I am writing a piece about time and material and cast my mind back to this article that I wrote and was first published in Studio Magazine in the Fall/Winter issue of 2010…
A Slow Turn or a Fast Spin?
“the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.” T S Eliot
In 2007 I was commissioned to research, develop and curate a project for Craftspace, centered around notions of slow and relationships between the crafts and the slow movement. I continue to think this through and have found it a useful tool with which to explore practice. We might observe that there are some clear and obvious links to be made between the two arenas and at the same time ideas of slowness have been prevalent in the media. It can also be argued that a central anxiety of the crafts has been its relationship to the speed of modernity.
Quite quickly many of those involved in the project shifted their collective thought to think of nothing more than time itself, and this became the point from which the project developed. Living in a society where time is ordered and controlled, a desire to think about time in a more autonomous way surfaced, not slow, not fast or ever adopting the declaration ‘craft is slow’, but perhaps allowing for something more relational and experienced.
‘quick, quick, slow – the spaces made, rhythm and tempo, the different durations thought through and the resonance created between these spaces’
The intention for the project and through it’s satellite activities was to enable and explore an open look at slowness and the connection to making; and so a process of propounding began, putting ideas out there and receiving thoughts back. The Making a slow Revolution blog was set up in January 2008, an open space where people could post, read and respond to ideas. The space was also used as a research tool in the formation of the exhibition, to test and question and to hone and develop.
A year and a half later as the exhibition was installed for the first time and it became an entity in itself, I remember being struck by an overwhelming feeling of time stopping, that the thinking over a period of two years was suddenly embodied by the objects selected within a space of time and effectively this was now concrete.
As this first installation drew to a close and these feelings of concretion played in and out of my mind, I was taken back to a recorded conversation I had had several weeks before with the oral historian, Dr Linda Sandino, about my experience of curation. During this Sandino drew on the narrative metaphors I used to describe the project: the lines, threads and space in time, which she described as a chronotope whilst observing ‘the layering and a flexible form which is not just linear, perhaps a web?’
Emerging was an interconnected web that offered space for thinking through concepts of time. The literal threads in the exhibition seemed to have a connection through space and time, place and person to both literal and metaphorical webs both in a localised and globalised sense, a kind of ether(net) and inter(net) connecting through objects, words, people and actions.
It is these connections that have been so powerful, from the local, that have been forged through talk and developing ideas to the wider links made through the web, to the connections found in the objects and associations elicited through making in the gallery space and recorded or fed back through other work. There is an intertwining that has come into view and it made for a project that exists in multiple time frames and spaces.
‘The sensation of succession and so duration imbues human experience, providing it with its unique character. We are able to compare the present held in memory with the present as currently experienced’
This sense of succession, duration and sequence, embodied here, is also where there is a slowness or a slowing down, perhaps like a stop-frame animation or a piece of minimalist music. Voices and ideas layered through time and space but cut and spliced, mixed and melded in complex ways – so utterly in time and yet, at the same time, out of time.
In Neil Brownsword’s work it is hard to remove yourself from this sensation of succession and connection. The ceramic artist and practice-based researcher lives and works in Stoke on Trent, UK, the city where he grew up.
‘One of my earliest creative recollections is associated with being drawn to the innate plastic properties of clays dug from woodland behind my parent’s house in North Staffordshire. Awareness of the major presence of ceramic manufacture was further reinforced by growing up in a surrounding landscape that bears the scars of hundreds of years of industrial activity’
The ongoing and critical dialogue between his work and a greater industry through his material practice shows a deep connection to making and meaning over time and in place. Defining and re-defining through generations of material and making experience, conveying the loss of an industry that he and his family worked in whilst offering something new, profound and enlightening in turn.
This sometime metaphorical and narrative focus when designing objects and working with or repurposing of found or discarded materials in order to develop more layered narratives and meanings is the subject of David Gates’ work. In the exhibition Gates, a furniture designer and maker, uses the remnants of larger pieces of functional work and reclaims the industrial raw white-wear material of thrown away fridges, found on the streets of his native South London, to create ambiguous objects that ask you to question the very notion and purpose of furniture in our own lives.
‘Chair, table, ironing board – instrument or architecture? We see familiar materials, insides and outsides, tops and legs and ways of putting things together, perhaps the dovetails? This relational aspect brings the viewer’s interpretation into the process of the object finding meaning in it’s social life beyond the workshop, bringing forth remembrance and prompting possibilities in the imagination, fusing the past the future and the now. This work comes from furniture but can sit in our minds and in our spaces in many other ways’
Shane Waltener considers relational and participatory aspects of his working practice through installation. In Garland 21 Waltener installed the beginnings of a large audience driven piece of work, at the opening of the exhibition in Birmingham, through a dance piece choreographed by the artist and Cheryl McChesney Jones. It’s constructional material – remainders of woollen thread donated by the manufacturing company Brintons Carpets and used by the visiting public to continue progress of the piece.
Visitors to the exhibition spent long periods in the gallery space, often re-engaging with a making process that they thought they had forgotten – knitting, crocheting and adding to the real-time web that emerged. For some it appears that the making in the gallery not only re-kindled a desire to make but prompted memories of the past, of people, places and things previously made.
In Amy Houghton’s interactive installation ‘One centimetre is a little less than half-an-inch’ she takes a pseudo-forensic approach to understanding a piece of historical text. Taking apart and x-raying a letter, sourced from the Dovecot Studios’ archive on the Isle of Bute, she began to understand something about the person who wrote it. For Houghton knowing how to unpick a textile has enabled her to think through other objects – to take them apart both physically and metaphorically.
‘I like the idea of going backwards – the unmaking; in going backwards you have a sense of what the person has been through. At points you will see things that only that person would have seen at the time of making, and there is a real sense of physical connection’
It is through the public interaction with her installation that yet another layering has occurred, through the poems, letters and thoughts left on it’s 1920s typewriter and gathered through the exhibition.
‘Wonderful how the threads come together. The past with the present and then to the future. Typing on this typewriter, the technology of the past connected to the present and now part of my future…My mother is a seamstress and has been for many years. I grew up surrounded by the noise of the sewing machine long into the night. The endless pins and needles found in the carpets, around the home. Sometimes we ended up cursing her when one ended up in our feet…I smile now but, it wasn’t funny at the time. This is a timely exhibition for me, my mother has been diagnosed with cancer and does not have very long to live now. So the threads and the peace of the movement bring in a little calm to me. It helps me make sense and bring some happiness to another wise sad time. Thank You’
This dialogue, conversation and discussion whether silently conveyed through an object changing or being added to over time, or through spoken and written word has remained key to the development of the project. Russell Martin was commissioned to develop the project Analogue during the run up to the exhibition opening – a visual artist and writer he works with dialogue as a medium. It has been through his surfacing of stories that Martin has sought to make connections in space and time and it is within this virtual space, contained on the Making a Slow Revolution blog, that the collected voices of so many will continue to resonate.
‘…both mind and the psyche require internality. In order to reflect on a problem or build an argument we need to turn mental attention inwards, to mull over ideas and let the mind wander; to sift the important from the trivial; to follow thoughts in their course and consider the disjunctions and connections between them’
It is the importance of this internality, balanced with a deep external understanding of our world and both local and global conditions encountered, that the Slow project has aimed to reveal. Where through making, making connections and having space for deeply reflective periods in time that a time change appears to take place. Here fast becomes slow and slow becomes fast and stepping out of a known time and entering another time frame is tangible.
© Helen Carnac 2010. Studio Magazine.