Introduction:As Slowly as Possible
This special issue of ASAP/Journal is dedicated to the concept of slowness. The title of our introduction, "As Slowly as Possible"—apart from serving as a pun on the commonplace connotation of the acronym for the Association for the Study of the Art of the Present—honors John Cage's signature 1987 piece ORGAN2/ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible) by underscoring the relationality of the notion of slowness: slow is always "slow in relation to." In this issue, we explore what engaging with slowness as relational can reveal—and what it can bring to a journal specifically committed to the arts of the present. We second ASAP's observation that our increasingly complexified present urges us to constantly engage with our own contemporaneity, and we put forward the notion of slowness as highly productive in interrogating our current political and aesthetic climate, not least in terms of globalization, consumerism, media regimes, and ecology. While slowness is thus addressed as key to an art of contemporaneity in this issue, what also comes to the fore is that the manifold aesthetics and politics of slowness enable us to connect the past to the present, often in a nonlinear manner. In exploring the thick layers of various time regimes, an art of the present, as a practice of contemporaneity, cannot do without acknowledging the individual and collective histories that constitute us. Relatedly, in exploring concepts of processuality across fields and genres, this issue demonstrates the fruitfulness of bringing the various arts of the present into conversation. It reveals how the notion of slowness takes on different meanings if performed or reflected upon through different artistic media (film, video, painting, literature, music, sound, [End Page 457] performance, and dance), and is furthermore complicated by today's manifold intermedial art practices. Taken as such, slowness as relational resonates with the increasing interdependence of the various aesthetic and political processes that inform our global contemporary society by encouraging us to acknowledge the multilayeredness of these connections.1
Contemporary discourse on slowness, much of which originated in reaction to Carlo Petrini's Slow Food movement in 1986, has gained increasing relevance in our ever-accelerating and globalizing present. Far from merely promoting a slowing down, slowness encourages us to address the complexities of contemporary society's production and reception processes with a heightened sensibility to multilayered temporalities and time scales. The relational nature of speed can also serve as a fruitful metaphor for the complex interrelations of spatial and temporal orders in aesthetics and politics, and encourages us to question other persistent binary notions of active versus inactive; individual versus collective; culture versus nature; digital versus analog; human versus machine, animal, or planetary time; as well as any categorization of the arts according to affordances, disciplines, genres, or medium. While on the aesthetic level this leads to an emphasis on cross-media resonances, on the political level it allows for a cross-historical, transnational, and/or intersectional approach, interrelating the effects of class, gender, age, race, and colonial politics.
It thus comes with no surprise that slowness, as it is framed within the arts and humanities, is not only a broad but also often a contested theoretical concept. While some see it as a description of decelerated processualities, others emphasize its capacity to sensitize us to an abundance of information and the multimodal affordances of the contemporary. Some suggest using it to invite considerations of perceptual processes, whereas others focus on the temporalities of production. [End Page 458]
While the contributors to this special issue engage with persistent understandings of slowness in the arts in terms of deceleration, slow motion, endurance, duration, or stillness, they often work toward challenging such connotations by revisiting their media-theoretical genealogies and historical and local contexts. Similarly, they revisit works that have become signature pieces within the discourse of slowness in the arts, including, in addition to John Cage's ORGAN2/ASLSP: Michael Snow's Wavelength (1967), which features a forty-five-minute zoom into an apartment; Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho (1993), which presents Hitchcock's signature film in extreme slow motion; Don DeLillo's novel Point Omega (2010), which includes a description of the experience of watching Gordon's piece; and Marina Abramović's durational performance The Artist is Present (2010). They often use these works, however, to examine a specific perspective on slowness and to challenge or expand existing readings. Moreover, by introducing new and pertinent works into the discussion, they advance existing concepts of slowness, making them more apt to address the complexities of the contemporary. In so doing, the contributors frame slowness as a means of unpacking the past as present; discuss how it is positioned via the counters of speed, haste, and assimilation; and underscore how slowness has been capitalistically co-opted as a consumer good in an over-saturated, globalized Western society.
Many of the contributions to this special issue evidence the abovementioned observation that the discourse on slowness is gaining new urgencies in our current political climate. And yet the contributors also rightly acknowledge in how far contemporary takes on slowness are indebted to and build on much earlier theory, to "slowness avant la lettre." Not only are we reminded of the incredible amount of thought that early cinema and photography devoted to unpacking the new regimes of speed that came with these new media technologies (Noël de Tilly and Ernst), we also learn how contemporary decelerated dance practice can be seen as building upon its important predecessor, Japanese Butoh (Mengesha). Other examples, in terms of established theory on the aesthetics and politics of experience, can be found in the discussion of Baudelaire's and Benjamin's discourse on the flâneur as a precursor to slow movements (Dialogue) and Guy Debord's notion of dérive as an important frame of reference (Dialogue and Westgeest). While such acknowledgements of the historical [End Page 459] roots of appeals to slowness are far from new in and of themselves, the contributors to this special issue make them productive for a cross-historical analysis, based upon individual case studies of contemporary art.2
Such an approach resonates with much of the artistic work featured in this issue, which uses slowness to establish interrelations of historical and contemporary events and technologies. The contributors introduce us into the broad spectrum of artistic strategies deployed to this end, which, as becomes apparent, established terms such as reenactment or remediation often do not suffice to describe. While, for example, the exploration of intergenerational colonial violence, due to its lasting effects, is enacted rather than reenacted in decelerated dance performance (Mengesha), the mediation of a signature piece of structural film for a contemporary audience results in an original, neostructuralist event, rather than just a translation from one medium to another (Karl). That is, the density of relations that the interpretation of slowness as suggested in this issue foregrounds allows us to delve into much more than just a reference to the past.
Similarly, we were not aiming at settling for an understanding of slowness in terms of "taking time to contemplate," as propagated by the many "slow art days" organized by museums around the globe. Here again, the contributors convincingly prove how rich a phenomenological perspective on slowness can be. This is due not only to the often sophisticated and varied mediation practices addressed by the discussed works, but also to the theoretical concepts employed to scrutinize experiential forms. One example is the act of listening, which is foregrounded in the conversation and in several dossier contributions. While listening is promoted as an attentiveness to Cage's intentions, the mechanics of organs, and the soundscape produced by playing the piece at different tempos and in different settings (Fidom), it is also highlighted as key political virtue, and a call for a transnational and cross-historical attendance to the voices of others as necessary for effective political action (Dialogue; also Day). Another concept addressed concerning the experiential potential of slowness might seem less obvious, and, at first sight, even contradictory to the former: semi-attentiveness. We learn that semi-attentiveness can be consciously invited by some artists in durational performances, thereby lifting the burden of durational experience and thus having the potential to affect more people (Tartici), and about its restorative potential in offering a way to cope with our neoliberal attention economy (Dialogue). This constitutes an interesting nuance to traditional claims to the restorative potential of slowness, which is further discussed [End Page 460] in terms of consumer products that have co-opted slowness as a luxury commodity good, available only to the upper class (Dialogue).
This leads us to concerns over the economic and political relevance of time regimes, which constitute another site of interrelation in this issue. The contributors discuss how being forced to wait patiently can acquire different meanings, for example, in times of inflation on the one hand, and in times of imposed change of political systems on the other (Noël de Tilly and Ho). The pace of change at stake in educational institutions can be criticized as far too slow by those demanding intersectional equality, and as fully overhasted by those longing for respite in an atmosphere of neoliberal utilitarianism, resulting in repeated funding cuts for humanities programs, which are promoted by bureaucrats as necessary for the survival of the institution (Dialogue). Such a dominating imperative of progress is addressed as well in the context of colonial capitalism, which "dismisses intimate presence for rushed transactions" (Mengesha). However, we also learn that temporalized reactions to accelerationism can take various forms that do not necessarily fulfill the simplistic equation of slowness with activist refusal. As an example, slowness is presented as actually allowing for a different form of "soft" feminism (Chung), and as sometimes affording the ability to "take a year off" in order to keep activism alive (Day). Both in the Dialogue and these contributions, however, it also becomes evident that choosing to—as opposed to having to—go slow is directly connected to political agency and has very real implications for different social groups. Along these lines, a number of contributions approach human slowness as highly physical and embodied. That "having to wait" is not only a political, but also a highly physical challenge, is illustrated very technically by actively measuring participants' heartbeats in order to assess their bodily state (Ho) and expressively in finding ways to enact how time regimes of slow violence are bodily felt by its subjects (Mengesha). While categories such as expression and movement might at first sight be conceived of as primarily an aesthetic choice, a number of the contributors underscore how embodied slowness is deeply connected to politics as it is often developed in response to dominating political systems. [End Page 461]
Complementary to the question of embodied slowness is the engagement of the contributors with technological mediation. They offer interesting examples of cross-media translation, be it in between the live and the mediated, the analog and the digital, or still and moving images. Interestingly, several contributors explicitly explore the specific characteristics of individual mediums in order to scrutinize anthropocentric notions of slowness. The musical organ, with its quite specific possibilities of expressing "endlessness," challenges us to put human dimensions of time into perspective (Fidom); while artistic explorations of various forms of measuring tides not only interrelate natural rhythms with machinic ones, but, delving into the differences between analog and digital measurements, can challenge our thinking about machinic perspectives (Gauthier). Such explorations are in line with analyses of media technologies that develop ideas of processuality that run counter to the human-centered phenomenological conceptions of slowness that are often associated with the term, whether in terms of aesthetics or experience (Ernst). Media are also discussed in this light (Dialogue), although the focus moves from object- or process-oriented ontology to Lefebvre's concept of rhythmanalysis, which brings the human back into the equation, if only in terms of our interaction with other systems, objects, and natural phenomena.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO SLOWNESS
This issue begins with our Dialogue with Kevin Hamilton and Lutz Koepnick, both of whom have dedicated a considerable amount of their work to the concept (and practice) of slowness. Taking into consideration our (inter)disciplinary backgrounds, previous work on the topic, and positions within academic and arts institutions, we discuss slowness in terms of aesthetics and phenomenology, contemporary politics, mediality, and mediation. The broad questions we raise lead us to the Dossier, which combines artistic and scholarly work being produced in sound, music, installation, performance, walking, writing, or teaching—and sometimes in between. The six Dossier contributions are situated in various disciplines, and present or elaborate on artistic works and/or theoretical positions that can be seen as representing the layeredness of slowness in an exemplary way. Furthermore, all works included are examples of cross-media practices: sound, data, and (video) installation (Gauthier); sound and space (Fidom on Cage); performance, vocals, and text (Day); film and performance (Karl on Snow); poetry and landscape architecture (Kochetkova [End Page 462] on Finlay); and language, sound, and location (Fusco). Taken together, these interrelations of different mediums, each of which comes with its own take on process and time, propose a multidimensional investigation of slowness as an aesthetic and political category.
The article section of this issue begins with two contributions concerned with unpacking the aesthetics of slowness in its cross-historical and cross-media relevance. In "Edited Time: The Temporal Investigations of Scott Billings and Raqs Media Collective," Ariane Noël de Tilly introduces some of the key issues that set the ground for a cross-media approach to slowness. In engaging with the reenactment of historical records by means of video, she discusses the potential of time-sensitive work to engage with both historic events and technological dispositifs from the perspective of the present. In comparing her examples to signature works of slow-motion video art, Noël de Tilly argues that slowness in video art neither needs to result in works that stress the viewer's patience due to their long durée, nor be restricted to documenting lengthy events, but instead can be used to reflect on how the camera enables a different perspective on the processes of writing, interpreting, and editing history and memory. Helen Westgeest also relates to the concept of slowness in video art in her "Looking at Painting as Watching Slow Video Art: An Intermedial Experience of Disruption in the Work of Corinne Wasmuht." By examining how Wasmuht's combination of mass media images into a large complex tableau painting can result in highly complex, layered works, Westgeest makes an important case in point that the value of the concept of slowness in the arts is by no means restricted to the analysis of time-based art. She shows how such paintings can work to disrupt the presumed immediacy of looking in a similar way that conscious technical disturbances applied in video art do.
The next three contributions address a politics of slowness through aesthetic means. In "Deceleration as Decolonial Intervention in Lara Kramer's NGS: Native Girl Syndrome," Lilian Mengesha argues that the dance performance by the choreographer of mixed Oji-Cree and settler heritage forcefully embodies and enacts what Jill Carter calls the "survivance intervention" of Indigenous women making use of slowness and stillness to resist narratives of reconciliation and to stage instead the painful process of decolonization in Canada. In what she addresses as nonlinear choreography, the performance finds a form to illustrate what she observes as an instability of time. Instead of presenting the colonial [End Page 463] oppression of Indigenous women in Canada as historic, it is staged as lasting, as an integral part of intergenerational experience, and inseparably present in every move of the dancers' bodies. Unrelenting in its presentation of the effects of the past in the present, Kramer's piece disallows any sense of resolution or reconciliation, and demands the audience to endure in order to empathize. Kelly I. Chung also discusses slowness as a strategy of "making present" in her article "Sleepwalking Slowly: Kat Eng and the Feminist Art of Living Labor in Common Time." She engages with the precarious labor conditions of Asian American women through a discussion of a number of durational performances held in public and in gallery spaces. She describes these works as manifestations of a feminism "grounded in the inactive and not doing," as opposed to an activist feminism that propagates protest and refusal. She argues that in these works passivity is enacted as a strategy of nonconformity.
Further complicating the use of slowness as a strategy in contemporary society is Elizabeth Ho's discussion in "Temporal Rifts in Hong Kong: The Slow Arts of Protest," in which she unpacks the politics of slowness effected in light of the upheavals against the mainlandization of Hong Kong since 2014. Ho traces how slowness is enforced as well as claimed to both exercise and resist authority. In the context of a general climate of acceleration, Ho examines how the government has deliberately slowed down the flow of protest marches, while also demanding that people patiently tolerate the process of mainlandization—which is too slow for some and too fast for others. Ho importantly considers how activists reclaimed public space and made use of different time-sensitive strategies to react to the various regimes of speed at stake even in different areas of the same city. Ho furthermore discusses how artists and filmmakers have reflected on these biased temporalities of everyday life in Hong Kong.
In turning to questions of what slow demands and what it means outside of human experienced time, respectively, the authors of the final two articles pose new theoretical perspectives for the conceptualization of slowness. Ayten Tartici's "Slow Consumables" offers a critical examination of the differences between various slow art works and what she terms "slow consumables": art works that offer the viewer agency in their engagement with the work insofar as they may choose to view it in a fragmentary manner or view it in its entirety. In using staged events of Max Richter's eight-and-a-half hour-long album Sleep and Cage's interpretation and performance of Erik Satie's Vexations [End Page 464] as case studies, Tartici explicates what she sees as a rift in terms of the politics of slowness. She explains that slow consumables, like slow art more generally, seek to counteract our fast-paced lifestyles, but do not demand our full attention and endurance. Slow consumables enable and even encourage an inattentiveness, and thus offer a means of slowing down that counters the privileging of durational attentiveness as particularly productive. Wolfgang Ernst also asks us to foreground the medium in our considerations of slowness in his article "As Slow as Possible? On the Machinic (Non-)Sense of the Sonic Present and Digital Indifference toward Time."3 Using performances of John Cage's ORGAN2/ASLSP as examples, he argues for a different perspective on the notion of slowness that is not based on acoustic content—that is, a deceleration of musical time perception—but rather on the medium of the digital machine itself that, in slowing down high to low frequencies, transforms such perceptions into numerical pulses, effectively challenging any sense of digital machinic time—and slowness—altogether.
While this issue underscores that slowness is indeed highly productive in discussing resonances in between different time regimes—human, technological, political, planetary—it also makes obvious that the same holds true for its assessment in ethical terms. Exploring the relationality of these regimes uncovers rifts that are strongly effected by hierarchical power relations and inequalities in economic status. Going slow can be luxurious in that one can afford to take time, disruptive in having to wait, or oppressive in terms of being in the position to impose waiting on others. Slowing down progress can be considered as highly desirable by the oversaturated Western consumer, and simultaneously a continuation of suppression and refusal to rehabilitate by the deprived. What these rifts bring to the fore is that unpacking relationality begs an intersectional perspective.
What also becomes evident is that art is especially positioned to facilitate such thick readings of relationality, as it comes with various means to engage its spectators, not only to illustrate multilayeredness, but to have its spectators actively engage with it. As a matter of fact, the multilayeredness of time regimes, including the rifts and ambivalences it comes with, does not stop when it comes to the relation in between spectator and work. What many of the contributions to this issue show, implicitly or explicitly, is that the incommensurability but also the interdependence of time regimes—both of the spectator and of the work—is key to art's potential unpacking of the contemporary. [End Page 465]
KATJA KWASTEK is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where she serves on the boards of the Interfaculty Research Institute CLUE+ and the Environmental Humanities Center. Her research focuses on processual, digital and postdigital art, media history, theory and aesthetics, and the digital and environmental humanities. In 2004, she curated the first international exhibition and conference project on "Art and Wireless Communication." Her monograph Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art was published by MIT Press in 2013. She is currently coediting a collection on "Resonances of the Work of Judith Butler," and is at work on a project tentatively titled "Eco-Media Art."
ERIN LA COUR is a Lecturer in English Literature and Visual Culture at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and is a Comenius Fellow of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. Her research focuses on both the intermediality and mediality of comics in several sociohistorical cultural milieux. She acted as project advisor for the sequential art exhibition "Black or White" at the Van Abbemuseum, is codirector of Amsterdam Comics (www.amsterdamcomics.com), and coeditor of Comics and Power (Cambridge Scholars, 2015), "Comics in Art/Art in Comics" (Image [&] Narrative 2016), and "Graphic Medicine" (forthcoming, Biography 2020). Her most recent publications include "Comics as a Minor Literature" (Image [&] Narrative 2016), "Social Abstraction: Toward Exhibiting Comics as Comics" (University Press of Liège 2019), and Above, Below, Between: The "Graphic Novel" in Literature and Art (forthcoming, Palgrave Macmillan 2020). She is currently at work on a postdoctoral research project entitled "Opening a Dialogue about Mental Health through Comics and Creative Writing."
1. Many of the articles within this issue were informed by the presentations and artistic work presented at the ASAP/Amsterdam symposium, "As Slowly as Possible," organized by the guest editors at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in May 2018. Furthermore, the issue includes theoretical work from contributors who responded to the open call for submissions as well as an introductory conversation between the editors and two scholars working on contemporary notions of slowness.
2. See also the chapter on "Slow Modernism" in Lutz Koepnick, On Slowness: Toward an Aesthetic of the Contemporary (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 15–52; and the paragraph on "Slow Art in the Rear-View Mirror" in Kevin Hamilton and Katja Kwastek, "Slow Media Art: Seeing Through Speed in Critiques of Modernity," Acoustic Space 12 (2014).
3. Ernst's article is adapted from a keynote he delivered at the ASAP/Amsterdam Symposium. Our second keynote speaker, Mieke Bal, published an article based on her lecture in an earlier issue of this journal: Mieke Bal and Jeanette Christensen, "An Aesthetics of Interruption: Stagnation and Acceleration," ASAP/Journal 4, no. 1 (2019): 85–112.