Panel: Slowness: Responding to Acceleration through Electronic Arts
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.
- Una Chung is Assistant Professor in Global Studies at Sarah Lawrence College (NY, US). 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.