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The lead article in today’s New York Times, House & Home section, above the fold: The Slow Life Picks up Speed, by Penelope Green. Of course I love reading that the concept of Slow is viral and infectious in the best sense, extending beyond just food, cities and design into other areas of our lives. The creation credo of this blog is a memorable quote from art historian Robert Hughes (you can read it by going to the About page on this blog) and I continue to be inspired by what slow art can mean.

Here’s a few excerpts from Green’s article if you are new to this way of thinking:

The Slow Food movement…essentially challenges one to use local ingredients harvested and put together in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Above all it emphasizes slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life. “Good, clean and fair” is the Slow Food credo, and it has — rather slowly — begun to make its way out of the kitchen and into the rest of the house…Slow Food is now in its third decade, an established global movement with an official manifesto and about 85,000 members in over 100 countries…

Slow, as Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist living in London, pointed out, is sometimes just a state of mind. His 2005 book, “In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed” (HarperOne), collected all manner of slow movements, from tantric sex to Slow Food to the Society for the Deceleration of Time, a civic group based Austria that once called on Olympics organizers to award gold medals to athletes who had the slowest times.

“Sometimes it’s more of a click in attitude than anything else,” said Mr. Honoré, who once got a speeding ticket on his way to a Slow Food meal in Italy, where the movement was born.

Slow is also an idea, it seems, whose time has come. “When I was researching the book,” he continued, “if you Googled slow movement, there wasn’t anything. As a growing cultural quake it just wasn’t there. Now, of course, there are hundreds of sites, and every week I get an e-mail from a student wanting to write his or her thesis on slow cities or slow design.” As a result, traffic and queries at inpraiseofslow.com, Mr. Honoré’s blog, are overwhelming him, and he’s handing off his slow duties to Slowplanet, a Web site that he and Mr. Berthelsen are setting up together. “The time is now ripe for trying to formalize this slow revolution,” Mr. Berthelsen, the founder of the World Institute of Slowness, an advocacy group based in Kristiansand, Norway, said…In his lectures to corporate Europe, Mr. Berthelsen, urges workers to work smarter, not faster or harder, and to become more aware of the process than the product. “I always lived under the mantra that the fast will beat the big … but the slow will beat the fast.”
In a world on hyperdrive, science is proving him to be right. A 2005 study sponsored by Hewlett-Packard showed that the I.Q.s of workers who responded quickly to the constant barrage of e-mails they received during the day fell 10 points, more than double the I.Q. drop of someone smoking marijuana.

“Fast isn’t turning us into Masters of the Universe,” Mr. Honoré said. “It’s turning us into Cheech and Chong”…

“Slow is just a new word to understand old problems,” Mr. Honoré said. “It’s a re-freshening of ideas that have been there since time immemorial. But there’s a new appeal about the word slow. It’s pithy, it’s countercultural.”

But it may not be American. Mr. Honoré’s publisher in the United States couldn’t get a handle on the word. “They thought it was ungrammatical or something,” he said. Which is why in this country his book is titled, “In Praise of Slowness,” much to Mr. Honoré’s amusement. “Slow is the word that’s escaped from the Anglosphere and attached itself to everything going,” he said, listing a few examples, like Italy’s Slow Cities and Japan’s Slow Life movement, “whereas Slowness hasn’t.”

In any case, evangelists for the movement are coming to New York, America’s fastest city, on Feb. 25. On that day, members of the Art of Slow Living, an Italian civic group, will be handing out symbolic speeding tickets to frantic pedestrians, said its organizer, Bruno Contigiani — that is, if he can get a permit from the Parks Department to organize in Union Square. Feb. 25 falls on a Monday, which, as Mr. Contigiani pointed out in an e-mail message, is a hard day to slow down.

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Jeff Jarvis writes a blog called Buzz Machine that deals with blogging and the state of media practices. Like most bloggers, I am fascinated to watch the way the blogging phenom continues to propagate, morph and constellate. Jarvis’ blog is a good place to start if you want a catalog of opinions on where some informed types think this is headed and how blogging is interacting with other expressive forms.

This excerpt from Buzz Machine is by Andras Szanto (who teaches at CUNY in the journalism school):

The blogsphere today is more or less where the arts were circa 1975. It’s a realm of new opportunities, naïve expectations, and faux democracy. It’s smack in the middle of that euphoric moment that every innovative movement goes through before it makes its own peace with the status quo. Back in the seventies, it seemed everything was possible in the art world. Anything could be art and “everyone an artist,” as Beuys proclaimed.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this pluralist nirvana. Three decades later we are seeing an unprecedented institutionalization and commercialization of art. The entry fee into a successful art career is a $60,000 MFA. And while laissez-faire rules, aesthetically speaking, who can doubt that the artists being seen and heard are the ones who have the muscle of major galleries, presenting institutions, and distribution companies behind them. From the cloud of unbounded opportunity has emerged a new ironclad structure, no less selective and, in its own way, constraining than what had come before. To some degree, the very scale and openness of postmodern culture have mandated these new filters and hierarchies. And so it will go with the blogsphere. When the smoke clears, we will be back to listening and trusting a finite number of voices. We will depend on them, and we won’t have time for many more.

In the interest of full disclosure, Jarvis did not agree with Szanto’s assertions. His response to this excerpt was, “I’ll disagree. He assumes that there is still a scarcity of gallery walls. No, there’ll only be a scarcity of money.”

As always, it depends on your point of view. From where I sit, an oversupply of gallery walls is not the problem. (Could it ever be?)

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Empty Space, By Anne Hamilton

I have been thinking a lot about transgressive women. There are so many ways to be transgressive, and I have my personal stylistic favorites. Much of my thinking has been triggered by reading a friend’s new book, Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, by Laurel Ulrich. She has highlighted the lives of three women who did not buy the company line—Christine de Pizan (15th century), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (19th century) and Virginia Woolf (20th century.) But her introduction also chronicles many women–and groups of women–who have made her now famous line a slogan (originally taken from one of her scholarly articles and popularized through ad hoc brandishings on T-shirts, bumper stickers and bags.) Some of these groups, like the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, Mississippi, approach being outrageous and out of control as a hobby, all the while living lives that look, on the surface, to be quite conventional.

Laurel points out that, for some women, there is something very seductive about transgressive behavior. That was me, even as a small child. But my predilection is for a more understated subversiveness rather than the excessive, high drama, in your face version. So Madonna’s high visibility transgressiveness is less compelling to me than the simmering iconoclasm of Sinead O’Connor. (When I heard Sinead perform a few weeks ago, it was clear that her fierce “I’ll do it my way, take it or leave it” energy is still very strong.)

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Installation by Ana Mendieta

Or the likes of artists like Ana Mendieta and Lee Lozano. Mendieta’s untimely death stopped her extraordinary work in its prime, but Lozano was fierce all the way to the end. She undertook a boycott of the officiously superficial art world by refusing to speak to other women for one month in a conceptual piece that was intended as a way to improve communication with women. It lasted for thirty years.

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Untitled, by Lee Lozano

And then of course there is the wonderful quote from poet Alice Notley, originally posted here on October 17th:

I’ve been trying to train myself for 30 or 40 years not to believe anything anyone tells me…To write vital poems, it’s necessary to maintain a state of disobedience against…everything.

I’ve always thought of myself as a Clydesdale artist–the kind that applies sheer will and fortitude to obstacles. It must be my pioneer heritage (a epigenomic proclivity?) that programs me to just keep walking no matter what. I have ancestors who did that as they made their way across the North American plains in the mid-19th century.

For the first time in my life that hefty, heads down approach isn’t working. It’s only been a month since my mother passed away, but I’m still not ready to return to the studio. I’m trying to be gentle with this state of mind, but it is peculiar territory for me. It has its own lessons to offer, but what those are is not yet clear.

A dear friend, Kathryn Kimball, knew exactly what poem to send to me from her safe haven stone cottage in the Lake District. The simple physicality of the image has given me a source of light in these ongoing hours without power.

Not Writing

A wasp rises to its papery
nest under the eaves
where it daubs

at the gray shape,
but seems unable
to enter its own house.

Jane Kenyon

When the concentric circles closest in to consciousness are vibrating, there’s less bandwidth for the larger view. My commitment to political change, always an ambient ideal, goes in and out of sharp focus for me depending on what else is in the foreground.

There is also the additional burden of how art and politics coalesce. As a non-representational painter whose work is intended for entry through the body rather than the head, I have settled into a compartmentalized rather than collaborative approach. It’s like having two parents who won’t speak to each other and live in separate houses on either side of your own.

And on that theme I found an interview with Dan Chiasson, one of the smarter poet/essayists around these days (and local guy who teaches at Wellesley College). This excerpt is from Guernica:

Dan Chiasson: Every poet wants to have that great, transcendent renunciatory power of Whitman, the access to other sites and other persons, that amplitude, that confidence and authority as a voice. Even the most narrowly private or confessional poets want that. 99% of them didn’t get it, and that’s roughly the percentage of poets in any given mode that don’t succeed, so I don’t think confessionalism offers any worse odds than any other mode.

Lowell, for example, not only wants to write from the private, but from a self that is damaged and schismatic, and often he literally can’t participate in the common world because he’s institutionalized…As a model and as an aspiration, it’s the biggest thing in my writing life to think about him. I don’t know if I’m influenced by him line to line, but I would hope to have something of that intensity, seriousness, unabashed learnedness, unabashed Miltonic ambition but also confluence with daily life and daily kinds of language—all that seems still relevant to me.

Guernica: He was also someone who could, by bringing everything he had to bear on whatever was in front of him, write some of the most political and culturally relevant poems of the last century.

Dan Chiasson: Yeah, I know. And I sound silly to my own ears when I discuss politics. I mean, I feel like puking every day when I read the newspaper, but I haven’t found a register for writing about it, and I haven’t found a register for making it part of my poems. And I really admire his ability to do that. It may no longer be possible. The assumption of centrality that he could make, that gave his political poems and statements authority. I can’t think of anyone who has done it successfully for the latest round of awfulness, which is certainly at least as awful as what Lowell was dealing with.

The events in America now have the quality of things you would find out about long after the fact, and think: if only we had known. Well, we do know now. But what are we doing? Maybe a poet like Lowell brought America a little nearer to its boiling point.

An artist who can bring us nearer to our boiling point, now that’s a worthy goal…And last night I felt some of that flash point hope. Dear friend and documentarist Sally Rubin, on a visit to Boston from her new perch point in Los Angeles, showed us the promo piece for her new project, Ghosts in Appalachia. Sally and her co-director Jennifer Gilomen are exposing the ecological and human disasters associated with the rapacious coal mining practice called MTR, mountain top removal, particularly as it is being carried out in Appalachia. Sally’s commitment is to make a film that is personal and can put this story into its proper context of our unchecked and unconscionable energy consumption. It is a message that needs to be spoken clearly and seen by millions. Sally’s commitment to both art and political change puts her in a unique position to reconcile both houses.

To view the promo piece and read more about the project, go to Ghosts of Appalachia.

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Filmmaker Sally Rubin