Speed & Slowness


In 1986, I conducted an interview with Paul Virilio, published on Belgian Radio and Television as well as in the Canadian magazine Impulse about the speed space. Virilio said: "When we think of speed, we say it's the means of getting from here to there fast, it's the means of seeing the antipodes live when there's a game or of watching the Olympics in Los Angeles. But I say no to this. It's a milieu, and a milieu in which we participate only indirectly through the videotape machine after recording, through information, science and "robotized" systems".

Back then in 1986 it didn't come to my mind to ask Virilio about slowness, instead I asked: "You have mentioned fugacity. Another very important concept in the functioning of the magnetoscope is that of establishing a program of absence". Virilio responded: "Today we are living an era of intensive time: that is to say that new technologies lead us to discover the equivalent of the infinitely small in time. In previous times we were conscious, with telescopes, of the infinitely large and with microscopes, of the infinitely small. Today high speed machines allow us to comprehend the same thing in regard to time. There is an infinitely long time which is that of history. Then we have an infinitely short time, which is that of technology's billionth of seconds. I think the present finds us squarely between these two times. We are living in both the extensive time of the cities, of stories, of memories, or archives or writing and the intensive time of new technologies. That is the "program of absence", that is how we program our definitive absence, because we'll never be present that billionth of a second". Thus spoke Virilio.

I would like to propose that we urgently develop new notions of slowness in order to avoid such a "definitive absence." It is certain that more and more artists today, be they filmmakers, architects, designers, show interest in "slowness". 24 Hour Psycho created in 1993 by the British artist Douglas Gordon confirms this. In this video-installation there is no film-movement in the traditional meaning of the term. Moreover Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho seems to bring movement to a stop altogether.

This process may be produced in the work itself through certain technical means or can be produced – an effect/affect – in the observers' cognitive process of perception. Our view of the world is luckily enough not determinated by machines solely, but by certain modes of perception, long since internalized, that form the basis of the current acceleration as well as deacceleration of things.This observation leads us back to Heidegger and the ideas he expressed about time. We can find his "influence" back in recent videos and films by Jean-Luc Godard, from Sauve qui peut la vie to Histoire(s) du Cinema, who, inspired by a.o. Jean Cocteau's Orpheus, is equally fascinated with acceleration and de-acceleration. For Heidegger, Cocteau and Godard art then is a form of resistance, resisting.time. Slowness is an important part of this organized resistance as it performs a new kind of subjectivity.just as today, organized stopwatch time has nearly disappeared from everyday life. Photographer Ari Marcopoulos recently documented in the form of a photobook the daily life of a group of snowboarders – as Orpheus characters of the xxist century –, they told him: "Our world is moving at a cultural speed which cannot be measured by traditional chronology. Who wants to look at watches when it's time coded anyway."

Milan Kundera asked in 1995 in his novel Slowness: "Why has the pleasure in slowness disappeared?" I would say, that pleasure not only has come back, slowness is a also new strategy and an important tactic as a practice of every day life! My friends travel around the world to enjoy "slow" holidays full of underwater activities, scuba diving as a rite de passage? How slow do you go? I would also like you to appreciate Marc Newsons'or Zaha Hadid's designs as "slow" morphologies. "Slow" designs for new sportswear reflect the massive media attention for slow motion effects – occupying nearly 75% of every sportbroadcast. The timbre of Japanese noise-music gets unmistakably slower! Some of my composer friends also state that their music tends to be "slower". As "slow" as the time architecture of Toyo Ito? The L - XL books of Rem Koolhaas and his followers get XXL, as do recent photobooks by Taschen. Is "thickness" the same as "slowness"? Won Kar Wai's films but other Asian films as well suddenly celebrate slowness – in those films we get confronted with less cuts as well as much "longer" screenings! 

With regards to the new Asian cinema, slowness turns out be "sexy". As sexy as the slow, rigid yet elegant, movements of Martin Margiela's and Ann Demeulemeesters's models. Richard Hamilton's "readings" are yet another expression of "slow histories". And what about the – admittedly sometimes self imposed – slow movements of refugees – those innumerable people knocking on heavens' doors! – waiting in camps in order to get transferred to yet another camp. Recently business newspapers herald, in view of the rapidly changing/devastating economy, the arrival of slow management-techniques. In all these examples physical movement is literalized as a conceptualizing metaphor of moving as affect, evoking stains in the surrealist sense – think of projected art works by James Coleman and William Kentridge. The double image of the verb "moving" is literally at work when we speak about slowness. Speed then is the false liquidation of art, instead slowness seems a becoming of utopia. Slowness is "thought" time. Our love grew slowly! Such a train of thought presupposes the existence of time like an empty vessel that can be more or less filled, just as one can live a "full" or "empty" life in the same amount of time or can use the time available for solving a problem. Our love is endless! It is as such that we should be able to think of slowness: as a logical continuation or logical expression of Virilio's intensive time. Maybe slowness will then become a new theatre of thinking and thus a theory.