Talk Slow

“It was sort of doing a residency in our own living room” – An interview with the artist duo of Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán

How did the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting social isolation affect your daily life? What were the pros and cons of this new, unusual, and slower lifestyle?

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán, 2019, photo © the Artists

The lockdown didn’t change or affect our way of living, except travelling. Slower lifestyle was not unusual but necessary. In fact, adopting a “slow life” has been already needed long before this pandemic started. From an ecological perspective, slowing down the globalised system of production is good. Few months ago nobody thought it was possible to put the entire world on hold at the same time, even for one day. Nature flourished during this time, but we can’t help worrying about the plastic waste (plexiglass shields, masks, all plastic protecting equipment) left behind. Contemporary modes of living were already directed towards increased social isolation and physical distancing maintained by online global connectivity. Probably in the future, keeping the world at a distance, so as to keep risks of all kinds on the outside, will become the norm. We think that protocols of immunization and contagion do little to break out of the planetary ecological, economical, and social impasse in which the world finds itself. Moreover, instead of protecting our own body’s boundaries as something that needs to be sealed off, protected from viral intrusion, we should perhaps look around and try to see how we can live together, and imagine our life on Earth with others (including viruses).

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán: The World After Us (2020 – ongoing), collages on paper, photo © the Artists

It was the first time in human history when we declared war against another organism. The frequent use of military rhetoric, the metaphor of war with a deep sense of urgency, has become commonplace. In the past days the media was dominated by all kinds of experts, but there was only one scientist who said we should try to be diplomatic, not wage war on the virus. It will not just disappear, once the mutation has been produced.

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán: The World After Us (2020 – ongoing), collages on paper, photo © the Artists

What kind of lasting changes can we expect once the pandemic is over? What can mankind learn from this disaster?

This is a complex problem because the effects can’t be fully comprehended right now, we can’t predict. But one thing is clear: “going back to normal” is not an option. Probably the proliferation of surveillance, new protocols, the defence of borders, and the suspension of civil liberties will become the “new normal”. We don’t perceive it as a “disaster” from which humanity will recover. Instead, this pandemic has just made clear the disastrous effects of a failed state apparatus in many parts of the world. Precarious working conditions, dysfunctional health care system, poverty, racism, etc. have been augmented by the pandemic. Reading the news we realize the trends are either to start everything anew or go deeper into a much disastrous crisis. But there are also few good examples in Europe: the monthly basic income in Spain, more funding for health care, more interest in agriculture and producing and growing locally.

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán: The World After Us (2020 – ongoing), collages on paper, photo © the Artists

Ideally governments could take this lockdown situation as a moment of introspection and reflection on dysfunctional things that can be improved, they could fix things that don’t work. Unfortunately, the debate is revolving around death statistics and hygiene protocols that protect us against an invisible being that is and will be among us forever anyway. They should promote freedom and care, not fear and control. Care for everyone, during and after this crisis, is the only solution.

All of us experienced panic and fear during this time, besides the epidemic of fake or accurate news. Fear is something that binds society together, and the media knows this very well. Fear spreads more rapidly than a virus. The bond of the handshake that once meant personal trust is now perceived as a potential threat of viral infection. We should be more afraid of these kinds of changes within society: how we perceive intimacy, while informed by viral reality; and not forget what we have in common: “the universal right to breathe.”

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán: The World After Us (2020 – ongoing), collages on paper, photo © the Artists

What are you working on right now? Has the pandemic affected your artistic practice and if so, what difficulties have you faced?

This pause in the flux of traveling was good. We could dedicate more time to reading, experimenting and researching. It was sort of doing a residency in our own living room. During self-isolation we’ve been watching science documentaries about the invisible micro-organisms that make up this world, listening to the voices of bioneers. We learned that in science one could never really know the truth because knowledge is always incomplete. Scientific facts are the product of thought collectives and can change as the culture changes. Some people often think science deals with the truth but it is just another way of understanding the world, similar to art. We feel there has been a certain approach to science in our practice since last year, reinforced now by the current events, and maybe we have started to look more closely at the relationship of art and science. Science deals with proof and evidence. The advantage of art is that it can operate at the intersection of multiple domains and make all the contradictions inherent in any investigation visible, without having to draw ultimate conclusions.

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán: Studio View (works in progress), March-April 2020, photo © the Artists

During this time we tried to find ways to grow our own materials. To create works that are not made, but (slowly) grown from mycelium. The mycelium acts as a natural glue that binds the biomass together. It is part of a larger installation we prepare for a museum show in October this year.

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán: Studio View (works in progress), March-April 2020, photo © the Artists

In the meantime we built an improvised mini-experimental mushroom farm. We adapted the practice to the actual circumstances, enjoyed spending more time in the studio. Not being able to buy the right materials affected some parts of the production, but included chance and experiment as important challenges in this process.

The Driving Force of All Nature, 2019, installation © the Artists

Two works of yours would have been presented at the exhibition Slow Life – Radical Practices of the Everyday: The Desert Rock that Feeds The World, and The Driving Force of All Nature, both installations made last year. These works draw attention to perhaps lesser-known geopolitical conflict zones, which confront the viewer with the exploitation of nature or people, the violence of political powers as well as the finiteness of our natural resources (just think of phosphate or drinking water supplies) or the refugee crisis. In your work, you seem to examine ecological, political, economic, and social issues and problems in connection with each other. A few months after the outburst of the virus in Central-Europe, how do you see the future? What will be the most crucial issues and problems you will have to deal with in your art?

The Desert Rock That Feeds the World, 2019, installation, Courtesy of the Artists

The conflict zones, economic inequalities, as well as the finiteness of the world’s natural resources are issues that do not disappear. The mineral commodity market has been growing for the past two decades and even more methods of exploitation and new legal codes that regulate mining the ocean seabed across national and international waters are to be adopted in the coming years. Usually art senses things before they become palpable in society. We are aware of this advantage and hope to be able to activate our response-ability. It is important, especially in these troubled times, to create new ways of looking at the world, and (hopefully) re-imagine new patterns of living while “staying with the trouble”¹.

Bucharest – Budapest, May – June, 2020

¹The quotation refers to the book of Donna J. Haraway: Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the ChthuluceneDuke University Press, 2016




Slow Motion

(Magyar) A munka nélkül töltött idő – Így készült Kaszás Tamás Aldo Leopold-padjának felirata

Kaszás Tamás Vandalizált Aldo Leopold–pad III. című művének rongálási folyamatát követhetjük nyomon az alábbi videóban. A művész saját készítésű padjának háttámlájára lassú, fáradságos munkával az iskolások „vandál” módszerét alkalmazva a következő feliratot égeti napfénnyel a fába: A munka nélkül töltött idő.
A pad névadója, Aldo Leopold amerikai ökológus, erdőgazdálkodó, az elsők között harcolt a természetes vadon megőrzéséért, környezetünk tiszteletéért és védelméért, műveiben pedig hangsúlyozta a természetben töltött idő fontosságát és jótékony hatását. Az általa tervezett (és kivitelezett) pad mintájára azóta is világszerte készülnek hasonmások, melyek az ember és természet harmónikus kapcsolatát hírdetik.
Kaszás korábbi művein már találkozhattunk hasonló tartalmú felszólításokkal – NEVER WORK, CON/TEMP/LATIO, DO NOTHING MAN – ezek a kisajátított, vagy szabadon idézett mondatok (Aldo Leopoldtól, David Thoreau-tól és másoktól) mind az elmélyülés, lelassulás fontosságára igyekeztek rávilágítani. Ez az ellentmondásokkal teli legújabb üzenet a munka természetének vizsgálatára ösztönöz, rákérdez a hozzá való viszonyunkra és megkérdőjelezi az irányába tanúsított társadalmi elvárások létjogosultságát is. Mindeközben a pad maga pedig tökéletes helyszínt biztosít az elmélyült gondolkodáshoz.

Kaszás Tamás: Vandalizált Aldo Leopold-pad III., 2020, fa, 70x50x60 cm, A művész és a Kisterem Galéria jóvoltából.