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Slave to the Rhythm
In Praise of Slowness: steps to an ecology of AV perception

by Giuseppe Gavazza

1 – Another AV Festival: a catalyst for some considerations

Between the minutiae of the exhibition NanoArt: Perceiving the Invisible and two cyber colossal movies (the final cut of "old" masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) and the fresh 100% digital old hero-epic Beowulf deeply expanded in space with 3D glasses) my eyes are drunk on images and colors. I'm getting out of VIEWFest 2008, Torino ( after a fully immersive weekend. If my eyes are drunk, my ears are drunker because of low-fi audio equipment. [*1] and the fast and furious rhythms of most of the works.

2 – Allegro furioso

As in Grace Jones's 1985 hit "Slave to the Rhythm," more and more we must:

Never stop the action,
Keep it up, keep it up,

and ...

Breath to the rhythm,
Dance to the rhythm,
Work to the rhythm,
Live to the rhythm,
Love to the rhythm,
Slave to the rhythm

Are we all born to run, run, run, run, ... on the fast car of this earth? Till we die, exhausted?

(The gorgeous video for this song was used to advertise a French car whose name - CX - is the acronym of the coefficient for aerodynamic drag: beautiful and speedy, well tuned in aesthetic/engineering polyphony).

3 – Slow Life: slowness as nourishment and beauty

Food is deep culture and art is food for human beings. Please don’t eat automobiles.

One of the more interesting and intelligent projects and concepts I know is Slow Food. Born in the Turin area – in the beautiful hill country of the Piedmont – Slow Food is, as you can read in the website:

“… a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life."

In the McDonald’s era, one century after Futurism’s utopian shout to the brave new world of the beauty of speed (and of violence and war) I reflect on the beauty of slowness. In 1909, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in his “Manifesto of Futurism,” wrote:

“We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”

The Victory of Samothrace is more than slow; it is motionless (and eternal). Apparently immobility isn’t good for health in our slim-fast-body-machine oriented world as indicated in that smart advertisement with an obese Michelangelo’s David statue and the motto: “If you don’t move, you get fat.” 

Fast or fat? Is that the question? 

Lack of speed isn’t the same thing as immobility and slow doesn’t necessarily mean lame. 

I envision a wise, slow world, neither senescent nor weak, simply a good, different way to live, not just survive, without succumbing. 

As we can read in Chronicle of My Life by Igor Stravinsky: “Music exists with the critical aim to establish an order in things, comprised - in particular - of coordination between man and time.” (1936)

Music is the metronome of human life. [*2]

Don’t run, please: I like that Grace Jones hit just as I like much of the last decades’ quick and frenzied music. I enjoy dancing to them for whole nights, but I ask: where is the time for the homeopathic music of my beloved Morton Feldman (not to be found on the hit parade)?

Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas. Photo by Hickey-Robertson. 

Where are the (internal) time and the space for the Rothko Chapel?

For the chapel Mark Rothko conceived in 1971as a big canvas, Morton Feldman composed a beautiful piece with the same title. The Rothko Chapel is a building, a space, a composition, a suite of paintings, a visual art piece, a place, and an interior experience. It exists in the heart of Houston’s museum district - not by chance - very close to Richmond Hall which houses an important Dan Flavin light installation.

Mark Rothko, Morton Feldman, Dan Flavin: light, color, and sound out of time….

No rhythm, no slavery? 

Great events linked to Slow Food are Terra Madre (Mother Earth) and CittàSlow (Slow Cities). The new WCF (World Calmlife Fund: subscriptions are open) wishes to propose a SlowArt Section in Slow World activities: music and visual arts are food for human life, and the use of art and music to counteract fast life would be really sane, for all of us and for the planet herself.

Slow up to a new S family: sPod, sLife, sWeb, : sNoMcD, sMusic, ssssssss ….

4 – Some final considerations about ViewFest 2008

Coming back to the catalyst for this meditation, I don't know whether special attention was given by VIEWFest 2008 to breathlessly rhythmic works, if they really are the most numerous or significant, if brevity demands velocity (a clichéd equation), if authors are quite nervous, or if the public asks for such speed as a doping, like in sports or TV shows. Mine is merely a general cogitation, not a qualitative judgment: some of the works shown at this Festival are astonishing (such as some Siggraph selections or the well-known, wonderfully short (and often slow) animated films by Pixar, and many others set to Adagio or Calmo on the metronome). But most are frantic & adrenergic AV stimulations of our senses.

Against this feverish panorama the works of Lorenzo Oggiano stand out like a WCF-protected archipelago of quiet islands. The video photographic cycle Quasi-Objects proposes a Quasi Second Life at infinitesimal scale: totally artificial 3D modeled objects appear as microscopic organisms slowly evolving, pulsing, living, breathing, dancing. 

In my first contribution to The Art Section, under the title "Ears Wide Shut" I wrote: “Years ago, under a similar skyline, on a subway’s wall I read: “silence = death.” Weeks ago, I found the same phrase in flashing neon on a staircases climbing to New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art, and I thought again of the Chinese adage: “If what you have to say isn’t better than silence, then shut up.” 


New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.

Photo: Giuseppe Gavazza, 2008.

[*1] Once more, I regret the negligible attention given to sound diffusion. Cinema is mainly image, of course, but an important institution like the Museo Nazionale del Cinema cannot, in my opinion, present in an international festival (ViewFest is the continuation of the ten year-old ResFest) an anthology of short recent video mostly based on music or with a remarkable soundtrack (like the Chris Milk music videoclip retrospective) with an audio system of such poor quality. Low fidelity and high distortion made immersive listening truly uncomfortable.

[*2] A good reference is Mark Johnson’s illuminating book The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, 2007, especially the chapter concerning music.

Giuseppe Gavazza, a composer who lives and works in Turin, Italy, is a frequent contributor to The Art Section.

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