Slowness: Responding to Acceleration through Electronic Arts

This panel focuses on the topic of slowing down and electronic arts. Is slowness a useful concept for artists working with technology to consider? Are electronic artists using the same tools to comment on this acceleration? Have we lost our ability to slow down in the viewing and appreciation of art?
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo
Una Chung
Eric Forman
Harald Kraemer
Annette Weintraub
From Annette Weintraub’s "One Text, Many Stories," 2009
Stills from Eric Forman’s “timeFlow”, 2010
Eric Forman’s “Kwina’a Taba,” 2007
Detail from Herbert Starek’s, “The Ocean on the Table”, 2009
Vienna Walk, DVD-ROM, 1998

Chair: Assist. Prof. Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo

Immersed in a constant stream of information, losing our ability to meaningfully read anything longer than a page, and connected through a social network that in users represents the 3rd largest country in the world, what happens to how we make, view, and participate in electronic arts?  If our tools are also those which our accelerating our lives, how are we able to still make meaningful art?  Do artists disconnect from the expectations of 24/7 and retreat in their “studios”?

This panel focuses on the topic of slowing down and electronic arts.  Is slowness a useful concept for artists working with technology to consider?  Are electronic artists using the same tools to comment on this acceleration?  Have we lost our ability to slow down in the viewing and appreciation of art?  Furthermore, do electronic artists feel a responsibility to comment on and demonstrate alternative technologies that may promote slowness and considered thought?

A panel of both artists and academics will address these questions, focusing on both theory and practice, and always grounded in examples of electronic artwork. They will speak about aesthetics and politics in electronic arts, the “hand waving” phenomen in interactive art, the challenges and successes of teaching deceleration to students, and the speed at which internet art is forced to change, and therefore becoming ephemeral at a rapid rate. Though diverse in their approaches and foci, notions of slowness and duration will be the common threads for the presentations and the discussion to follow.

Paper Abstracts

Capture, Measure, Rhythm: Inventing new relations of aesthetics and politics in the electronic arts

by Prof. Una Chung

Global capitalism has been described as itself an art of acceleration, and war today is fought less across spatial borders than through the assymetrical relations of variable speeds. Information technologies and mobile devices enable corporations to accelerate production by extracting small packets of attention and cognitive labor; participatory culture has not merely been celebrated as democratic but also analyzed as a capitalist invention for more flexible extraction of value. The results are social spaces overwhelmed by information and stimulation, and mass phenomena of sensory and cognitive exhaustion and even violent psychopathologies. It is indisputable that the question of slowness raises ethico-political issues at the heart of our situation today.

If art has traditionally provided a space of reflection for thinking through our collective problems as well as to encounter inspirations for new ways of living by way of aesthetic mediations, then it seems that electronic art might more immediately engage the social context through direct handling of the aesthetics of time. Rather than produce representations for contemplation, electronic art has the capacity to render new knowledge and to cultivate new capacities for engaging the situation of speed and acceleration. Slowness is a potent trope not only hearkening back to the value of contemplation but joining our viewing of art with the urgent need to develop skillful navigation of modalities of capture, measure, and rhythm. These are at once aesthetic and political—the means by which we are caught up in the accelerations of global capital and also the means by which we might attain a sustainable rhythm of active engagement with our world. I envision not a utopian desire for tabula rasa, a slowing down to zero-point, but rather a practical, embodied slowness that might allow us to learn to move within this world without violent panic. Electronic art, I propose, has the power to invent and teach us new practices of living in the technological speed of the present. Correspondingly there may be a usefulness of electronic art criticism in articulating the significance of these aesthetic practices, which need to be understood differently from from the ways in which the traditional arts have taught us to look and think about art. 

In this presentation, I propose to discuss a selection of electronic art—specifically innovative uses of video, algorithmic design, and gestural interfaces—in order to explore how electronic artists create spaces for the gathering and holding of attention, new ways of taking measure of our lives, and understanding the embodied rhythms of engaging electronic art. Capture, measure, and rhythm are terms I use to mark the ambiguous potentiality of what electronic art makes perceptible and open to individual modulation. Slowness is often explored by artists through slow-motion (often in connection with close-up), time-lapse, installation or video of slowly moving objects or objects of variable viscosity; additionally the use of algorithims to bring visible micro- or macro- movements (evolution, nano) into the human range of meaningfully perceptible speeds. Many artistic attempts to use such strategies for exploring the trope of slowness tend toward a certain dependency on the modality of capture. Similarly, critical discussion of spectatorship also tends to draw on modes of capture. For example, participation and interactivity emphasize gestures in relation to bodily movements tracked by sensors and webcams, or semantic and cognitive processes linked to recognizing patterns or expressing one’s will to choose, click, act. However, I would argue that the modalities of capture cannot actually give us slowness. Slowness cannot be achieved by reversing or reducing the speed of acceleration. Slowness is given differently. I will attempt to articulate these alternative potentialities of electronic art. 

Too Quick: The Challenges of Interactive Art

by Eric Forman

Interactivity permeates the design and contemporary art worlds more and more every day.  The phrase “interactive art” is still unfixed, its form still novel, and yet certain tropes have already fallen into place.  One problem seems to recur over and over: viewers very rarely engage in slow, thoughtful exploration of interactive work.  Technological systems invite fascination with their materiality and uncanny abilities, and produce a dominant urge to reveal or decode the interaction itself, rather than the meaning of its enclosing work.  We could call this the “hand-waving effect”: a viewer’s first impulse is to “figure it out,” superficially engage with it in order to produce the reaction, and then all too often simply move on.  In other words, it’s over too fast.  Is this the viewers’ fault, the artworks’, or something deeper and more intrinsic?

This presentation will examine this issue in two parts.  First, I will frame a theoretical debate about what is and is not unavoidably inherent to technologically-enabled work.  A common and justified criticism of such work is that it is over-concerned with the new; is it the role of the artist to grapple with this?  Second, I will show examples of my own work that attempt to work with and against the challenges of interactivity.  Several sculptures and works of installation art will be shown that use technology together with traditional materials to encourage slowness in the viewer while retaining the dynamic involvement of interactivity.  The presentation will conclude with a synthesis of sorts: an open discussion of how the theoretical overlaps with real-world human behavior.

Repulse The Beat – Teaching CAST And The Strategy Of Deceleration

by Dr. Harald Kraemer

"Why, you might just as well say that I see what I eat is the same thing as I eat what I see?" said the Hatter to Alice.

Recently we eat more what we see than we see what we eat. Hungry for informations and seeking any kind of varieties we are going to loose the different meanings of perception and reality. Meanwhile a movie theater is a better place to show Media Art than a museum. Our students pay for a 140 minutes 3D experience, but they are not willing to invest 90 seconds for a masterpiece of Electronic Art. Asking my students why they are not interested in works of art, they answering: “Works of art are so slow and therefore so boring.” And: “It looks so antique.” Talking with them about works of art often simple statements and comparisons are mistaken for insight. So the questions are: How can we decelerate the dynamic of the students’ user attitudes? And how can we simplify the complexity of works of art for a „multitasked“ generation who is unable to concentrate in one item?

In my seminars in CAST, a new study course at the Department for Design at Zurich University of the Arts, I teach my students how to decelerate their daily speed, learn the power of slowness and how to discover their abilities in finding „the right moment.“ So we analyze the „self-destruction“ in Dieter Kiessling’s masterpiece „Continue“, discover the principle of simultaneity in the dissimultaneity in the work „Focusing“ of Tamas Waliczky, and we feel the rhythm in „Les larmes d’acier“ of Marie-Jo Lafontaine. By discussing movie scenes of Hitchcock, Cronenberg, Peckinpah, and Bresson, the students learn that dramaturgy in a film is the correct application of pacing, of rapid pulse beats and then to pause for a moment. This means that the story is not only used as a narrative but also as a way of design, and furthermore also that the story serves as a means for the recipient to identify with the content. Retelling the story of a comic book by using only 6 images is another strategy to reduce the artificial complexity. And they have to express themselves by writing „Haikus“ about paintings of Edward Hopper, Hokusai, Herbert Starek, and about pictures of Taryn Simon or Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan but also about TV commercials.

On hypermedia classics like Vienna Walk, Sigmund Freud, and Virtual Transfer Musée Suisse they learn how to accelerate and decelerate the flow of information at the right moment, as well as learning to understand how to lead the user with a storyline and in equal measure through a navigational design. Thus by following the philosophy of „Festina Lente“ („Hurry slowly“) – and always remaining considerate of the needs of the user – it should be possible to create a story which is at the same time complex yet still intuitive. And to produce high quality „short stories for the small screen“ is the aim of CAST. But those who wish to tell stories, will have to learn to listen first.

In Pursuit of Time Regained: Reconciling the Unstable Past, Present and Future of Web-based Art

by Prof. Annette Weintraub

By titling the last volume of his novel À La Recherche du Temps Perdu [In Search of Lost Time] as Le Temps Retrouvé [Time Regained], Marcel Proust in the first decades of the 20th Century, captured and anticipated our contemporary anxiety about time and consciousness of time passing. A modern phenomenon, the awareness of the speeding up of time is a result of the increased rate of change since the Industrial Revolution. In recent decades, and with electronic media, this change has quickened into a tidal wave of ‘too much information.’ Perception of change has altered as well, from an awareness of acceleration of time generally, to an acutely internalized sense of change.

In a progression from Edgar Allen Poe’s 1845 quotation1 decrying the proliferation of book publishing and the difficulty of filtering for quality, to more recent books like Alvin Toffler’s (1970) Information Overload reporting heightened stress and impaired judgment as a consequence of rapid adaptation, and Richard Saul Wurman’s (1989) Information Anxiety presenting strategies for processing information overload, there has been growing alarm regarding the effects of accelerated change. More recently, there has been a lot written on the effect of the Internet on deep thinking, including numerous hyperventilating polemics on how the Web, social networking and the culture of instant response is actually changing our brains.

Yet if speed, fracture and overload are the outcome of the 20th century celebration of the dynamism of change and the machine age, there are also many works of contemporary art which engage ‘real time’ as counterweight. It’s possible that ‘real time’ as an artistic convention became interesting just as our perception of actual ‘real time’ in lived experience sped up. In Warhol’s Empire (1964) or Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967) time is experienced minute-by-minute, with a slowness that can be meditative, contemplative, immersive or alternatively boring, suffocating and lacking drama. Yet even ‘real time’ isn’t safe from acceleration. The ‘real time’ format of the TV series 24 is paradoxical: the minute-by-minute equivalence between plot action and viewing time is exact, yet the action in each moment of narrative is so hopped-up it feels like real time on methamphetamine.

That image of real time adrenalized is an apt framework for looking at the challenges to artists working with technology. As an artist making projects for the Internet, I am aware of the technologies pushing me forward in new work at the same time I am looking backwards at eroding and vanishing technologies, and earlier projects that are stranded, mutated or irretrievably changed by browser obsolescence. This pull of simultaneous opposing directions is a Proustian nightmare in which the involuntary memory is not the savor of a treasured bite of the past, but a constant reverie on the instability of past, present and future.

The tension of this pull in two directions raises many questions about approaches to making, maintaining and conserving Internet-based artwork. Do we accept the ephemerality and expendability of web art as it has a brief moment and then ‘breaks’ when the tech passes on; migrate the work by updating to current browser standards; or ‘show’ the work in another form that may convey the appearance and preserve the content, but is no longer the ‘original’ work. What is the ‘shelf-life’ of art made in the context of rapid evolution of technology, and is it possible to adapt one’s studio practice and relation to technology in a way that assimilates rapid change? This presentation will explore these issues of adaptation to change in the preservation and conservation of art made for the Internet and will also examine a variety of approaches to the experience of duration in web-based artwork.

1 “The enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader's way piles of lumber in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful lumber, peradventure interspersed.” Edgar Alan Poe (1845)

Bios of the Participants

Una Chung

Una Chung is Assistant Professor in Global Studies at Sarah Lawrence College. She writes on new media art and design, contemporary film, and literature, within a theoretical framework emphasizing materialist philosophies, science and technology studies, postcolonial theory, feminist and queer theory. Recent articles include “Seeing Spectral Agencies? An Analysis of Lin+Lam and Unidentified Vietnam” in Beyond Biopolitics: Essays on the Governance of Life and Death (Duke 2011); and “Worlding of Affect: Avatar and Beast” forthcoming in the Viral Issue of WSQ. She is currently working on a book project, titled Handbook for the Art of Power (Critical Studies in Gender, Sexuality, Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming), that attempts to articulate a new discourse on art and politics, especially in relation to electronic art. This book traces the genealogy of thought on the relationship of aesthetics and politics through Marxist criticism, Frankfurt School, postcolonial discourse, and feminist and queer theory. The book explores how tropes of science fiction, racialized bodies, and abstract sex might be brought together in innovative and generative ways with the growing literature on new media, digital art, cybernetics, and cyberspace. Shifting away from an emphasis on phenomenology and apparatus theory, Handbook for the Art of Power charts a different path through the thinking about aesthetics, ethics, and affect in the work of Baruch Spinoza and Gilles Deleuze, on the one hand, and in Taoist and Buddhist philosophies on the other.

Eric Forman

Eric Forman is a New York-based artist working with interactive sculpture, robotics, and responsive installations. His work crosses boundaries between fine art and design, combining the subversive and the functional.  Eric is currently an Adjunct Professor in the graduate Digital+Media department at RISD, and soon at SVA's new Interaction Design MFA program.  He also teaches at Pratt, MICA, and the School of Architecture at Columbia University.  He received his Masters in 2002 from ITP at Tisch School of the Arts (NYU), and his B.A. from Vassar College in 1995 where he developed his own interdisciplinary program called The Philosophical Ramifications of Computer Technology. Eric also runs Klank Studios, a technology consultancy providing over 20 years of experience with new media, and is the co-founder of BioArt New York, a collective pairing artists and scientists for unusual collaborations.  And he likes to ride a bike.

Harald Kraemer

Harald Kraemer is producer, designer and director of online and offline hypermedia applications.

He received a PhD in History of Art from the University Trier/Moselle on Museum Informatics and Digital Collections and a Diploma in Museum Curatorship from the Institute of Cultural Sciences, Vienna.
Some of his projects: 'Aura' (1994) media space in the exhibition at the Vienna Secession; 'Vienna Walk Demo' (1998) prototype of an interactive DVD-ROM with Science Wonder Productions; 'Art and Industry' (2000) media for the exhibition at the MAK - Austrian Museum of applied Arts, Vienna; 'Documentation and Methodology of Contemporary Art' (1999-2001) for the German Research Foundation (DFG) at the University of Cologne; 'Virtual Transfer Musée Suisse' (2002-2003); 'Artcampus' (2005-2007) for the University of Berne '69-96 Linksalternative Szene in Konstanz'
He has written and published widely on the subject of hypermedia, museum informatics, digital collections, documentation as well as contemporary art. After teaching art history and new media at the universities in Berne, Cologne, Constance, Luneburg and Zurich, he is recently Docent for CAST at the Department for Design at Zurich Academy of Arts and at the Department for Image Sciences at Danube University Krems.

Supported by a grant of the Hofer-Wild-Stiftung Berne he is currently working on a publication about Hypermedia Communication Design & Museum.
Focal points in research: Knowledge Hypermedia Design online and offline, knowledge transfer, cognitive design, cross media art, and contemporary art.

Annette Weintraub

Annette Weintraub is a media artist whose projects embed layered narratives within a variety of architectural constructs. Her work is an investigation of architecture as visual language, and focuses on the dynamics of urban space, the intrusion of media into public space and the symbolism of space. She creates web projects that integrate elements of narrative, film and architecture within a conceptual representation of space to explore modes of spatial representation and the subjective experience of physical space.

Recent exhibitions include: 2010 FILE, Electronic Language International Festival, Sao Paulo; “A Slow Reveal...”  at University of Maryland, College Park, and "Day of the Dead," at the Everhart Museum, Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her projects have been shown at venues that include: The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center; The International Art Biennial-Buenos Aires; 5th Salon de Arte in Cuba; Video Biennal Israel; The 5th Biennial of Media and Architecture in Graz Austria; The Whitney Biennial; The International Center for Photography/ICP; The First Chiang Mai New Media Art Festival; The International Film Festival Rotterdam; Thirteen/WNET TV’s ReelNewYorkWeb; Viper in Switzerland; at SIGGRAPH and ISEA and numerous other national and international exhibitions. Commissions include The Rushlikon Centre for Global Dialogue, CEPA and Turbulence. Her work has been cited in many publications, including: Aperture, Art in America, Artforum, ArtByte, Newsweek, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Boston Globe, Leonardo, and Intelligent Agent as well as online citations including the New York Times, and NetArt Review, She is Professor of Art at The City College of New York, CUNY.