Slowing Down

For the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about time. Time always seems to be a point of conversation when completing a PhD. What time are we meeting? When is the RD1 deadline? Am I doing enough with my time? How should I be using my time? In the bustling world of contemporary life, time is nearly always a luxurious commodity. After all, things have to be done ‘on time’. But don’t worry there are things to help. I haven’t got time to cook – don’t worry there are ready meals. I don’t have time to watch TV tonight – don’t worry there is catch-up. I don’t have time to finish my work today – don’t worry there is overtime. Perhaps we don’t fully understand how precious we have allowed time to become or appreciate how time moves due to the technologies that we use to tell the time. I wonder if the slow watch would change the way I use my day? With a 24 hour dial visible, and time indicated by one hand, it’s aim is to show its user the entire day, to allow them to see it progress and make better use of that time. I suppose the real question is what is a better use of time? But that’s a big question, and one I wouldn’t dare to answer. Instead I want to map some connections around time that I have been faced with since starting my PhD.

On 4 November I attended the ‘Wellbeing Beyond GDP’ conference at MMU. Steve Earnshaw, Professor of English Literature at Sheffield Hallam University, spoke about the need to move towards considering ownership of our time. He questioned why inequality was nearly always based on income, and that time was never a considered factor. An individual working on minimum wage would not only have a low income, but may work 7 days a week and have no ‘free time’. Yet a CEO of a prestigious corporation may earn more, work five days a week and have more free time. I realize that these are large generalizations, but the point is to illustrate how perhaps wellbeing is not only in relation to income but also the amount of ‘free time’ we are allowed. Would we have a better quality of life if we worked less hours? Is indeed time even our own, when in our free time we are pushed towards consuming (shopping, leisure activities, eating out etc) sold to us as free choice that has the added value of building our economy. I was really drawn to Steve’s question of if we did have ownership of time would we do anything differently with it? If I only worked three days a week would I be a more responsible individual, doing volunteer work in my free time? Or would I simply watch more TV? At this point I won’t reveal my Netflix account.

This idea of responsibility with our time and ownership of our time also relates to the notion of speed, or perhaps more importantly to the need to slow down. To tackle the increase in mental health conditions particularly in the UK there are many charities, NHS guidelines and even apps that are promoting mindfulness and the need to slow down and take some time for individual reflection of our own state and surroundings. Perhaps this is where considerations of Wellbeing are visible in Earnshaw’s discussion of the ownership of our time. If we could separate just for a moment the necessities and responsibilities in life to a focus on thinking about ourselves, our bodies and those around us perhaps our quality of life would improve. The need being of course that all of us have time to do this. This need to stop, step back and reflect upon a situation has also been discussed in line with the recent atrocities that occurred in Paris most eloquently written in a letter by Judith Butler. A gut, emotional reaction to this situation is understandable, but there is a need to be patient and ‘think through the situation’. Jumping to increased state surveillance, what Butler terms an ‘enhanced security state’, although understandable, could have consequences on the democracy we stand for. Stopping, slowing and reflecting are becoming more important tools.

This need for a sudden response is also a topic of conversation in relation to the role of the art critic. In a conversation between Tom Finkelpearl and Grant Kester in What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (2013) they discuss the ‘sudden response’ that object based art often demands of its viewers. For Kester, when walking into a gallery the object (he uses a Jeff Koons sculpture as an example), generates an immediate feeling, he subjectively likes or doesn’t like the piece and makes a judgement, often a very distanced judgement. For collaborative projects, Kester states that the reaction is different, it is a process of peeling back the layers of ‘interaction and transformation at a given site'(p.121). It requires more involvement and more time to understand the complexities of the collaboration, the dialogical aspects and often its interdisciplinary nature. This slow critical analysis is something that resonates in reading book art, although the metaphor of peeling back layers is perhaps better addressed in the turning of pages. Therefore, book art although object bound does not generate this ‘sudden response’ that a visibly whole Jeff Koons sculpture might. It requires interaction from the reader, in the turning of pages, the pulling out of sections, the creasing of the binding and the cross reading of text and image. This is a slow process, but is as equally subjective to the ‘like or don’t like’ reaction that art demands. Not to mention, that reading book art produced in a collaborative, socially engaged approach often involves peeling back the layers of participant interaction/creation, processes of making and movement/physical relations alongside the finished book object.

Making art slowly also seeps into the book art workshops of Sheelagh Frew-Crane, who teachings the art of bookmaking to promote wellbeing. Frew-Crane has been running book art workshops at Guideposts Trust, Mind, LP Café and Watford Museum, to encourage people to use the space of the book as a mode of mindfulness, a space much like a diary to place thoughts, drawings, ideas and reflections. She sees pages as moments of time, representing days, nights or thoughts, and therefore as visual records of our transitory experiences. Frew-Crane also sees the act of physically ‘building’ a book as a therapeutic venture that occurs slowly and rhythmically. The stitching together of pages, designing the cover, staining the pages and bringing the book together is both a safe and cognitive process. This desire for wellbeing through book making is due to Frew-Crane’s interest in ‘voice hearers’ and mental health, she wants to empower people through providing a space in which to record their experiences and have control over that process of reflection. Frew-Cranes interactions with voice hearers and desire to challenge stigmas attached to those with schizophrenia is currently addressed in her exhibition in Watford Museum’s Space2. I would highly recommend a visit. Spend some time, slow down and own that time.



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