Kant: Time is in us and we are in time.

The white rabbit: I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.

The exhibit “As soon as possible – acceleration in contemporary society” at Strozzina in Florence makes us stop and think. In recent years, everything around us has been accelerated, leaving us feeling at times stressed and alienated. It’s no coincidence that the past few years have seen a counter-trend in “slow food”, “slow travel”, and even “slow art”.


I also edit the blog of illywords magazine, and noticed that they were already feeling the stress of these fast rythms in 2002 with issue #1, Timetables and Scoreboards, and the constant flow of information that bombards us and forces us to move faster comes up also in #14, Refresh. The question of speed is always current.

In the basement exhibition space of Palazzo Strozzi, Curator Franziska Nori has asked ten international contemporary artists working on the theme of acceleration to contribute their diverse approaches. Seven essays expand and reflect on the theme independantly of what’s in the gallery, making the catalogue an indispensable aid. Thursday night gallery talks (with free admission) also add to the debate.

How often have you been asked to do a task for someone and been told “I need it right away… actually, it was due yesterday.” Work knows no boundaries of office hours or office spaces; “flexible location” and “smartphones” make us think we’re important but they just help us work all the time, everywhere. Mark Formanek makes an observation on the ridiculous pace of our workday by having a group of workmen build a digital clock out of wood that moves with each minute (the work is titled Standard Time). The 24 hour dvd loop plays in the gallery; the work doesn’t stop with the museum’s closure. The people in the video just keep going, they never have time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labour.


A complete change of pace can be found in Jens Risch’s patient knotting of kilometers’ worth of silk thread. In some cases the resulting small blobs that recall coral took four years to complete. The artist keeps a diary of his daily activity of knot-tying. He must be the most patient person in the world.

There is tension in both these works, though – in the tight knot by Risch, or in the pace of the workmen in Formanek. Tension to the point of danger is present in Arcangelo Sassolino’s Pneumatic Expansion of a Living Force – a glass bottle in a bulletproof glass case, attached to a nitrogen tank. There is a sign in the gallery that warns us of the imminent explosion. It’s a matter of liability (think what would happen is there were a visitor with pacemaker), but you’re likely to jump just the same. We observe the bottle in the case and wonder when and if it will explode. Eventually it does, and a gallery attendant has to replace it and start over again.

The editorial presentation of illywords #1 points out that:

… being mature and professional individuals, we want to be able to manage our own time and rhythm peacefully and sensibly.

That’s what the young German artist Fiete Stolte wants to do. He has decided to live in a parallel universe composed of eight 21-hour days, during which natural and artificial light phase in and out of alignment. This rhthym expresses itself visually in a series of photographs of his office window viewed from outside, mounted on the gallery wall. His decision is based on the idea that the conventional week is not long enough. I have to contest this – I always feel that there are not enough hours in the day to get things done, so if 24 aren’t enough, imagine having 21! I filmed Stolte explaining his work:

Tension, time management, and the constant flow of information… this last theme and how it makes us feel is present in works by Marnix de Nijs, Julius Popp, and Tamy Ben-Tor. Ben-Tor’s contribution is a video of herself dressed up in a silly wig, reciting a litany of spam email that is both familiar and annoying. De Nijs gets you to sit down in a futuristic chair and spin around trying to synchronize movement with views of an anonymous city panorama. As the catalogue says, “the images simulate the speed of the world which we live in and which forces man to increase his own speed for the sake of progress.” If you get it right, you don’t get dizzy; I clearly didn’t succeed. Seldom does successful art make one feel so nauseated.


Popp’s installation, on the other hand, hypnotized me with the relaxing sound of falling water, which one realizes is exactly anti-zen. Tiny drops of water compose words that exist for seconds before falling into the basin below for recycling. These words are drawn from a real-time connection to Google News; they are that moment’s most relevant keywords. This piece is never the same from one moment to the next. (You can hear the rhythm and see what I mean in the second half of this video.)

The theme of acceleration is by all means a key one in this decade and probably will continue to be so in years to come. Personally I am not willing to live in an alternate reality (be it a false 8 hour week or by withdrawing to a hermitage); in fact, I like technology a lot. Exhibits like this one help keep things in check by asking us to think about our lifestyle. Consciousness is the first step towards any solution.

Here are photos from the exhibit that I took for Tuscany Arts, the blog I write for the Region about art in Tuscany.

ASAP at Strozzina is on in Florence through July 18th 2010. Go!

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