An appeal for slowness
On the hyper-consumption of art, non-linear time, snails and spirals
Art in a hyper world
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a piano suite that translates the visual experience of walking through an art gallery into music. In between the different sections/artworks Mussorgsky stops at, a recurring piece is featured — Promenade, which represents the composer himself strolling through the exhibition, each Promenade presenting variations that reflect the visitor’s state of mind according to the painting he has just seen: a happy, brisk walk at the beginning; a slow, reflective wander later on. Pictures at an Exhibition has a linear structure where the composer moves from one piece to another, observing each one carefully, getting lost in each one.
I have always loved museums and galleries, but sometimes (especially in bigger, crowded collections) my experience is far from a joyful promenade. The curiosity of wanting to know everything about every piece exhibited quickly turns into an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion, feeling like I will never get to give the attention that each work deserves as my brain gets progressively tired and carried away by the swarms of visitors.
Nowadays I feel that when I open Instagram. The flood of information and images that are forced into us when interacting with the app is something that is impossible to process. But going back for a moment to the museum example — we don’t go to galleries as often as we open the Instagram app, which makes us value our time spent there more by trying to immerse ourselves in the experience. The accessibility of digital feeds devalues the work we see in them. An artwork that has taken 12 hours to complete might only get 3 seconds of our attention before we skip to the next thing. And of course, the content is not just passively sitting there in a gallery, it is constantly battling to grab our attention. Add to the mix the unsettledness that comes from flicking from war news to cute cats to a recipe to a glimpse of a stranger’s life — I would say Instagram resembles more a twelve-tone serialism piece than Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
With hyper-consumption comes hyper-production, with artists not only generating fast-food versions of what they create, but fast-food versions that are often specifically adapted to the rigid format of social media (think about vertical short-form videos; or square comic strips that fit an Instagram carousel post; or even following trends just to stay relevant) — this is a lot of unpaid labor (and labor created outside the organic flow that artistic practice should be) that we are giving away while these platforms profit out of it and literally re-wire our brain and influence the way we create in their favour.
One of the reasons I have started this newsletter is to run away from the noise of social media. It is important that we reclaim slowness to tackle all things derived from living in a hyper world.
Slowness as a radical counterpart to fast, easy-to-consume media; not only in the way we create as artists but also in the way we interact with it as an audience. I invite you to give yourself a long break and let your brain de-tangle and digest everything you have seen today. Don’t let the media you consume unconsciously pile up. As an artist, try letting your ideas ferment! Play around, don’t execute your ideas immediately — let them simmer like a good stew in a pot. And re-think fast-food, fast-fashion, next-day-delivery, and all things fast that can be slowed down in our daily life to reduce their social and ecological impact in this world.
Slowness might be seen as something negative in this era (considering there is always a sense of urgency in all regards), but I think it’s key in reconstructing a world where infinite accelerated growth is simply not possible (and we are already living the consequences of that). In systems where reactivity + impulsiveness is profitable, embody slowness, degrowth, localness. Create boundaries when urgency is demanded, sit with your thoughts, appreciate the small steps, mend and take care of things. Be patient with yourself and your processes, and understand others’. Developing slowness and patience can be a beautiful act of presence, empathy and kindness.
Spirals and our notion of time
I have been noticing lots of spirals in my life lately — in images, in real life, in patterns. Spirals symbolise energy in movement, constant change and transformation, a reconciliation of two different ways of conceiving time: the one that sees time as cycles (inspired by nature and its seasons and rhythms), and the one that thinks of time as a linear shape (based on the idea of constant progress, evolution, the arrow of time). While cyclical time has been present in many cultures since ancient times, linear time seems to be the predominant perception nowadays. But again, can we believe in eternal progress? Can we live alienated and unsynchronised from nature’s cycles? Is it viable to be stuck in a culture praising immediateness and the now (but not the kind of nowness that embraces being in the present moment)?
Spirals circle around a seed, a core, an eye following a cyclical progression where growth and rhythm marry. We might go round similar situations in cycles, but each time we are at a different level of understanding. “The spiral is the path that resolves conflict, allowing for balanced movement and natural unfolding, thus harmonious transformation can proceed” (ARAS, 2010)
Months ago, I drew a snail in my sketchbook, this little creature that encompasses symbols that challenge our perception of time (spirals) and our dynamics around time (slowness). As I pick up this idea again, I see a reflection of the version of myself that first put the pen down to draw it — now we are at the same point again, yet I am different.
Sources + Further reading
— Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, played by Vladimir Ashkenazy
— String Trio, Op. 20 by Anton Webern, played by the Emerson Quartet
— Slow living and degrowth | A personal reckoning by anattynook
— I Don’t Think Instagram Is Good For Artists and Why Zines Should Replace Your Instagram Feed by Holly Exley
— The problem with the Internet that no one is talking about by Struthless
— Comradery Co-Op (an alternative to social media platforms, and even Patreon)
— The Myth of Progress, An Interview with Paul Kingsnorth (Emergence Magazine)
— The spiral in The Book of Symbols. Reflections on Archetypal Images by The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS) (Taschen, 2010)
— The Spiralist by Dr. Kevin Dann (The Public Domain Review)
✸ Go back to your scribbles and half-baked ideas from months ago and create something using those seeds your past self planted
✸ Return to this place and this moment — notice that drop that quietly runs through the window instead of just seeing the rain
✸ Embrace boredom :-)
✸ I will be taking part in the Illustrator’s Fair in London next month (July 16th)! I’m very excited to be back in the city and I’m having lots of fun creating new products (that will eventually show up in my online store too!)
✸ These past few months I have been uploading some videos on my YouTube channel sharing my processes and art experiments. I’m looking forward to making long-format content in the future too :-) Still figuring things out.
Thank you for reading until the end! I hope you have enjoyed this first piece from the nest. You can also find me on my own website, my online shop, Instagram and YouTube. If you are able to, please consider getting a paid subscription to the newsletter ☻
Have a great day!
Weaving a nest; is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.