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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

 

 

 

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Talk Slow

”Focusing on the here and now – as in a therapeutic or meditative situation – may be the most vital part of the concept of slow life.” – An interview with artist Gideon Horváth

Many scientists agree that the pandemic gives a new opportunity for humankind to lead a slower and more sustainable lifestyle. Do you agree? 

 It makes sense these days to think about what might work differently in the novel state after the crisis – if we can talk about sharp boundaries at all. In spite of this, I don’t think it is worth speculating about what returning to the future will be like in a present so hard to liveFocusing on the here and now – as in a therapeutic or meditative situation – may be the most vital part of the concept of slow life. In order to return to an eventually accelerating social life one day and avoid immediately reviving our old habits, we need to start to make changes now both individually and in small communities. Of course, we should not confuse this with this years quarantine productivity pressure concerning so many of us, which can also be traced back to the production pressure of the capitalist system. The point seems to be to pay attention to ourselves, attempt to silence our environment (if possible), and think over what difference it makes to live our lives in isolation. This isolated state may confront us with questions and emotions we  could not deal with in depth before because the noise was too much. In my opinion, self-reflection should precede all thoughts on how we can build more sustainable systems together that enhance stability and openness instead of promoting production and growth. 

Obligatory isolation has changed the way we communicate. This process may have advantages in the long run, however, it may also lead to the development of bad practices. In one of Asimov’s novels the inhabitants of a planet only communicate with each other through teleconferences (referred to as viewing in the book), since they find the idea of face-to-face interaction unbearable due to viruses and bacteria (among others). Communication is only one example of major change – in general, shall we hope for a better or worse future?  

From a certain aspect, it is a misconception that our everyday lives have changed radically. It is true though that numerous new rules and official regulations have become part of our lives, together with a continuous sense of fear. Apart from this, I have noticed that everyone, including myself and my environment, faces the same phenomena and tasks as before, but on more extreme levels. I have disabled all mobile notifications on my smartphone, and I am trying to create an environment as relaxing as possible and exclude the chaos prevalent online. What matters the most is that we should not let the online world take control of our livesbut it should always be our individual decision as to whether we are ready to spend time on social media and news sites. I don’t think that we would like to communicate through viewing after the pandemic. The need for human interaction has truly increased during these past months dominated by all the regulations and isolation. If all is clear, we wont be able to get enough of each other’s company. That might have been the case with Asimov, too. 

Exhibitors of Slow Life  Radical Practices of the Everyday examine both social and economic reasons of the climate and ecological crisis and their possible solutions from different viewpoints. Why did you choose this subject matter for your artwork? 

Anna Zilahi and I turned to new realism and ecological theories simultaneously during our year at the University of Fine Arts – among the old institutional frames of the university these concepts seemed so novel. When we realised this and found out how incomplete this discourse in the Budapest art scene was, we founded an artist group called xtro realm, which Rita Süveges also joined a bit later on. From the very start, our main aim has been to share transdisciplinary knowledge. Anthropocene used to be a vague term three years ago that many people used as a broad and obscure signifier without knowing what it meant. The climate crisis has gained wide publicity since then, and the project we have been building since 2017 has started to attract a much wider audience, which is great. My work exhibited at the Slow Life show dates back to the period when I started to get acquainted with the closely related new realist and ecological theories. I was interested in hyperobjects – a term coined by Timothy Morton – that stand for spatially and temporally dispersed entities that we cannot comprehend as a whole, we can only accommodate one detail at a time. Examples include global warming, the biosphere, or the stock market as a whole. I created a photo series using an infrared filter that gives insight into a radiation spectrum invisible to the human eye. We see an all-encompassing layer of reality that is a basic part of how the world works, yet we can only experience its effects. Healthy flora reflects this radiation during photosynthesis, which results in images where the vegetation appears brighter and comes to the fore. And since I used a long shutter speed, it does so in another temporal dimension. This technology is frequently used for military or agricultural purposes as well. 

How does the current situation explain and situate (or perhaps annul) your selected work for the exhibition? Is there a new project you are working on now? 

My photo series is related to the current situation on numerous levels however, this is true of any artwork focusing on ecological issues. I mainly read these days, and although I do have plans for new projects, at this point it is quite hard to imagine the ways in which presenting these works would make sense later on. Art certainly has a particularly important role in interpreting the crisis. I am quite pessimistic about how this critical situation will affect cultural life though, already in the short term. During the past few years, the art scene has been shrinking, and the opportunities and perspectives of young artists are constantly decreasing. It is quite certain for example that many will leave their artistic careers as a result of the crisiswho could have created and exhibited important bodies of work in a more livable system. 

Is there any topic/problem/phenomenon that you encountered during the quarantine and would like to work on in the future? 

I do not think I would address any particular topic related to the pandemic directly, rather loosely related ones. I have also realised that staying in quarantine and slowing down has a beneficial effect on my relationship with specialised literature. Earlier, the jobs I took in addition to artistic activity didn’t leave much time for reading, but now I’ve lost most of them. And now I’m a little puzzled by how ideal the current situation is for in-depth research and artwork – I have never had such suitable conditions in my life. Deep down, there is a shameful feeling lurking inside me: in some ways, I do not wish this period to end too fast, since I don’t know whether I will experience a similar one later on. I am afraid of how it’ll feel like to get back on track, and I keep warning myself to use this period wisely and make the most of it. 

 

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Talk Slow

Brave new world. How will art look like after COVID-19? An interview with Diana Lelonek

Brave new world. How will art look like after COVID-19? An Interview with Diana Lelonek by Jan Elantkowski

How will the coronavirus pandemic affect your artistic practice and your daily life?

I have anxiety disorders so coronavirus is not an easy time for me. I’m really worried about my family and the future. Staying in a small, rented apartment in the centre of Warsaw during the quarantine has been really hard for me.

I live next to the parliament building where there was a strong police presence; they checked everyone. I spent almost three months in one room that I share with my boyfriend. We don’t have a balcony so I started to squat a small garden which I found next to our apartment building. It is a private area so it was possible to go there even during the lockdown. Nobody has used it for years. I decided to start growing some plants and flowers there. I met a cat that lives there and I started to feed him. I think this garden and the cat helped me survive this difficult time.

The political situation in Poland during the COVID-19 crisis is scary. On 15 April, during the quarantine and in the middle of the pandemic, the Polish government decided to vote for introducing a complete abortion ban. Normally, every time when they try to push this horrible law through the parliament, thousands of people go out in the streets to protest against it. But this time, during lockdown, any kind of protest is illegal. Regardless, women found some legal loopholes and tried to protest anyway. For example, protesting in cars, or holding banners while waiting in a long queue in front of the shop next to the parliament, etc.

For me, the most important thing at demonstrations is shouting together, but it was not possible as gathering is banned. That is why I decided to invite women to gather online, so that our shouting could sound together anyway. I received about one hundred recordings of women, men, and children chanting the sentence: “Fight the virus, not women” [“Walczcie z wirusem, nie z kobietami”] and a few other slogans that we usually shout at protests outside the parliament.

Together with my friend, artist Edka Jarząb, we edited a track of the assembled recordings. In this way, a recording of a demonstration that never took place in a physical form was created. The day the parliament voted for the law, the recording of protesters shouting was played from windows and balconies, from cars, on the way to the shop (also next to the parliament building). And thanks to that we could all shout together and our voice was heard. I think that such a “speaker protest” can be an effective tool for protesting when gathering is prohibited.

A few days ago, I left Warsaw for the first time since the beginning of March. I am currently at a friend’s house in the countryside and I finally feel that the stress and tension associated with the current situation are starting to fade away.

 

Do you think you will have a different attitude to life and art when this crisis is over?

I don’t know yet how this pandemic will affect my life. It is difficult to say anything at the moment. I have both negative and positive thoughts on the potential effects. Certainly, this virus emerged at a time when the world dramatically needed a change. We lived in such a terrible rush and overproduction that sooner or later something had to happen to stop it. Last year in climate change movements, we postulated a reduction in consumption and a reduction in flights. Now all this has stopped – not by the will of people, but through the “decision” of a microorganism. My solo show in Rome called Buona Fortuna has been closed for 3 months because of the coronavirus. Next week, it will at last be open again. I have a strange feeling when I think of this show, which talks about the disaster caused by our arrogant approach to the planet through a series of “Zoe-Therapy” works in which bacteria take revenge for human dominancy… and finally comes a real virus unexpectedly and the show gets closed for 3 months… When we discussed the title with curator Kuba Gawkowski a few weeks before the opening, this irony of Buona Fortuna was as important for us as the hope visible in the exhibition. I feel that this virus is the last call for change. We can’t miss it. The world as it was will probably not come back. The question is in what ways it will change. It can change for the better – a pandemic can be a chance to look for and implement new economic solutions and models. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the first real effect, which will soon emerge, will be a radical deepening of class differences. I’m also worried about our freedom and the future of democracy.

Diana Lelonek, kiállítási enteriőr/exhibition view: “Buona Fortuna”, Fondazione Pastificio Cerere, Róma/Rome, 2020. Fotó/photo: Andrea Veneri

When it comes to art – well, I think it will be difficult. Virtually almost all exhibitions, conferences, debates and festivals I planned for this year have been cancelled. Artists received practically no support from the state. Post-pandemic public funding of the arts and culture is likely to be much poorer. Institutions are already experiencing cuts to their funding, and this can result in the lack of salaries for artists. The many years we spent trying to receive a fair payment for our labour and ensuring exhibition fees might get lost. Recently, I heard an interview in which a well-known Polish actor (a very well-off person) said that artists would manage because “a hungry artist is a prolific artist.” Unfortunately, this myth still persists within our society.

The second issue – employees in the cultural sector are to a large extent employed on a zero-hour contract or contracts that pay little and provide neither stability nor social security (civil law contracts used in a pathological way); they are currently deprived of income, and this will not revert to the previous state even after the restrictions are removed – it may get worse for cultural workers than it ever was.

Diana Lelonek, kiállítási enteriőr/exhibition view: “Buona Fortuna”, Fondazione Pastificio Cerere, Róma/Rome, 2020. Fotó/photo: Andrea Veneri

In what way do you think this virus has fundamentally changed our lives? Has it changed our lives at all? What can we learn from the pandemic?

As I mentioned earlier, I think that our lives will change mainly due to economic crisis – the coronavirus effect.

Following the pandemic, most people will suffer from poverty, the loss of their jobs or homes, debt, (it is already expected that many people will fall behind with their mortgage payments within the next three months), so the level of housing loss and unemployment will increase. Personally, I have a problem with people who emanate positive visions of a wonderful post-pandemic world; these are usually privileged people who own their flats and spend the quarantine practicing yoga on spacious patios and “travel deep” within themselves. On social media, many middle class people talk about how the quarantine has allowed them to see the real, meaningful values in life… To be honest, I cannot listen to this type of statements anymore. Real life looks like this: In Poland, most people are cramped in tiny, mortgaged apartments, or in apartments rented privately at a very high cost. I do hope that as a result of the coronavirus the real estate bubble will burst.

The pandemic may certainly provide the chance to introduce changes that would not have taken place otherwise. The world has stopped and it should not return to the way it worked before. We now have the chance to introduce other economic models. Models that would put an end to the exploitation of planetary ecosystems, of industrial farming, increasing the importance of small farms, locality, cooperation, reducing production, and slowing down life. However, this all sounds too utopian. And I don’t think it will happen. Ecosystems had a moment to breathe before soon recovering to return to how it was before. Meanwhile, a bigger crisis is awaiting around the corner – the climate crisis. In the long run, this will be much more threatening than the pandemic.

Diana Lelonek, Motherboard Nature, “Center for Living Things” sorozatból / From the series “Center For Living Things”, 2017

Do you think that art has the means to effect social change? And if so, then in what ways?

I think that art has such a potential, but it doesn’t really have the power to break through on a larger scale. Such tools are available to politicians, not artists. We can continue our grassroots activities, do engaged, political art. Our voice is important. Certainly, art provides tools that can help us come up with alternatives. This is already on its way, think tanks that include both theoreticians and artists are already being formed. Nevertheless, these are still micro-scale activities. According to public opinion, art is superfluous and something that is not worth our support during the crisis, and is the first thing that can disappear as an unnecessary luxury.

When it comes to art to provide a response to the current political and social reality, I think that it has great potential in the current situation. However, I am afraid of repressions of the kind that artists have recently experienced in Warsaw. A week ago, a group of Polish artists performed a happening near the parliament building as a commentary on the government’s actions regarding the organization of the presidential elections during the pandemic (more here). The artists were doing their job – it was a performative action, they obeyed the current laws (keeping the appropriate distance and wearing masks). Regardless of this, they were punished with high fines for doing art, which was a critical commentary on reality.

Warsaw – Budapest, May 2020

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Talk Slow

Interview with curator Zsuzska Petró on the Ludwig Múzeum blog (Hungarian only)

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Talk Slow

Interview with curator Petra Csizek (Hungarian only)


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Talk Slow

” The meaning of the slowness would be sparing time for activities, which connect us and provoke transformation.” -Interview with Poet Anna Zilahi

Many scientists think that the virus is a chance for the creation of a slower, more sustainable way of life. Do you agree with his statement? 

The coronavirus pulls the veil off of the present world order’s weaknesses; the spreading onto the humans can be traced back to our unblessed relationship with nature, to the destruction, on what the comfort of the western middleclass was built. A question that many are interested in is if we can return to the earlier normality, when it should be considered maybe, if we want to return to such normality at all, where the science has been warning us for years about the jeopardy of a global pandemic, urges us to take immediate steps, and then it has to look on, how it’s nightmare becomes reality. Or: do we have to return to a kind of normality, from where arriving for many people the acceptable political crisis reaction is the opinion that in favour of the protection of the economic growth a few lives need to be sacrificed. In this context the slow life means that hundreds of thousands have become unemployed over the course of some weeks, their existence is in danger, while the life of others developed to be from morning to night lasting coping. For instance, the everydays haven’t slowed even a bit down for parents, for the healthcare workers, for the shop loaders, for the teachers or for delivery men and if the new requirement would be the necessity of continuous content consumption. (How many self-help podcast did you listen to today during cooking? What novelties had you learned in the previous weeks? What had you been streaming in the past two hours? How do you live through the time that you received as a gift?) 

The slower and sustainable way of living (this last adjective probably doesn’t worth to be compared) can arrive, when it can be provided equally for everyone, not as a privilege, but as a fundamental right. If we spend the gifted time with facing the social inequality and if we think about the mental mechanisms that were engraved in us by the capitalist desires that keep us in eternal operation. The slowness doesn’t need to equal with us doing nothing, but in spite of that keeping ticking. The meaning of the slowness would be sparing time for activities, which connect us and provoke transformation. This can happen in community, but the virus isolates. The question is that on what conclusion the new normality will build on: on the experience of mutual assistance and interdependence, or on the fear of unknown and individual losses. 

The forced isolation changed our communicational habits. In the long run it can have positive results, but it can lead to the emergence of bad practices. For example, in one of the novels of Asimov a planet’s inhabitants contact each other only by “seeing”, the thought of the personal meetings is unbearable for them, among others because of viruses and bacteria. Communication is only an instance for the great transformation; in general, should we hope for a better or a worse future? 

Exactly before the epidemic would have started, I was thinking of bringing my barely used ancient tablet to my grandparents, launching a Wi-Fi router and teaching them, how they can start a video call by pressing one button. Unfortunately. I couldn’t get there because of the continuous rushing, and I regret that really deeply. I also have plenty of other kinds of video calls, friends, colleagues and even acquaintances turn up out of the blue whom I hadn’t seen for thousands of years. But actually, is that a need? I feel like if the crisis can point out something, then it is that how much more meetings I arrange than it would be necessary. These unnecessary meetings were replaced by those zoom video calls, where it doesn’t even appear, if someone isn’t really present and has been scrolling through different news sites for a quarter of an hour. This doesn’t help the so called slowdown at all, only increases frustration and creates an illusion, as if the people worked less. Actually, the borders blur: if I answer the phone wearing pyjamas that doesn’t count as work hours yet and if the next phone call catches me still in my nightwear, then is it still not duty time yet? Don’t we reach a new level of unlimited self-exploitation with these changes? Mostly I would like to hug my grandma, but at this point I would settle for if I had had time for teaching her how to switch on the iPad. 

Creators of Slow Life. Radical Practices of the Everyday exhibition examine the social and economic causes and possible solutions of the ecological crisis. Why did your work turn to this topic? 

At the International Geological Congress in 2016 leading geologist researchers proposed the introduction of the anthropocene geological era, which adds the discretion to the discipline that the human activity, industrial destruction, contamination and demolition in the currently operating global system became a primary geological shaping force. The trade has exploded vastly in the cultural public talk since the first appearance at the beginning of the 2000’s, but as though the working up of the topic wouldn’t have occurred here, at home. We established the xtro realm art group in 2017 in order to the climate change related and ecological themed art, theory and knowledge can be able to gain space by our activity. After enormous social-ideological alterations and crises, like Galilei’s discoveries, the plague, the Second World War or the emergence of socialist dictatorship, it is not possible to do art the same way, the practises and focus points have changed. However, the climate crisis keeps in continuous transformation, which doesn’t urge for acute answering, the obligated moment doesn’t come, from where everyone agrees that so far, and no more. The crisis is here, the coronavirus is only a symptom. The question is if it is possible to answer with the tools of art for the worsening challenges, or the art’s notion can be extended to such progressive practises, which do not fit the capitalist expectations of the contemporary art’s production trends. 

 

How does the current situation interpret/ situate (maybe annihilate?) your artwork that was selected for the exhibition? 

The River Knows Better (Ophelia Lives) is a poem meditation, for a guided toned inner, corporal sound. The meditation is the mental space, where the air’s gush, the din of the bloodstream and the encounter of until boredom extended mental spirals cause the calm liveliness coming into existence. Until this day it is a general belief that meditation is a kind of solitary, esoteric and pointless activity, the culture-foreign expropriation of a practice from the Far East. While its effect on the nervous system is scientifically proven, it can be measured by the monitoring of the changes of the brainwaves. The main line of the refrain of the poem, „Slowing down to the rhythm of the river”, means the return to the by life dictated, to the own rhythm. The pulse changes fast, adjusts to the most unpredictable life situations, or even goes by a for hours lasting techno concert’s beat. But if we (get to) know our own rhythm, we will be able to calm down our thoughts only with the concentration of our attention on the essential functions of our life operations. It is a perfect tool for stress management, and in the long run it can change our human relationships from the foundations, and this way society. In the USA had been experimented with problematic and with existential hardships afflicted environments that for instance instead of punishing the misbehaving pupils, they had been “sentenced” for meditational time. These children went through spectacular transformation in a really short time, their anxiety decreased, and they became inquiring and cooperative. The meditation isn’t for the exploitation in favor of productivity. The opportunity inside is transformative on a social level. 

 

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Talk Slow

““Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.” Interview with Artist Rita Süveges

 Many scientists agree that the pandemic gives a new opportunity for humankind to lead a slower and more sustainable lifestyle. Do you agree? If not, what are your thoughts on the subject? 

To quote Milton Friedman, Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. The crisis bears within itself a number of unexpected outcomes, and the winning scenario greatly depends on the spirit in which the authorities exercise control over our lives. Is the goal to help those in need and thus create a fairer, more equal and a more sustainable society? The crisis legitimates the state to grow, and authorise itself to issue special rules and regulations. However, if the government does not use them to implement equalization policies, but to enforce exclusionist, corrupt and exploitative actions, then we cannot really hope that the poorer half of the country may stand a chance to get closer to living a worthy human life, in which the need for a slower, more sustainable lifestyle may arise. 

Lifestyle itself seems to be a matter of personal choice, an environment-conscious life being seemingly available for everyone. Still, a number of circumstances take part in the fact that for the end-consumer, the less environmentally friendly option is the cheaper, or at least the more comfortable one. One should not forget that it was capitalism that made us consumers, and its aim is to keep us in that state – and I’m not talking merely about luxury products. Our socio-cultural existence and sense of identity are based on our consumer attitudes – this is true even if we are trying to lead a more environmentally conscious lifestyle: we are avid market-goers, we collect waste selectively, do yoga, resist turning on the air-conditioner, or havent drunk a coke in about five years anyway. 

The most forms of being out in nature are invasive too, in accordance with our other consumer habits and activities – be it skiing, the pollution that comes as the traffic side effect of reaching our tropical holiday destinations, or the deceitful reserves shown by our tourist snaps. 

Will governments save the flight companies that go bankrupt? Those flight companies that – due to current reduced taxes – take millions of tourists from one point of the world to another (often to admire far away, exotic natural sights) via the cheapest, but most polluting way? Is it my responsibility as an individual to recognise that I am not entitled to cheap flights for example, even though my ecological footprint is ridiculously way below that of any local or international centre? When will these centres realize that their wealth – which allows them to commit to a sustainable, slow lifestyle – depends on cheap outsourced labour force, externalities and us? 

On a global level, although change would be possible, we are not doing great with our governments in a structural sense. On a personal level, it is hardly expectable from someone in today’s info-communication, mediatised society to leave the paved, neoliberal path of consumerism leading to happiness for a riskier and more uncomfortable junction – with an unknown ending; and to do this mostly alone, swimming against the current.  

Obligatory isolation has changed the way we communicate. This process may have advantages in the long run, however, it may also lead to the development of bad practices. In one of Asimov’s novels the inhabitants of a planet only communicate with each other through teleconferences (referred to as viewing in the book), since they find the idea of face-to-face interaction unbearable due to viruses and bacteria (among others). Communication is only one example of major change – in general, shall we hope for a better or worse future?  

As global supply chains are faltering, some industries have come to a halt altogether. Their restart powered by new investments may take them towards a more environmentally conscious direction (if considered profitable enough by the capital). In the future, economic operators may put forward local aspects more to decrease their dependence on global suppliers (i.e. not to favour local economy, but to serve their well-recognised self-interest). 

In most parts of the planet, the decrease of air pollution is clearly visible at the moment, and electric energy consumption in Hungary alone has decreased by 30%. However, nature’s momentary relief of extreme strain has only been possible through production halt, which resulted in millions of people losing their means of livelihood. 

Many must keep going to work during the pandemic, risking not just their own health but that of their environment too – in order to enable the continuous operation of public services, food and other supply systems, and keep our lives confined within four walls remain safe and comfortable. 

In the meantime, the climate crisis stays a real threat, hugely eliminated from public awareness by the pandemic. Amid the future economic depression, I wonder who will have the intention of redesigning the operation of our lives and that of society in a way that motivates us to give things up instead of pursuing our usual level of comfort. 

Having Google Earth is not enough anymore – our planet is now being rebuilt in Minecraft (rivers and buildings included), and it all will be available to us. In my opinion, the more we lock ourselves up in our own world (in either real or virtual communities), the less chance we have to see anything outside of it. Solidarity actions may bring us closer to those living in our immediate environment – be it the elderly neighbours for whom we do the shopping or the poplar trees in the park that we pass by while taking our constitutional walks. However, in the long run, isolation only separates us even more from the social groups and environmental processes that we encounter at our workplace, our community, our living space – thus outside our comfort zones. This makes being emphatic with them even more difficult, even though that would serve as the basis of social solidarity and environmental consciousness. 

In my personal life, I take communication shifting online really badly as well. LuckilyI share my home with my partner, and for me, the lockdown situation is privileged in a sense that we may slow down and spend our time in ways we previously didn’t. 

What I find concerning is that the digital surveillance systems tested during this crisis may be transformed for further use in an unnoticed manner – location tracking for example, face recognition, different databases about our risk level to infect others, and various other things beyond my scope. 

It is hopeful that all that time spent in home office will make invisible housework visible in the future. Maybe supply systems taken for granted – i.e. healthcare, education or food – will gain a better appreciation after we are all faced with partly having to do their jobs ourselves. 

 Exhibitors of Slow Life  Radical Practices of the Everyday examine both social and economic reasons of the climate and ecological crisis and their possible solutions from different viewpoints. Why did you choose this subject matter for your artwork?  

Nature has always been my main subject. I grew up in the country, in a house with a garden. As children, we played outside all the time and I spent hours observing weeds, insects, worms, our walnut tree, frogs, and crows and sparrows amid bamboo (in a Gerald Durrell manner). We lived with the changing seasons, and peas and apricots and violets grew in our garden. Once, my parents even enrolled me in an environmental summer day camp, organised by the local forestry. 

Although I have been living in the city for over 15 years, enjoying all the advantages – since my communities of friends and professionals are all here, and a variety of cultural programmes are available – I still cannot help but idealise the experiences I went through as a child. 

For this reason, my art soon turned towards the aim to recreate the natural experience, and gained a critical voice during my period of self-education: I research the roots of the separation of nature and culture, and the effects of this worldview to this day – the current climate and ecological crisis is the tip of this iceberg.  

My series out of control focuses on the states and participants of slow and fast carbon cycles. Carbon – the basis of life on Earth, one of its protagonists so to say – is in the state of constant change: by creating compounds with other elements it transforms between the states of living and non-living, solid, liquid or gas states. For us, the time spans of these coal cycles are incomprehensible, but the planet does not mind whether it is inhabited by advanced human or plankton societies. 

Most rocks for example were formed from calcareous remains of once living organisms (limestone), and crude oil was composed of sedimented layers of micro marine creatures, plankton and foraminifera over millions of years. 

By extracting and burning hydrocarbons, carbon joins the fast cycle – the natural elements of which also include the carbon dioxide emitted during photosynthesis and volcano eruptions. Disruption of the carbon cycle dynamics affects global climate balance as well, since the carbon dioxide level of the atmosphere functions as a climate regulating effect. 

The energy surplus of coal, oil and natural gas made the lifestyle of modern societies possible. During the last century, the major driving force of this lifestyle has become the ideology of never-ending acceleration, development and accumulation. We have started to deplete energy and natural resources accumulated in the ecosystem in the past hundreds of millions of years at a horrifying concentration and speed. The Earth has tremendous resources of fossil fuels, and instead of fearing their exhaustion, mankind should rather fear the extinction of its own living conditions due to burning them. 

We cannot disrupt these natural cycles anymore, since the consequences are unforeseeable: together with climate change, extinction of species, vanishing of forests, floods, hurricanes and an ecological catastrophe may await not only nature, but us, human societies as well. 

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Interview with curator Krisztina Üveges on the Ludwig Múzeum blog

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(Magyar) Lassú élet. Radikális hétköznapok – Interjú Jan Elantkowskival

Sorry, this entry is only available in Hungarian.

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A slow is a kind of attitude to our lives so that we notice the world around us. Interview with Zsuzska Petró

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Zsuzska Petró and Krisztina Üveges in Tilos Rádió

Zsuzska Petró and Krisztina Üveges on “Slow life” exhibition in a live broadcast in Tilos Rádió (May 5th 2020)

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Interview with curator Krisztina Üveges on Fidelio

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We are all longing for a slow life. Interview with curator Viktória Popovics on Fidelio

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A work of art in the age of digital publicity. Interview with curator József Készman

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Petra Maitz – Interview

Petra Maitz started her crochet installation The Lady Musgrave Reef  in 2002 with the aim to raise attention to the gradual diminishing of coral reefs around the world. One of the curators of the exhibition Slow Life, Zsuzska Petró interviewed her about life in the quarantine, as well as her work.

 

How does the corona pandemic and the resulting social isolation affect your everyday life and work 

The Lady Musgrave Reef at the exhibition of Neue Galerie Graz in 2007, photo: M. Schuster

In a way, not very much, because for years I have been working in a small office in Hamburg where I coordinate my work: when/what/how. As I am also a curator for art and science projects, I work in cooperation with science institutions. Of course, the studio work isn’t big today, I prefer to stay in home-office to work.  

How do you see the world after Covid-19? In your opinion, will our life, or even the art scene and art market change in any way and if so, in what way? 

 Well, there will surely be a change, everything will be coordinated via electronic messages and screen projects as we are not allowed to visit exhibitions. Museums and galleries are closed. 

How will your working conditions or even your own attitude towards your practice change? (If you think it will change at all.) 

My life hasnt changed that much, but there is one thing I find very difficult: I can’t travel from Germany to Austria and to France, where a lot of my volunteers live. They work for The Lady Musgrave Reef Part II. It will show all the bleached corals, the white and yellow band diseases of corals. Corals die out when infected by the high nitrate levels in oceans. We have been working on it since the beginning of February for the Budapest Colonythat will be integrated into the rest of the ‘reef’. Covid-19 appeared in the midst of this work, disrupting my schedule for Slow Life. 

Could you pick one aspect of our lives, which, in your opinion, will be permanently transformed by the pandemic? 

The fear of getting close to people will not disappear for a long time, this is an unnatural shock, it will destroy human love. 

Did this social isolation inspire a new project? If yes, could you briefly tell us about it? 

Korallok

I don’t feel isolated as I have been enjoying a kind of self-isolation for years now in a small hut near the beach of the river Elbe. If I crave human contact, I call my friends from around the world and I enjoy pottering about in my garden, planting new flowers or just hanging out. A new project was inspired through an emergency call from Düsseldorf, a friend’s wife, a dentist, needed operation hats for her lab. So, I created a cap designed in 10 minutes in my hut. I began to sew 5 caps a day.  

One of your artistic objectives is to bring art closer to nature and vice versa. With your own words from your artist statement, “the cultural disconnection with natural environments in modern arts” started to bore you. That’s why you started to crochet and sew natural objects in your studio. With The Lady Musgrave Reef you also wanted to raise attention to the diminishing coral reefs around the world. Do you believe that art can positively influence our society? In what way can art achieve a lasting positive effect? 

Art is an essential kind of thinking and working, it is a system that defines its own rules, the artist is a fountain and I always felt full of visions and ideas for creating new worlds that inspire me. Well, crocheting is a heritage of my childhood, I was raised in Vienna and Graz, my 12 aunts used to do needlework at every family gathering. It was so weird, but they were the soul and brain of the family: sitting there, talking and organising the household. The men were not present, so I developed a sort of affiliation to this curious behaviour – the aunties were the ones who ruled. I studied medicine and microbiology, and did not want to work in labs, so my resistance towards the commercialised art world was to sit and crochet.       

In your opinion, how does the corona-situation add to or re-evaluate your work selected for the exhibition Slow Life? Do you see it in a different light at all? 

Well, it fits perfectly into the situation, but it is not funny at all, we have a sad coincidence happening, the content of the show is overwritten by reality. 

As humans retreated into their homes, animals appeared in their habitats, e.g. dolphins in the canals of Venice, or deers and foxes in empty cities. Do you have a new-found hope for the survival of coral reefs? 

 Yes, but it will take a long time 

 The way you organised the work of the volunteers for The Lady Musgrave Reef (e.g. sending the materials via post and receiving the crocheted corals later) might resonate with current working methods that we had to embrace during social isolation. Even with the work done in the volunteersown homes, this process still feels very social. Do you think it built up a sense of community within the team? Can you tell us about your experience with this method? 

The Lady Musgrave Reef at the exhibition of Neue Galerie Graz in 2007, photo: M. Schuster

Normally, the team meets at the show, but this is not possible nowbut who knows, borders will maybe open in summer, we will be able to travel in masks. 

My team works in their homes and they are let free and could work whatever, however and whenever they want. 

My method was always freedom of creation and freedom of body. It sounds anarchistic, but it’s the way how evolution goes, and now we have to follow in the footsteps of evolution, while looking at the bigger picture, a global picture. Staying home also means survival of the fittest and not risking the elderly, and so conserve the wisdom they possess.  

 

 

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Brave new world – How will art look like after COVID-19? An Interview with artist Judit Flóra Schuller

How does the corona virus pandemic effect your artistic practice and your daily life?

In addition to the Slow Life exhibition, I was invited to participate in an exhibition dedicated to Pesach at 2B Gallery organized by László Böröcz, which would have opened on the same day, April 8th. As there was no way to postpone the exhibition due to its theme, unfortunately it was cancelled. And in the first half of May, I was to take part in a two-week residency program at the Balassi Institute in Rome, which I received as part of the MODEM award I won in the autumn of 2018. Unfortunately, last year I couldn’t go, and I won’t be able to leave this year either. I hope that in autumn I will be able to make up for it. To earn a living, I work in a museum, so a lot of everyday work is being reorganized now. I am fortunate not to work as a freelancer at the moment and to have received the Derkovits Scholarship this year. However, beyond everyday security of existence, this uncertainty is obviously worrying. I feel it basically harder to concentrate, since my mind is busy all the time, and I’m worried about my family – my parents working in healthcare – and people in general. Meanwhile we’re flooded with a huge wave of information, despite the confinement, there are a lot of online stimuli. It is more difficult for me to think about new works now, to slow down to be able to pick up the threads, but in the long run, something new may emerge from these wandering thoughts and feelings. On the level of everyday life, however, I managed to create an intimate bubble, which I really enjoy. My appointment book has never been so empty, while a lot of internal processes are going on inside me right now.

 

Do you think you will have a different attitude to life and art when this crisis is over?

This is hard to predict on the basis of the current situation. I basically think that yes, many things will change for a good while. It’s hard to say how long it will take for things to get back to their pre-corona virus state. Considering previous collective changes and traumas, normalcy may return to our lives relatively soon on a daily basis, but we will need more time and distance to reflect on what happened.

 

In what way do you think this virus has fundamentally changed our lives or has it changed it at all? What can we learn from it?

I wouldn’t like to make “big” statements about this. A lot has changed and is changing now around us over the last few months. No one can get away from this, everyone experiences it on a private level, but from now on it is inevitable that we, as individuals, will concern about the bigger whole. Our currently reduced living space and activity is likely to lead many people to a more minimalist lifestyle.

 

Do you think that art has the means to effect social changes? And if so, then in what ways?

Art has always reflected on life. Whether this reflection is provocative, loud, far-reaching, critical, or just “quiet”, it depends on the artist, the work accomplished, and the medium or channel of mediation. When something is so close to us in time and, in this case, physically, too, I always find it difficult to approach it through art – even as a viewer. I think this in many cases takes some time and distance.

Schuller Judit Flóra: Towards Nothingness (Walks), részlet a Memory Theatre sorozatból / from the series Memory Theatre, 2017.
Fotó/Photo: Bíró Dávid

Judit Flóra Schuller is one of the artists taking part in our exhibition. More about her here.

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An Interview with Ursula Biemann Swiss video artist and researcher

How does the corona virus pandemic affect your artistic practice and your daily life? 

 The current conditions don’t affect my artistic practice at all, since most of my work takes place in the digital and virtual realm, my productivity is unhindered. On the contrary, since there are no more interruptions in the form of exhibition participations or lectures that I should give, I can work on my projects in peace and quiet. Nevertheless, I feel a break, an unplanned pause, which I am currently using as a space to rethink overriding issues, because I can’t shake off the feeling that this sharp cut into business-as-usual will change future scenarios for good.

Do you think you will have a different attitude to life and art when this crisis is over?

 I don’t think so. But the pandemic has put our value system to the test. You could ask crisis of what exactly? Which crises does the virus make visible? Weak points are coming to light. I do believe that humanity is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. However, we have seen it coming for some time in the exhaustion of Earth, the hopelessness of a destructive economic model, the sluggish energy transition. The ecological crisis is at least as threatening to human survival but has never been approached with this kind of emergency measures and zeal. Our system is in crisis. Yes, definitely. It just looks more alarming because the agent is now in our body, that’s more freaky. I see the eco crisis and the pandemic as one complex. My art and writing have engaged in the transformation of the human relationship to the natural world for years, so I will continue along those lines. It just so happens that last October I came back from a field trip to the Amazon with a lot of video material that I’m editing, sorting, translating now. That’s perfect because field trips are the one thing I cannot do right now.

In what way do you think this virus has fundamentally changed our lives or has it changed it at all? What can we learn from it?

Economic interests keep expressing the need to go back to business-as-usual as soon as possible. But I think that’s not going to happen, certain economic and structural breakdowns that are currently in process but still invisible, will emerge over the next months. That’s just a given considering the blown-up credit economy, the disruption of supply chains, the slowdown of transportation and insane mass tourism, the burden of increasing climatic stress on agriculture and assets etc. I see big changes. I’m mostly interested in the structural changes that are needed for a more sustainable life. I think we need them desperately.

Do you think that art has the means to effect social changes? And if so, then in what ways?

 The objective of image and meaning making, as I practice it, is not primarily to influence the opinion of others. It is in and of itself an act of reality-making. In my view, images themselves possess a kind of conceptual, even material capacity to act. Hence, the preservation of the world can also be restored and re-conceived within experimental aesthetic practices. Ultimately, we effect change by changing our own practice, by choosing our focus of attention, by feeding the collective imaginary with creative speculations and poetic proposals, by being an inspiration to others.

 

Swiss video researcher and artist Ursula Biemann has long been interested in the ecologies and uneven distribution of the Earth’s resources, peoples, and information. For this project she is joined by Paulo Tavares, a Brazilian architect and urbanist who studies the politics of space and indigenous resistance in the Amazon, in the collaborative production of Forest Law (2014), a two-channel video-installation and photo-text assemblage. Forest Law draws on research Biemann and Tavares carried out in the oil-and-mining frontiers of the Ecuadorian rainforest at the transition between the Amazon Floodplains and the Andean Mountains. This border zone is one of the most biodiverse and mineral-rich regions on Earth, but one which is currently under pressure from the dramatic expansion of large-scale mineral extraction activities. Guiding the work is a series of landmark legal cases that bring the forest and its indigenous leaders, lawyers, and scientists to court, including one such particularly paradigmatic trial, recently won by the indigenous people of Sarayuku from the Ecuadorian lowlands, whose case argued for centrality of the cosmology of the “Living Forest” in their community’s survival.

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An exhibition that looks in the future and touches upon present. Interview with Viktória Popovics

In the interview Viktória Popovics talks about the exhibition Slow Life. A Radical Practices of the Everyday (Hungarian only)