Speed & Slowness

Symposium "Speed and slowness"

The symposium "Speed and slowness" was held at the Teatro dei Leggieri in San Gimignano on the 13th of October 2002.

Chris Dercon: I'd like to begin by briefly introducing the people taking part in the debate. Michelangelo Pistoletto, well-known artist and also the founder and director of an artistic and political movement, which he will tell us about this evening. Jeff Preiss, as some of you will know, is one of the world's most famous commercial directors. He is the man behind Nike and America Express commercials. Thanks to people like Jonas Mekas and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Jeff Preiss has also become very well-known in a field he has loved since he was a kid, experimental cinema. 
Another person who plays many different roles is Deimantas Narkevičius. He started out as a painter and sculptor, but at a certain point decided he wanted to tell stories. It was then that he discovered the cinema. At the moment he is faced with something of a problem, because he has one foot in contemporary art and another in the cinema. Not only is he presenting his work here at San Gimignano, but in a couple of months' time, he will also be showing it at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. 
If there is one thing we all have in common, it is our fascination with duration and the negotiation between slowness and speed. I believe this is the most important definition of the collaboration between media and arts today. That is the reason we decided to talk about this theme tonight.

Hans-Ulrich Obrist: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I'd like to thank Chris for his kind words, and also the artists, the organizers and museum in progress. I'd like to start by saying something about the origins of museum in progress. museum in progress appeared on the art scene at the beginning of the 1990s with an exhibition organized in the Austrian daily paper, Der Standard, when the paper hosted shows for which artists produced multiplied works. Right from the beginning, I found this dimension very interesting, above all the idea of a museum that was not exclusively bound up with objects or walls, but which was open and could happen anywhere. In fact, Josef Ortner and Kathrin Messner have defined museum in progress as a small office where there are newspapers, where projects are created with posters, a place where events can be organized in the cities and spaces of the mass media. 
Starting with these initial projects, we then began to work together, and over the years museum in progress has continued to open up new spaces. For over ten years now, every week an artist does something on a page in the Der Standard, which is seen by tens of thousands of people. Other papers in Europe have also begun to get involved in the project. There is the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, and now we are very pleased that here in San Gimignano, for the first time in Italy, a space has now opened in this country as well.
Besides the space offered by papers, museum in progress then began working with billboards. Billboards are a medium that have often interested artists. However, they are often put up in only about five, maximum ten different places. museum in progress decided to organize a campaign and to put up the posters of an artist in hundreds of different sites. A project was organized which involved artists producing billboards once a year, which were then put up all around Vienna. After a while, they could also be seen in other cities.
museum in progress' next step was to occupy other unusual sites. In fact a show can take place in all kinds of unexpected places – as the great Austrian writer Robert Musil once said, art can be precisely where you least expect it. So museum in progress began to organize shows in aeroplanes as well. For many years shows were organized in spaces belonging to Austrian Airlines. 
Subsequently other spaces were also pinpointed where the work of artists collaborating with us could be exhibited. For instance, five or six years ago Joseph called me and said there was a space at the Opera in Vienna on the iron safety curtain, seen every day by people going to the Opera. It was a very interesting 'waiting room' because lots of people wait at least half an hour in front of that iron curtain. Now, thanks to the intervention of Museum in Progress, a show is mounted on that space every year. It is not, then, just a question of using alternative spaces, but also of experimenting with another temporality, because the work stays up for a year, and not for a month as usually happens. Some shows organized by museum in progress last just a few days, others for several years. I think that if it is possible to identify a link between museum in progress, Chris Dercon and my idea of a museum show, this can be traced to the thinking of Alexander Dorner – the great early 20th-century director of the Hanover museum and a museum theorist – and his view of the museum of the twenty-first century. Dorner's thinking has always been very important for Joseph and Kathrin, who compare the museum to a Kraftwerk, in other words a place where energy is produced, a place where you are not in a certain space, but where you also encounter uncertain spaces. The museum becomes a laboratory for new exhibition forms, a laboratory for new experiments. 
In his role as Director, Chris Dercon has completely transformed the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and made it into a point of encounter for all disciplines. In fact, as Alexander Dorner said, we cannot understand the forces operating in the visual arts field if we do not look to other disciplines as well. The Boijmans is one of the few places in the world where it has been possible in recent years to see these links between disciplines. More and more the Boijmans has become a Kraftwerk, and in keeping with this Dornerian logic, Dercon decided to make it the first museum to house the archive of museum in progress. In fact, in one room of the Boijmans, there is a permanent archive with all the projects that have been produced. This is updated every month. Alexander Dorner explained this museum of the future in his book Ways beyond Art, and in a sense this was the inspiration that brought us all together in this project.
I would like to conclude on this note, thanking everyone and inviting the artists to contribute to the debate.

CD: There is so much to be said about art and media, but one aspect that interests us in particular tonight is that of slowness. Today, looking at the Giornale di San Gimignano and Der Standard, I couldn't help thinking about a beautiful work by Michelangelo Pistoletto from the 60s, where he and his friends made a sphere of newspapers, which was dragged through the streets of Turin. And as we were watching the films of Deimantas and Jeff Preiss, I was also thinking of Michelangelo's manifestos in which he has talked about working with time, working for time, working before time and against time. This brings me to what I think is one of most important topics of the 20th century, namely that – thinking of the work of Pistoletto, Jean Luc Godard, Jean Cocteau and Heidegger – art is a way to resist time. I would like to ask Michelangelo: when you look back 30 or 40 years, what was your fascination with slowness and with acceleration? What was your fascination with time and with art as a way to resist time?

Michelangelo Pistoletto: I discovered the time dimension in 1961, when I made my first mirror pictures, that is when the canvas became reflective. The mirror took me from the spatial dimension of visual art to a temporal dimension. In fact, everything that happens in the mirror is actual and alive. It changes and evolves. It is the present continuous. From a filmic point of view, you could say that the mirror is a film shot at 34 frames a second. It is the film of the present. It is very difficult to escape from this present and from this dimension, which captures each moment in a constant transformation. It is very difficult to get away from this phenomenon of the present. I made pictures in which there is a photographic image fixed on top of mirror surfaces. This work began in 1961–62, but it is still a fundamental theme for me today. Photography is always somehow past and memory. Photography does not belong to the present, it is archive and documentation. A photographic image is therefore memory. The moment in which it is taken, in which it is reproduced, the photograph is no longer part of this moment. It belongs to the past, which we try to carry along behind us, which we want to make present through the memory of something that has moved us, the reason why the photograph was taken.
Photography, living with the mirrored figures, emphasizes the constant and immediate passage between past and present. The awareness that someone will be mirrored in the work – in a few moment's time, in a year, or that someone not yet born will come into it – indicates that the future is already in the picture. So what we have, technically and phenomenologically, is the filmic presence of the future, of the present and of the past. This is the condition of tension I have had to deal with. It is the truth of the present that slips away, of the present that returns and therefore the idea of life and death itself, because every instant dies and every instant is born. So, we have the phenomenon of a life that has no need to last as long as it lasts, but which needs to last at least that instant. This is the artistic situation which brought me face to face with life itself, with the problems of politics, of being and of non-being. 
With the Love Difference movement I have finally found an activity shifted out of the usual context in which I operate, which places me alongside the future, in order to try not to make it go in the direction that everyone thinks it should go. So I invented the bull-fighter's step. Banality moves in a straight line, power moves in just one direction. The bull-fighter is not like the bull, which sees red and goes straight at it. The bull-fighter moves around and triumphs with the intelligence of the movement. It is necessary to shift time, it is necessary to move around in relation to the political directions of the times. This is a little bit the basis of all my successive work. 

CD: I don't think we could have had any better introduction to duration and time than Michelangelo's. He immediately got rid of the clichés of speed and slowness. He brought to the fore some very crucial philosophical ideas which are also important to understand the current fascination both of filmmakers and of the public for long takes, for long films, for so-called slow films. We will come to that in just a moment, but first of all I have a little question for Michelangelo. Do you now also accept that with your new work – the political movement – that your work, actions and results will be much slower and that they will take much more time to have an effect and to become effective? Do you accept that? Is that the idea of the life of time and the time of art?

MP: Life of time, life of art, or we might also say time of art-in-life, how art can spend its time in being involved in life. This is a time that we don't know. It's a surprise, it's a risk that art takes by delving more closely into life. The time that art will take to enter into this dimension of a pertinent and probing relation in life is what really interests me. Creating Cittadellarte, and with it an activity that really places art on the plane of social responsibility, I created an artistic movement for an intermediterranean politic called Love Difference. It is not a political movement, but it is an artistic movement, for the first time one that everyone can be involved in. Even those who are not artists can participate in an artistic movement, because it is an artistic movement that is grounded in the social. So everyone is in some way a creative element, an element of responsibility, as is the artistic element. The question was about how this work moves in time. I have fixed a kind of time period, to see what happens in a 10-year period between 2001, the year in which we started, and 2011. Ten years of verification. One never knows whether something has worked or hasn't worked, because things pass. I want to see what we have managed to accomplish in ten years' time. This project can therefore be defined as a kind of archive of the future. 

HUO: I have another question for Michelangelo, which concerns the Mediterranean aspect of the movement. A few months ago I was talking with Claudio Magris about the idea of the Mediterranean as a space of differences. Talking about resistance against the standardization of temporality that there is in the context of globalization, Edouard Glissant has proposed other models that do not lead to the standardization of time and space. I would like to ask you, then, to talk a little bit about this aspect, about the Mediterranean as a space of difference, or as Eduard Glissant would say, "Mondialife" as opposed to homogeneted globalization.

MP: When I started transforming the canvas into a mirroring picture, I realized that differences and not standardization are the law of nature. Standardization is not the law of nature, the truth lies in difference. Each moment is different, every person that steps in front of a mirror is different. If we look around us in this room, there aren't two people with the same nose, the same mouth, the same voice. The truth is diversity, not standardization. When we have been tempted to standardize, we have created monsters, Nazism, perverted communism, terrible situations. Unfortunately this also happens with religions, which sometimes end up standardizing to such an extent that they produce conflict, war and drama between various standardized forms. In my view, the Mediterranean is the place where all these differences really exist, and which relates the history of time and of a civilization that grew in the Middle East and then in the West, producing some wonderful fruits, but which is still the site of the most extreme conflicts. Why am I talking about the Mediterranean? Not because Love Difference, an artistic movement for an intermediterranean politic, is intended to be linked exclusively to the Mediterranean. Love Difference is a universal concept but one that relates closely to the Mediterranean. I would like the movement to be an active movement, one that works to transform. There are some great initiatives all over the Mediterranean, but there is also a lot of chatter, talking, philosophy, lots of theory. Whereas it is necessary to activate art in the direction of reality, to enter the 'veins' of the real. I think this is a great responsibility for Italians and for everyone that wants to support this project.

HUO: I would like to ask Deimantas to tell us a little bit about notions of time, of going beyond the clichés of speed and slowness. A few months ago I had another discussion on this topic with Hanne Darboven and I asked Hanne if her highly time-based art is slow. She was very against this idea of her art being considered slow, and she said that it's not about slowness, it's about duration. So, Deimantas, I would like to ask if you could maybe tell us about the notion of duration in your films and maybe also about the time-based notion of memory. As the scientist Rosenfield shows in his work, memory is not static. Memory is dynamic. 

Deimantas Narkevičius: For 50 or 60 years, the area where I was living was disconnected from the rest of the world. Time was slow, in fact I would say it was practically at a standstill. And then suddenly, at the beginning of the 90s, things changed radically and everything speeded up. The social transformation was really dramatic. What was interesting for me was that for half a century the country was closed and disconnected from the rest of the world. It's not that nothing happened, but rather that individual activities reflected time. When I started my narrative works – which then became short films – I was looking for individuals who had lived through that time, in so-called slow time. I realized that they did not think it was important or at least that this was reflected in artistic practice. This aspect emerged when I started documenting what happened, documenting time, narration, the visual. And I saw that when you document, when you use photography and film, it is always necessary to create a relationship with the spectator. So I made simple films in which there was an open structure that provides information for the viewer entering this specific context. There is the effort of documenting narration and time, and the effort of the viewer.
I have spoken with a number of well-known directors who are important for me, for example the German director Werner Herzog. If I'm not mistaken he has made about 50 feature films. The last one was slated, at least in Germany. I think it is quite a good film, but what was really interesting for me was when he said: "I have made 50 films and in the last one, after having made 50 films, there is a kiss for the first time". There is always something very particular in a work. The creative process requires a lot more time than the presentation of an object, even if this is a film. The film we have seen this evening is about a strange situation, where a young sculptor has created an artistic object. But the film does not narrate the reason that has led him to make it, even though we know that he has had some very dramatic experiences. All individuals have their own reasons, which manifest themselves in their lives, and this is not necessarily art. In this case, the character has created an object, but the things that lie behind the creative act are much more interesting than the object in particular. 

CD: Jeff Preiss, you have worked for a long time both in experimental cinema, using the idiom of home movies, and in commercial cinema. You have worked on Bruce Weber's film and with many other famous directors and cameramen. You have also directed many commercials. Talking about your work over the summer, you said something incredibly intriguing: "I am not able to make a shot, longer than a couple of seconds". And yet the work you are showing in the Galleria Continua is not, to use a cliché, speedy, it is as slow as the work of Deimantas. What is slowness for you? And what is the difference between the slowness of Super 8, of 16 mm, of 35 mm, of the analogue image and the slowness of the digital image? 

Jeff Preiss: That's a very complicated question. But first let me say something about your comment regarding my work's relation to home movies since this is how I frame my relationship to cinema regardless of the context. My project has grown directly out of the typical kind of suburban amateur filmmaking I grew up with. As in all filmmaking it involves an attempt to condense what has been witnessed into a physical record of its own chronology but in home movies it exemplifies the neat, closed circuit between process, object and retransmission that models cinema mysterious multi directional representation of cognizance.
I'd say the issue of slowness we are looking at here should be addressed through the issue of duration ( and this is central to any discussion of cinema).
The great filmmaker Michael Snow said the single contribution cinema has made to the field of visual arts was its ability to control duration. All its other aspects existed previously in one form or another. Having a technology that appears to capture duration begs the "what is time?" question, a cliché that to me actually seems both essential and unanswerable. This has been the mission since Muybridge and it is referenced each time one encounters the mechanism of the movie camera. I was very fortunate to come across this machine as a kid and got to witness the complete process repeatedly. Recording through the camera/scope, sending the hidden, light responsive ribbon away to be chemically processed, retrieving the cinematic object that can then be retransmitted through the diametrically reversed technology of projection. This is how I know filmmaking, through its most obvious processes. Even when the projector is hidden in the booth this basic sequence is implied. The imagined trajectory back (thru the projector beam as arrow), and then further back to the image's implied inception is critical to a reading of their reconstitution. Cinema is a language of duration on many complicated levels. 

CD: But the way you approach duration is somehow mathematically defined…

JP: Well, I was very interested in the discussion of the mirror in regard to the phenomenon of placing a moving (durational) image into a time that does or doesn't correspond to the present. My interest in duration has less to do with math and more to do with meaning and perception but the material has to be controlled numerically. For instance, with new technologies the 24 frames per second paradigm seems to be on the way out but for filmmakers it has a kind of religious significance. I'm interested in the spectrum of perception that exists between the base still image unit and the illusion of time that is created in their sequencing. It's been pointed out that film doesn't really have a past tense, that images in duration are seen as coming out of one's own cognizance, in the moment (like a mirror). The still images that are its individual base components have an opposite effect when they are viewed as objects without duration.
To me there is a space between these two ways of perceiving a photographic image in time and there's the potential to work inside this scale of imagined temporal spaces. It's to this end that I use mathematical strategies. In the piece at the Galleria Continua for instance, there is a fight between the reconstructed chronologies that are moving forward and backward in time simultaneously. This is based on the duration of each individual image unit (in this case four frames) fighting for numeric dominance over the images that proceed or follow it in a pattern of repetition.

CD: Jeff, you're very well-placed to answer the following question: how come that after many examples of speed in cinema – things going faster in action films and with digital tools – that suddenly films tend to be longer and 'slower'. In short that slowness becomes very sexy. Is it something we need?

JP: No, I think the language is responding to the new underlying principals of digital imaging that are wholly different, in many ways opposite from film recording. For instance, in comparing film and digital, the notion of their subjective and objective aspects reverse themselves. Film references objectivity by virtue of the material presence of the image itself, within a kind of linear, material scroll that had been imprinted by an event in time. It is also confined to the physical limitations of an object and this necessitates somewhere a compression by montage and that in turn references the ambiguity of multiple implied directions of cognizance. Digital, on the other hand references subjectivity by virtue of an absence of any physical object containing the image. At the same time it appears (mistakenly) to represent the world objectively through its potential for continuous, open ended, real-time streaming images. In film, montage is a necessity while in digital it is an intervention. Paradoxically it is also an intervention in digital to reconstitute the chronologies in the order they were recorded. I think the long take (an aspect of what we are referring to here as "slowness") is referencing both this streaming image possibility while also making a choice to maintain a direct conceptual geography of "on camera" space to its assumed mirror image "off camera space", a clear route back to the supposed cognizance that is both seeing and recording the image before it. In the cut one loses not only the idea of the image as window but also the sense that the image itself thinks. This however creates a formal foundation whose logical conclusion would create images too long for anyone to view.
Digital has expanded the durational horizon into something unlimited, into something linked quite literally to the non-linear space of our own memory. So I think this technology has actually created a vocabulary of length and of so-called "real time" not necessarily slowness.
Here is where the film / digital dynamic parallels the issues of either propaganda or surveillance. Given the "live feed" possibility of digital there is an almost omnipresent suggestion of surveillance while at the same time it is against creating a model that can control you, that you enter into as if it is your own cognizance; again, more like a window or a mirror. My work has to do with the mind control effect of film; it has more to do with this constant inward and outward effect between what might be read as a subjective experience and then an objective one.
Cinema seems to spiral constantly around these paradoxes and contradictions as if there were a filter that you could always back through to get an inverse effect. For instance, slow-motion (a whole other kind of slowness that I don't think we're discussing here). In cinema this is accomplished almost metabolically, by a hyperactive camera over collecting data (I'm very curious to know why consumer digital has pretty much over looked this technical possibility). Depending on ones orientation, slowness and fastness turn out to equal one another.
The idea of representing shifting perspectives in time with all its implied paradoxes is always around us. It's among the most unexplained phenomenon that we are living with constantly…

CD: The last question is for Hans-Ulrich. In this archive by the Belgian artist Nico Dockx – the third one has now been published and besides slowness, archives are becoming very important –, you do an interview with the famous Iranian film-maker, Abbas Kiarostami, who makes very slow films with long takes, and you speak with him and with Hanne Darboven about new slowness. So what is the meaning of new slowness for you as a curator? Is Pistoletto a new slow artist? Is Jeff Preiss? Is Deimantas Narkevičius? Or have we got it all wrong? 

HUO: One of the things that I have recently found very interesting in a lot of artists' projects, in artists' production, is a totally new time of knowledge production. A new time of knowledge production which may be one year, it may be five years, Michelangelo talked of ten years. It is a totally new situation of research, the whole time frame of research. I find it very interesting that at the beginning of the 90s, we frequently had a year, two years, sometimes even three years to do research for an exhibition. At the end of the 90s, we faced a situation where very often curators and artists have five months to prepare a large-scale exhibition, and I think there is a need for strategies and working methods to resist this state of affairs, and one of the possibilities is to develop travelling schemes, travelling exhibitions which evolve in time, a kind of travelling research exhibition. There are lots of possibilities for resistance. I think the great answer are the projects of many artists. Michelangelo has presenting his 10-year project, and many artists nowadays are giving their own temporality to projects, they no longer dictate the time of their projects, but give their own time, which I think is also very much the case with the work of Jeff and Deimantas.
That is where I want to return the question to Chris. Perhaps you could tell us something about slowness in relation to the very complex project you are preparing in your dialogue with the Rotterdam Film Festival, where you will bring together art and cinema.

CD: I would like to wrap it up and answer by showing two examples of films which we are going to show in the Rotterdam Film Festival. I'm not interested in slowness and speed as cultural and instrumental conditions. What I'm very interested in is this notion – which I think Michelangelo and also Deimantas and Jeff have been speaking about so well tonight – that we have to come up with art that is able to resist time. And paradoxically, what better art is there than cinema as a weapon for resisting time? I think one of the reasons why we see so many dark rooms in museums, lunar wings (first we had only solar wings – daylight – and now we have also lunar wings, because we create darkness everywhere), one of the reasons why we have so many projections in our museums is that we want to grasp what a still image is. It is because we finally understand what a still image is that we need moving images in our museums. Otherwise I cannot explain to myself or to you the current fascination museums and the art world have for still photography. We all know that since the 60s photography has not been inspired by the world, but has been an imitation of, a means of, another expression of cinematography. It is precisely because we are finally starting to appreciate still images that we want to have moving images in our museums. And we want to grasp the optical apparatus too. The funny thing is that at the last film festival in Cannes, watching Le Fils by the Dardenne brothers and Arca Russa by Sokurov, we can see that filmmakers today are starting to invent new machines in order also to make moving images go slower or even to stop. Very interesting. Stoppage, repetition (what Jeff Preiss is doing), how to show a moving image as a photograph (as Deimantas is doing, with a voice over) – it's all a way not only to resist time, but also to appreciate more the still image. So I would like now to turn the lights down and to show you just a five-minute fragment of a film we co-produced in Rotterdam with Audience Idéal in Paris. It is the film "Elegy of a voyage" by Aleksandr Sokurov, the Russian film-maker, who made a fantastic film about art resisting time, it is a film about paintings by Breugel and Saerendam. And I would like, if my colleague Hans-Ulrich agrees, to wrap things up with this example. Please turn the lights down.