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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….

Malcolm

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5 thoughts on “Summer Season of Discussion

  1. Three Months in Penwith

    ‘And so [jumping ahead for a moment] it went on, day following day up there on the scaffolding, shuffling sideways and backwards, on my knees, up on my haunches and, when I was too idle to use a step-ladder, stretching my toes. It was like a window in a filthy wall which, everyday or two, opened a square foot or so wider. You know how it is when a tricky job is going well because you’re doing things the way they should be done, when you’re working in rhythm and feel a reassuring confidence that everything’s unravelling naturally and all will be right in the end. That’s about it: I knew what I was doing – it’s really what being professional means.’

    CARR, J.L. A Month in the Country, Penguin, London 1980 p28

    The extract above is from the main character Tom Birkin reflecting on a summer restoring the medieval fresco in a church in the village of Oxgodby [Northern England] upon his return from the First World War. The novel is a meditation on place and people and how it affects your world view. How concentrated periods in one’s life are ultimately subsumed into a bigger picture, there is a sense of the minutiae of a situation gradually being absorbed, where time dissolves in the present and becomes embedded in a woven and multiplicitous narrative. The book reassures us of the possibility that we can be at one with the machinations of the world yet it also reminds us of the fragility of this state of being, how easy it is for us to be imposed upon by the complexity of forces beyond our control. Tom’s physical and emotional traumas are healed by the lifecycles of Oxgodgy, its people, its landscape and its sense of self and perhaps mostly by the process of working on the fresco; his skill and knowledge gives him a defined role not only for his own sense of self but outwardly to the community. Carr’s novel exerts a deep sense of a fast disappearing existence but it is not by any means soporific or sentimental, for what he speaks of is based on his own knowledge in regards place and people. A Month in the Country beautifully evokes something profoundly real, its wholeness is made of many interconnected ideas about the meanings and processes of human relationships with each other, the landscape and the materials within it. Even the foreboding fresco depicting the soul’s redemption and damnation is merged with the reality of daily life during its making, forming a narrative within a narrative and so on and so forth. Tom’s recollection richly describes the heat of a perfect summer framed by a very wet day of arrival and a subsequent departure at the first onset of autumn. That framed ‘time’ is an ever-present element can not be a mere narrative device for Carr, it is a mode of being that permits him, Tom, us to explore the geographical and topographical, the communal, the material, it is the non-linear experience which I think we all need to break down into chunks so that we can ‘know’ it.

    This short but beautiful story asserts a very particular sense of a slower world; in a literal sense it gives us a real flavour of a way of life and a specific point in England’s history. Present also in the writing is that sense of being able to connect: I felt completely absorbed in the place and events unfolding; the characters and observations are so rich and visceral as are their emotions and interrelations. This is down to the way Carr has written the novel, his detail, his precision. He has taken time to be there, be those people, feel the stone of the church and the grime covering the fresco. This notion of immersion is the ideal state of being in relation to making and responding to the material quality of the world and, like the story, it has to be accepted as something punctuated by times where we are forced to engage with other external challenges. Nothing is static, there are periods when we have to act without the time for proper consideration, but we are culturally absolutely responsible for giving ourselves to moments of ‘slowness’ . For me ‘slow’ means the depth of connecting structures that make up its heterogeneous network, the greater the connectedness the ‘slower’ it is. I have had to train myself to make work within this framework and admit to still being an apprentice, trying to see all the twists and turns embedded within the activity I am engaged with, to feel it as Carr does when describing the unfolding narrative, to be it as Tom Birkin is, consumed by the village and his task. I can really sense it when, as the quote says ‘you’re doing things the way they should be done, when you’re working in rhythm and feel a reassuring confidence that everything’s unravelling naturally…’ The collective result of which can mean a better connection to the whole that we humans are a constituent of.

    I recently completed a large limestone carving at my workshop in part of the farmer’s yard near my house in West Penwith, Cornwall. The yard is part of a complex of buildings, both domestic and agricultural, that form a small hamlet at the dead end of a mile long lane. Some of the buildings surrounding the yard are part of a now semi derelict feudal manor house and courtroom domiciled until the 1940s. The remnants of doors and staircases, stashed and forgotten belongings all made their presence felt within the sculpture, or in other words the sculpture absorbed its surroundings. The piece, titled ‘A part of our daily lives.’, is a life-size representation of the interior of a house with personal belongings left lying around, it is in the process of being re-decorated such that there is a paint pot and brush on the stair case along with books and pencils and keys… stuff. The carving, from a single three ton rough block of Portland, expanded beyond the linear sense of starting and completing it, each object began to take on new perspectives as residents of the hamlet related opinions and thoughts on the contents of the arrangement. A connective structure emerged between us all and the yard, and the buildings and landscape around it… the sculpture had ‘slowed’ due to the richness of its connections with the surroundings. That it was soon removed from the hamlet and located in another part of Cornwall is in one sense sad yet for people seeing it in its new place other narratives will grow rhizomically of which I will know nothing, just as the artist who painted the fresco in the book would never know the story of Tom Birkin. My carving took three months to complete but the sculpture is never finished.

    I am a visual artist working on commissioned Landscape Regeneration Schemes, Public Sculpture Projects and Private Commissions. Alongside this I develop artist-led projects in specifically chosen locations. The process of making work within a ‘chosen location’ is in itself research; making as a tool to become familiar, a means to become embedded… the connections multiply.

    I have recently completed an MA at University College Falmouth and an artist-led collaborative [with artist Jane Ansell] residency at Trewidden Garden near Penzance titled TEND. RANE [Research in Art, Nature and Environment] based at UCF is supporting a small publication based on our work during TEND.
    The material I predominantly work with is stone but also metals and sometimes film.

    David Paton [July 2008]

  2. I wonder if there is an inherent contradiction between a blog and the slow movement? I was all excited when I discovered this site. I made it the home page for my internet browser, I read all the articles, I made a couple of comments. But a couple of weeks on, I find that the website hasn’t been updated with new comments or content. A blog is really something that should be updated daily, or very often. Otherwise we drift away…. But perhaps we are all too pressurized to keep up to date with the latest information all the time, and the slow movement should produce a slow blog? Blogs, and their friends the social networking sites, may be a revolution in sharing information and connecting people, but the message is that we should be available all the time. Do we really need this? I love what this site is doing, but perhaps a blog was the wrong approach?

  3. I suppose it depends on what expectation you have of a blog…I don’t think we have an expectation of how this may work, especially at a time of year that I would consider as ‘slower’. I think that we have all been trying to grab some of this slow summer time. Personally I don’t think it is the wrong approach, just an approach.
    Expect a new post very soon though.

    Helen

  4. Quick response:
    Having just discovered this site via Visual Artists Ireland, the ideas and questionings put out here are compelling as few others have been for me lately.

    Slow response to follow… later, more slowly

  5. SLOW>. yes something what should become a natural ingredient to our work, not always maybe put in the visiual of how the work/products looks, slow should go out of the statement style to a normal part of the work.

    I think there are some makers also really working with this. I am a designer and put emphases on slow in a social way. sustainable working and project with factories in ceramics and have a dialogue..

    i think blog is good.. keeping a base, platform people can have a look, to inform or share. For me design and crafts area all about dialogue and I think it would be great having a more platform for people to connect to each other like this and be able to work together.

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