy our food, smell the roses and indulge in a little social time. That’s why there is a growing campaign to bring back lunch. Hilke Meyer, a student at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, is doing her bit for the cause. She has just designed a range of nifty place mats and tea towels that not only look sharp and funky but also bear mini-essays on the joys and purpose of lunch. Find out more or upload your own thoughts at her websiteHERE.

Slow improv

I love improvisational comedy. It has a high-wire act quality that adds an extra edge and energy to the humour. It also seems like a very fast art: you have to come up with killer lines or movements in the blink of an eye. But now it seems that the Slow philosophy is making inroads in the world of improv. Apparently there is a Chicago school of improv that is more patient, less frenetic and built more around characters and ensemble work. Read an intriguing chat-room thread about itHERE. Meanwhile, Katie Goodman, a smart, funny and very thoughtful actress-director-writer is just finishing up a book on how to use the tools of improvisiational comedy in everyday life. One of the things she is exploring is how finding your inner tortoise off stage can allow you to be calmer, sharper and more creative when you’re actually in a fast-moving game of improv. You can find out more about by clickingHERE.

Slow photography

Just been to the How We Are exhibition at Tate Britain.It traces British life through photographs taken from as early as the 1840s. Some of the prints are stunning, others are moving or witty. I love the mug shots that were used to identify suffragettes and keep them out of the London art galleries where they had vandalized paintings in the name of female suffrage. Photography is a wonderful art form in the right hands, and takes on more depth, meaning and texture with the passage of time. But the exhibition left me feeling that we have lost something along the way. In the old days, when photography was slow and painstaking, you thought hard about what you were recording and how you were recording it – and then you cherished the print afterwards. In the digital age, photographs are so fast and easy to take that you hit the shutter release without even thinking. And then you leave the images on your computer hard-drive because you’re too busy to make prints. It all feels very disposable.

Slow Dancing

A wonderful video installation called Slow Dancing is now running at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. Five second clips of dancers in action (ballet, tap, flamenco, break dancing, capoeira, etc) have been slowed down to last between eight and 12 minutes. Because they are shot in high-definition, that means you can watch a single strand of hair fly through the air or a gesture ripple through a hand finger by finger. Some feel this creates a new art form. The dancers feel amazed, perplexed and strangely vulnerable. The curator talks about the beauty unleashed when we decelerate long enough to take in the details: “What the dancers’ being slowed down does is to reveal all of these beautiful, subtle changes in faces and bodies. This camera allows us to read moments that pass so quickly they don’t register.”

Art is long…and slow?

I’ve been meaning to write about the link between slowness and art for ages and this blog entry is only a very patchy first volley. I love art, and love wandering round galleries. I don’t paint or sculpt or do anything art-like myself (apart from with my children), but as a writer I know that time is an essential ingredient of the creative act. You don’t hurry Hemingway. You don’t rush Rembrandt. Many works of art can be created quickly, or at least with great dynamism – think of Jackson Pollock attacking the canvas. But others need more time, from conception through to execution. The idea of Slow is rippling through the art world at the moment. Robert Hughes, the doyen of art critics, has called for more Slow Art (clickHERE). The Royal College of Art in London is currently hosting a series of lectures on slowness (I gave one of them) and you can find out more by clickingHERE. Almost every week I hear of another exhibition somewhere in the world organized round the theme of slowness. One example is the Plymouth Arts Centre in Devon, England. A group of artists and art dealers in New York has even signed a Slow Art Manifesto. This debate raises some fascinating questions, starting with: What exactly is slow art? Sadly I don’t have time to answer that right now because I have to get back to writing my next book, but I will be returning to this theme again. And I welcome any thoughts you want to share on the subject…

Visualizing time

One of the drivers of the speedaholic culture is our vexed relationship with time itself. Why is there never enough time? What is the best way to use time? Can we slow it down? Or speed it up? What exactly is time? An Italian graphic designer has now launched an intriguing project that tackles some of these questions visually. She is inviting people of all ages from around the world to submit a drawing that depicts the passage of time. Already hundreds have submitted their vision of time’s winged chariot in motion. Some are easy enough to deciper: a watch on a wrist; a cafeti√®re pouring coffee into a cup; an arrow flying through the air. Others are more enigmatic: undulating waves; a series of bubbles; lines coiled into the shape of a wind-sock. The site really gets you thinking about time and how to relate to it. It’s also fun to see other people’s take on it. Check out the site by clickingVisualization of Time Project. And while you’re there, why not take a little time to send in your own portrait?