Passions of the will to boredom

I have taken today’s post title from Julian Jason Haladyn’s wonderful book Boredom and Art: Passions of the Will To Boredom (2015), which I have read with pleasure. Haladyn is, effectively, speaking about more than just boredom and art. To me, there is a lot about the politics of modernity in it, and several of Haladyn’s ideas and thoughts are an answer to the question of why people walk out of the cinema when they see a slow film.

What I found most striking, though actually most obvious (so obvious that we may never think of it these days) is the way modernity has changed our attitude. Haladyn uses the train journey, now a famous example, to illustrate this. He proposes that modernity, in the form of a train journey, has lead to people placing emphasis on expectations rather than on presence. If you think about it, during a train journey, or any journey for that matter nowadays, whether it’s by train, by car or by plane, you are expecting your arrival at the destination. This is what your mind is focused on (if it can focus at all during a time of transit). Expectation overshadows presence. Because you’re in transit, you can no longer appreciate being in there here and now because time and space is persistently shifting. If there’s one major thing that has changed for us through modernity, then it is the fact that we have lost the ability, perhaps the opportunities even, to be present.

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This is one section of life, where slow, contemplative films are intervening. Even though Haladyn does mention the films of Andy Warhol and Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, he makes too little a case for cinema in general. However, there is a major case to be made about the nature of Slow Cinema as a tool for allowing us to return to the pre-modern feeling of being present at and with something. The long-takes, the wide shots of nature, the focus on character development, or even the running time, which is at times excessive (you know whom I’m talking about!) – all of those give us, the viewer, the opportunity to let go and just be. I argued in an earlier post that, to me, slow films are the real escapist cinema because they allow me to get away from the hectic modern life that is too fast, too noisy, too stressful. This is precisely where my two thoughts merge. It is escapist precisely because it allows me to be present, to be in the here and now, to breathe with the film, which nothing in modern life (apart from a Buddhist retreat and meditation, and perhaps yoga) can give me.

For some reason, a parallel between slow films and Duchamp’s readymades shaped up in my head while reading Haladyn’s book. Duchamp’s works were outrageous at the time, and perhaps they still are. Remember his famous toilet? There’s nothing arty about it. In effect, he has taken it and made a piece of art out of it. He showed us the ordinary in life, which we no longer notice. Perhaps this wasn’t his real intention, but I read it this way. The readymades are ordinary elements. They’re already there, nothing needs to be done, apart from putting them into a spotlight. Duchamp’s strategy, I find, is very similar to what slow film directors to, too. I’m aware that films are, more often than not, constructed pieces. There is an involvement of the artist evident, especially in highly experimental films. Yet, what slow films show is the mundane, the everyday, the life we all live without actually noticing it. What these films show are readymades. That also goes for the characters who are often no more than themselves – non-professional “actors” who play themselves, who do what they usually do, only in front of a camera.

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Haladyn cites Frances Colpitt, who made a very good point about Warhol’s films, but it is a point that can be equally applied to slow films. She writes, “Boredom necessarily describes the spectator’s state of mind rather than any characteristic of the object. The root of the problem is in the unpreparedness of the audience, most of whom were not familiar with the theoretical concerns of this highly conceptual art.” Colpitt is correct in arguing that boredom is a state of mind of the viewer and the artwork in itself is not boring. Haladyn proposes two approaches to a “boring” piece of art. He describes them as yes boredom and no boredom. The latter is a refusal of letting yourself float with the artwork, a refusal of trying to find or make meaning. Following Haladyn’s description of no boredom, it is to me a refusal of engaging with a work of art, or a film for that matter. Yes boredom, on the other hand, means that the viewer engages with an object. If there’s no obvious meaning, then the viewer is ready to create something, or at least s/he tries to. This is very much what the annual Slow Art Day is doing, or allowing you to do.

What is happening with slow films, and their rejection of it, is, in effect, no more than an expression of no boredom on the side of the viewer. It is an inability to be, to breathe, to be present. Those who walk out have no intention to do a bit of work. They have no intention to create meaning. They have no intention to engage with what is in front of them. Engagement with a work of art does not necessarily mean that you like it. Of course, you can dislike slow films. Yet, those films need to be engaged with in full first, and the reason for dislike cannot be “it’s boring”, because then you haven’t tried to engage with it. Two UK film critics walked out of the Lav Diaz Berlinale screening after two and three hours respectively (which is fatal, because Diaz’s long films only begin to get really interesting after three hours). Diaz takes it with humour, of course. At the same time, he said that people needed to sit through the full length of his films before they should express their opinion. Only then have they really tried to engage with the film. This is not only true for Diaz’s films, but for any slow film. Yes boredom!

Review: On Slowness – Lutz Koepnick (2014)

The contemporary hype around slowness in all its forms has filled shelves in bookstores for several years now. Most of these books are a kind of self-help strategy for stressed-out people, who wish to slow down their lives. I tend to flick through them only to return them to the shelf again. I don’t really believe in these books, because I think that a book alone cannot slow down your life. The only slow books I have read where written by the wonderful Carl Honoré, whose books are superb and not self-help manuals as such. On the contrary, they make you smile.

With recent (academic) books on Slow Movies and monologues on specific filmmakers, such as Béla Tarr, I thought Lutz Koepnick’s endeavour to write a book on slowness in contemporary art was daring. If you remember, I had a rather unpleasant experience with Ira Jaffe’s book, so I hoped that someone would finally do some valuable and serious work on slowness. For some reason it feels as if everyone wants and does write on slowness (in whatever field) without really bringing something new to the debate. Writing on slowness runs in circles, which is not helpful to its reputation as being ‘boring’.

Koepnick’s book is the refreshing work that the field needed. It’s a pleasure to read and this is mainly the case because it is unique in its approach. Current literature considers slowness isolated from speed. While writers all agree that slowness stands in opposition to speed, it is almost impossible to find a piece of work that argues along the line of slowness being a part of speed. Without speed there wouldn’t be slowness and vice versa. It feels as though Koepnick has put this at the heart of his work, and it is this that makes reading On Slowness so very refreshing.

Think of Futurism, for instance. Futurism was perhaps the beginning of our contemporary obsession with speed. Now we have Slow Art, Slow Cinema, Slow Education. Futurism introduced the complete opposite of everything. Futurist thinkers loved speed. It was an exciting thing to experience. This is how the story goes anyway. What I found remarkable, and this stands at the beginning of Koepnick’s book, is that the author approached Futurism from a slow angle, seeking instances of slowness in an age of high speed. Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus found its way into the book, the angel with the open wings standing amidst a speedy flow of progress and history. The angel is not slow, but the angel stands for stillness. In fact, throughout the book, Koepnick does not so much argue for the use of the word slow. More important to him is the fact that ‘slowness’ opens a complex relation of opposing temporalities, the result of which we can find in the artworks he focuses on in his book.

The idea is to see ‘slowness’ in speed. As already pointed out, we tend to forget that these aren’t entirely separate from each other. An example for this is Koepnick’s in-depth study of open shutter photography, which I personally found the best chapter of the entire book. In open photography, both speed and slowness come together. Koepnick approaches this form of photography from the angle of slowness. He refers to the work of Michael Weseley, for instance, who is known for his spooky photographs of train stations. Say, there is a train from Cologne to Berlin. He would set up the camera on the platform at Cologne train station and open the shutter when the train leaves. He would only close the shutter when the train had arrived in Berlin. The result is spooky, but stunning. Another example is the work of Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. His photographs of cinema auditoriums are the result of a very similar approach. He opened the shutter when a film started to play on the screen, then closed the shutter at the end of the film.

Photography is known for its instantaneous nature. Then there is time-lapse photography, which brings home the idea of photography as being a ‘fast’ form of art. Where do we position open shutter photography? When I read through Koepnick’s arguments I was amazed by this. It made perfect sense to see this as slow photography. But then, is it really? You still capture speed, you capture movement over a long period of time, so in some ways Weseley and Sugimoto use slowness/time to capture speed/movement. Thus, Koepnick’s suggestion that different temporalities are connected in slow works becomes most explicit and obvious in his chapter on photography. He does not go into detail about the actual speed that is captured on the ‘slow’ photographs. Yet as a reader, you can go through the process in your head and you can see that open shutter photography, while being slow at first sight, is actually just one form of time. It is a complex construct of different temporalities. Using one word – slow or fast, regardless – is not entirely correct.

In another stunning analysis Koepnick combines speed with slowness. Tom Tykwer is known for his fast films, especially Run Lola Run (1998). How would you describe the film? I would describe it as a ‘film on speed’, in many ways. And yet, Koepnick makes it his task to see the corresponding slowness in the film, analysing the slow-motion scenes as well as the fact that Tykwer’s characters never have the latest technologies, which we would now regard as contributing to today’s speed. It is those small things that I never thought of. For me the film is fast and a perfect illustration (as far back as 1998) of the growing speed in and of society. But this isn’t what it is exclusively.

Koepnick sees the unseen/invisible in his book. He shows that there is no such thing as ‘just slow’. Slowness is rather one form of temporality which contributes to the complex, multiple layers of time we are confronted with every day. The funny thing is, I have argued a similar thing in my thesis in regards to Lav Diaz’s concentrationary universe, in which he shifts freely between ‘slowness’ and brief interludes of shocks that seem to speed up time. So we’re both on the same page. It’s just not as clear in my words as yet.

Not all chapters have the same quality, but Koepnick’s book is a real must-read if you want to learn more about slowness in contemporary art, or about temporality in art in general. It is an insightful study of how time is dealt with in several art forms – photography, cinema, video – so there’s something for everyone.

On Slowness, by Lutz Koepnick (2014) – now available on Amazon.

Slow Art Cinema

This is a brief post to say that an article by me was published on the Slow Art Day blog. Some of you may remember the short article “A cinematic approach to Slow Art with Nadin Mai” from 2013, which Naomi Klein assembled based on a few questions. This article now goes a bit further than the original, and is a very basic (slow) investigation into the links between Slow Art and Slow Cinema, as I do not see them as separate entities. On the contrary. I don’t think we can study one without taking the other into consideration.

Unfortunately, I cannot reblog the post, so I have to redirect you to the Slow Art Day blog, where you can find my article. Happy reading, but do take your time with it!

Slow Art Day 2014

I would like to remind all readers of my blog of this year’s Slow Art Day, which will take place on 12 April. The idea behind it is easy: slow down, and take your time with looking at a piece of art. Rather than passing by, skimming a painting, you take a good five to ten minutes to look at the details. In many cases, the artwork will start talking to you. Metaphorically, of course.

Slow Art Day is an international event. We have more than 160 venues so far from across the globe taking part in it. Some countries are unfortunately underrepresented, and I’m hoping to reach out to those, who are interested in the event but have never heard of it.

Let me briefly quote from the organisers’ website:

One day each year – April 12 in 2014 – people all over the world visit local museums and galleries to look at art slowly. Participants look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience. That’s it. Simple by design, the goal is to focus on the art and the art of seeing.

Everyone can become a host. It’s easy. Just sign up on the website, tell us where you would like to host, and then we add you to the list. You get an Eventbrite page, which you can use to advertise your event.

Having organised a Slow Art Day last year, I can assure you that it’s a fantastic thing to do. It shows you art in an entirely different light. It is astonishing what you see, if you just take your time.

I will organise this year’s event at the University of Stirling, Scotland. If you are around, feel free to join me and my group.

Please circulate the news widely, and please become involved. Again, it’s a wonderful thing. You will not regret it!

Any questions, please get in touch with me [theartsofslowcinema@gmail.com] (I’m UK and Ireland outreach), or contact the main organisers behind the event through their website.

Slow Art Day 2014

This is only a short entry to inform you about next year’s Slow Art Day. Those who are not yet aware of this wonderful day of slow-looking should check out the group’s website for more details. Or maybe even become a host in your hometown. I’m in the (slow) process of posting invitations to museums and galleries in the UK. The first 40 invitations have been posted. And yes, I mean ‘posted’. I began reaching-out via emails until I received loads of Out Of Office replies. I thought that it’s too easy not to read the email. Besides, once museum directors return from their holiday, an email from something that contains ‘slow’ in the subject is probably the last thing they would open. Hence, traditional letters.

Slow Art Day aims at giving you a unique insight into art by asking you to look at artworks slowly. You will spend more time looking at a painting that you would have perhaps ever imagined. But this long look gives you a very different kind of access to the artwork, maybe even to the painter behind the artwork. You allow yourself time to see, to let the experience happen to you.

Last year’s Slow Art Day was a huge success. Even the Wall Street Journal picked it up. More and more museums and galleries around the world take part in it. Together we can help making it even bigger.

I for my part will host next year’s Slow Art Day at the University of Stirling. Similar to this year, I will choose from a range of artworks, from painting to sculpture. The advantage of Stirling is that I can slow down the process of looking even more by choosing artworks spread over the whole (beautiful!) campus, combining walks from A to B, watching squirrels and rabbits on your way to the next location. Obviously this depends on the weather. So does the lunch after the viewing. The vague plan is to have a BBQ, which would be a lovely thing to do at the end of the day. But I will only be able to confirm this closer to the day.

Until then, if you want to join me on the day, do register here for the event. I’d be happy to welcome you for a day of slow-looking.

The next step on the Slow Ladder

A few weeks ago, I have posted an entry about the success of the local Slow Art Day here in Dundee. I still feel like going back to the McManus and take an even longer look at one of the paintings. It has drawn me in so much that I can’t let it go anymore. I learned a lot about looking slowly and giving your eyes time to wander.

In general, the day had a positive outcome. I’m very proud of being an official volunteering member of the Slow Art Day group from now on. I will be the host outreach in the UK and help them with research projects they are starting. This is exciting for me. The UK was home to quite a few participating museums this year, but there could be more, and more people could benefit from looking slowly at art. I will try my best to increase the number of museums and galleries taking part in next year’s event.

In other news: Lav Diaz is on his way to the Cannes festival. He and Hazel Orencio, the lead actress in Florentina Hubaldo, had a farewell dinner with friends. For me, it is an obscure thought…slowness on the red carpet. But I will get used to it! There are more details about Diaz’s new film Norte emerging, though only in French. The film is about a man who is wrongly convicted of murder and put into prison. He comes to find his prison life more bearable, but his life is changed by a mysterious event.

To me, this sounds like a must-see film by Diaz again. It is the longest film shown in the category Un Certain Regard this year at Cannes. Surprisingly, this film doesn’t seem to be in black-and-white. The two screenshots that are available are in colours. I’ve never seen a Diaz film in colour, so I’m keen on finding out if the feel is different, and if yes, how. The colour should reduce the degree of simplicity. Poverty may not be as clear as it is in black-and-white either. But this turn to colour makes it even more interesting to me. It’s new, I’m excited.

Norte will be screened on May, 23rd at 11am (local time). I’m waiting for the reviews and from news from both Lav and Hazel, and will post updates here.

Slow – The Film

It’s been quite a while now that I got totally excited about Bovines, a French (slow) film about cows, made by Emmanuel Gras. It sounds ridiculous, but the film was amazing. I’m still fascinated by the beauty in each frame. Slow looking is not just about art, it is about everything in our surrounding. I guess, cows are a good example for this. We take them so much for granted that we don’t perceive their beings anymore. The last time we did that properly was when we were little and still explored the world around us. We have stopped doing this. Now we wonder what could possibly be so interesting about cows that you need to make a film about them. Well, Bovines gives you the answer. I strongly recommend this film.

There is now a smaller version of slowness in (German) cinemas. I’m speaking of Slow, a film made by Sascha Seifert, which depicts quite fittingly the life of snails. When I saw the trailer, I loved it instantly. It looks like a peaceful slow film about life in nature; the embodiment of slowness, far far away from mechanical clocks which have caused so much trouble that we now have to step back and create events like Slow Art Day to remind us that we’re moving too fast. Anyway, the film will be out in Germany on May, 23rd this year. Unfortunately, there is no release date for the UK at the moment. It would be great to see this at a festival one day. I’d love to make this happen.

Cows, snails…who’s making a film about sloths? You can always be slower. (Perhaps this is my destiny. I shall think this through…)

Reminder: Slow Art Day

It is so close. Twelve days, and we will celebrate the art of looking slowly. At art. Hence again the reminder that registration for the event in Dundee (Scotland) at the local McManus Gallery and Museum is still open.

The event takes place on 27 April 2013 from 11am to 2pm. After an initial meeting, participants will enter the gallery and look at at least five artworks for at least ten minutes. A list with the names and locations of the artworks will be circulated via email closer to the day.

Once we have spent roughly an hour immersed in art, we will meet up for a pub lunch and discuss our (slow) experience. You don’t need any knowledge of art in order to participate. Only patience and commitment.

It is important to me that you register on my eventbrite page as this will facilitate emailing you the list of artworks and further information about the event. Thank you!

Hope to see you on 27 April 2013 here in Dundee!