Letter from the Editor

March

By Naomi Riddle

28 March, 2018

‘We cultivate insomnia, a kind of vigilance against the violence of the world that is always on digital display…We live in 24-7 time, a cosmos where the distinction between night and day shrinks, where age-old circadian rhythms have given way to a block of undifferentiated moments.’
Anna Della Subin, Not Dead But Sleeping (2017), p. 103

‘There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.’
Milan Kundera, Slowness (1996), p. 34

 

At the media preview for the 21st Biennale of Sydney, I was seized by a sudden compulsion. It occurred at the same moment I uploaded a single image to Running Dog’s Instagram account—in picking one work from many, I had opened the floodgates. I spent the rest of the day overtaken with the belief that more work needed to be posted, more previews given, nothing left behind.

Literary scholar Maud Ellmann writes about the experience of aboulia, ‘a deterioration of the will’ in the face of uncontrollable movement. [1] It’s the feeling of sitting on a plane, completely immobile and contained, but also aware that your body is travelling at ridiculous speeds. For Ellmann, aboulia ‘[is] an expression of the utter helplessness of the human being in the midst of great masses in motion…a transport of will into the mechanical extensions and networks.’ [2] Ellmann is talking about modes of transportation, but aboulia can just as easily be applied to our contemporary moment, a moment defined by media saturation, data scraping, and the inability to find the chronological endpoint of a Facebook feed. It’s the dissemination of the will into a different kind of network; it’s the uncontrollable need to photograph, to comment and to share, and to do so with speed.

The month of March has seen not only the opening of the Sydney Biennale, but also Art Month, The Other Art Fair and the Keir Choreographic Award. For an arts publication, the opening of each new event brings with it the feeling that each must be covered quickly, before interest dissipates and the subsequent round of exhibitions takes over. And yet, what Running Dog wishes to maintain is an editorial position that runs counter to this.

After all, what is the ultimate purpose of arts writing if it is to be dictated by a frenzied rush to preview and report, to track the monthly cycles of exhibitions and festivals? What are the consequences of an artist’s success being determined not only by the work they produce, but also the frequency with which such new work is shown?

To be governed by speed is to cosy up to rashness, to quick critique, to certainty, and to be forever surveilling galleries and social media. What I am advocating for instead is the idea of slowness as a critical position, a position that privileges depth and rigour over speed. Slowness is labour and attention; it is a salve for the symptoms of aboulia. Given that capitalism creates ‘a world with the shallowest of pasts’, which relies and thrives on immediacy, then the position of slowness is also a political one. [3] Slowness runs counter to exponential growth; it is driven by the unsexy traits of temperance and retrospection.

What slowness asks for is often deemed a luxury, a marker of privilege, and, in online media, an unwise and naïve request: the ability to afford a response more time—more time for indecision, more time for contemplation.

It is a position I hold dear, because if, as Roland Barthes has suggested, ‘an excess of speed turns into repose’, and the experience of fast motion is simultaneously ‘defined by a coenaesthesis of motionlessness’; if, as Boris Groys has claimed, our compulsive desire to always experience the present moment also causes hesitancy and delay; if, as Chris Kraus has argued, the current culture of likes, followers and perpetual outrage carries with it not only a dopamine hit but a subsequent tranquilisation, then the opposite must also be true—to inhabit a position of slowness, to circuit-break the desire for immediate commentary and critique, to return and revisit, to look gently and with care, is the position that gives us the ability to move. [4]

 

[1] Maud Ellmann, Elizabeth Bowen: The Shadow Across the Page, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), p. 111-2
[2] p. 111-2
[3] Jonathan Crary as quoted in Anna Della Subin, Not Dead But Sleeping (New York: Triple Canopy, 2017), p. 103
[4] Roland Barthes, ‘The Jet-man’, Mythologies, (London: Vintage, 2009), p. 81; Boris Groys, ‘Comrades of Time’, e-flux (2009); Chris Kraus, ‘Ask TCI’, The Creative Independent (2018)