Welcome to our Summer Season of Discussion, in which five contributors will be adding their thoughts and comments in reflection upon the themes of this blog during July through to October. The contributors are Paul Harper, Dr Ananya Kabir, Malcolm Martin, Linda Sandino and Clara Vuletich and there is a short introduction to each of them on the Contributors page.
As appropriate to the blog it has been a slow start as we all been tied up with projects, end of teaching terms and holidays, but slowly over summer we will be adding the contributions to this page. So watch this space!
It is now towards the end of August and you can see that we have a number of posts from our contributors and we will be adding more over the next two months. Enjoy reading these – if you feel you agree or disagree with any of the statements or sentiments expressed, please do leave or email us a comment. We have had several comments which critique the blog and we enjoy this debate. So if you do want to take issue write and put forward your own views!
Dear Andy and Helen
I thought it might be useful to put down some markers, some ideas about what Slow might be, what it might imply or entail, at least in my mind. To be as direct as possible, and leave the questions, and my assumptions, open for discussion or destruction. So in this spirit…
Slow. Slow. If slow is anything, it is a value. Speed has been key to modernity, and to visual modernity, since at least the time of the Futurists. Slow is anti-speed. It’s meaningless except in relation to speed. It’s the value of not-speeding, of taking time. Perhaps it’s like the appropriation of ‘Queer’, you take the dismissive term, the marked term as the beginning of your identity. But then slow does have its positive side: care, precision, consideration, appropriateness. Counter-values to modernity. So slow is implicitly critical, is suggests things are out of kilter, important values are being lost. Which ties it clearly to the critical strain of craft, or at least the would-be critical strain. It would so much have appealed to Morris, to Leach. Those makers for whom making was always a sociopolitical act.
Slow links together each part of the cycle: making, exchanging, using. Even if it can exist within a global capitalism, even benefit from it, Slow is fundamentally against the essential assumption of capitalistic exchange: that every object has a use value independent of where, when, how or by whom it was made, and that therefore faster, and cheaper are the only real values. (If anyone doubts the general validity of this description, could they simply look at the current World Trade negotiations, and how little any other values are considered, except as ‘protectionism’.)
These are issues of vital concern to craft. None of them are unproblematic. The question of exactly how the Slow movement relates to, and exists within, global capitalism is parallel to the experience of craft makers. Are such terms as ‘hand-made’, ‘individually designed’, ‘bespoke’ merely to do with attractive marketing of premium goods, or are we offering a different vision, however ambiguously and uncertainly?
Quantitatively we barely figure as the froth floating on the real economy, we are producers of different values for those in rich economies that can afford them. But Slow suggests that all of these questions, where, when, how, by whom, are vitally important, and that life cannot simply be divided into the two spheres of production and consumption. It’s about whether work is a central activity of our lives through which we find meaning and engage with others, or simply a means to acquire goods and services from others. So it’s about our fundamental orientation as to what it means to be human.
(I’m reminded of the subtitle of Schumacher’s seminal book ‘Small is Beautiful’. Economics as if People Mattered. Exactly.
Small, now there’s an interesting word that goes rather well with Slow. Small is personal, nor in the sense of individual fixed identities, but human interaction, or even human interaction with object and environment, appropriateness of scale, using the means to hand, freedom to respond to time and circumstance, to use all the body’s resources, improvise.
Which, might remind us of Jazz, or Acoustic Music, allowing for the flexibility and nuance only possible with acoustic instruments, the One Take/No Overdubs philiosophy, but equally the DIY of Punk, the lovers of Vinyl, or the White Stripes using analogue recording equipment…
It’s about the thickness, the physicality of life, constantly eroded. But there’s always resistance to this erosion, bringing it back to some kind of experience of materiality.
So the fact that the ‘Slow Movement’ we are familiar with has something to do with food is interesting. We taste food, ingest it, take it into our bodies. Perhaps the whole slow thing is actually a return to the body, to the speed of the body. Not the infinitely plastic body of diets, cosmetic surgery and biometric parameters, but the body of lived experience, tasting, feeling, experiencing.
I am a slow maker, perhaps a slow person. Carving is a slow activity, made of a thousand moments, a thousand decisions. I have recently discovered the slow value of writing. Pick up the pen, remove the cap, place nib to paper, and begin to form a letter. Each letter a gesture. I thought, being a child of Pollock and Picasso, that the gesture had to be fast, intuitive. But looking again at the famous film of Pollock painting, I see how much space there is, how much time he takes, how much consideration and ease. My speedy scrawl uses only as much thought as typing. It’s easy to hide behind a font, to assume an identity, hide behind the appearance of authority, of what others have considered, but in another time and place. Writing ‘by hand’ is naked: does the script cohere, convince, carry the message? Dare I slow down, consider how I write what I write? Should I write (actually write!) this blog and scan it? Wouldn’t that be deliberately anachronistic (albeit using a more sophisticated digital imaging technology)?
Actually I rather like anachronism, another word I think links well with slow. To take out of time. Or rather to burst the bubble of an isolated ‘now’, and connect what I am doing with the past, surely a real point of slow activity. Like using a real guitar, or listening to a real record. I might make time the focus of the next posting, slow time….