Making time for slower digital experiences in museums

Here at Slow Art Day we focus on how visitors engage with physical works of art – how paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other media are perceived, considered, and experienced by the viewer. But in our digital age, museums are increasingly trying to deliver “snackable” digital content – short bursts of entertaining and enlightening information delivered through social media initiatives or interactive installations. In an article published by The Guardian earlier this week, Danny Birchall, Digital Manager at London’s Wellcome Collection, eloquently makes the case that digital or virtual engagements with artworks allow for the same unhurried, slow potential as physical interactions. Birchall writes, “[…] if museums can deliver snacks, why not three-course meals? Is there space in museums for slower and longer digital experiences for audiences to savour and enjoy?” Birchall uses the Wellcome Collection’s Mindcraft, an immersive and interactive tool that describes the history of hypnotism over the course of a six-chapter digital story, as a case study for his article. However, even the relatively long-form (for the digital realm) Mindcraft is only about 15 minutes long – a fraction of the length of your typical Slow Art Day event. Is this enough to ensure visitors’ full engagement with digital content? Can museums offer an immersive, engaging digital experience that avoids superficiality and truly deepens the visitor’s experience of a work of art without relying on gimmicks?

Read the article “Museums should make time for slower digital experiences” here and tell us your thoughts!

The starting point of the Wellcome Collection's "Mindcraft" story-telling experience, a virtual means of engaging the museum's audience with its collection.

The starting point of the Wellcome Collection’s “Mindcraft” story-telling experience, a virtual means of engaging the museum’s audience with its collection.

The Ancient Way of Slow Looking

When we walk into a museum or gallery nowadays, we are instantly confronted with a rather large number of artifacts which demand our attention. I always find myself pondering where to start my journey. Is it with this painting to my left? How about this wonderful African mask straight ahead? While museums and galleries are generally quiet and peaceful places, they nevertheless hold enough artifacts to potentially overwhelm the visitor.

It’s true that we don’t spend enough time actually looking at a painting anymore. In fact, we spend more time reading the description underneath it than contemplating the painting itself. Even though we attempt to return to contemplation with the help of Slow Art Day, there is nevertheless a crucial element in today’s paintings that is not always beneficial to slow looking.

When we stand in front of a painting, the whole scenery is present before us. It’s not entirely surprising that we spend little time on contemplating paintings. We think that because everything is there in laid out in front of us at one time, we don’t have to work very hard at the act of looking. It’s certainly beneficial to those always-in-haste people that today paintings are not unrolled and displayed gradually, as traditional Chinese scroll paintings were.

Hanging scrolls and hand scrolls were common features in Chinese painting, which often featured beautiful landscapes – mountains and waterfalls in particular. Painters infused their works with Taoist thoughts and beliefs such as simplicity, which was, in part, made visible in the use of monochrome textures, i.e. black and white. It finds its most extreme application in Zen painting; works famous for their black ink on white rice paper.

The often meters-long scrolls had two main goals. First was the delayed contemplation. The viewer was unable to quickly grasp the entire scenery, because the scroll had been unrolled scene after scene, so that the viewing process lasted longer than we spend on paintings (even during Slow Art Day!).  And then there was the narrative aspect, the ancient precursor of film if you will, long before photography paved the way for the development of cinema. The step-by-step unraveling of the scroll allowed for a narrative development. It thus contained not only one scenery, but several, which were linked to one another and formed a painterly entertainment for the viewers. It was a slow pleasure, in a way like a slow film, which takes its time to develop.

Scroll painting from the Chinese Sung Dynasty by Chang Tse-Twan

Scroll painting from the Chinese Sung Dynasty by Chang Tse-Twan

The above painting is a five metre long scroll from the Chinese Sung Dynasty (c. 960-1126), painted by Chang Tse-Twan. It is considered as a scroll painting that stands at the beginning of narrative development in Chinese painting. While nowadays we would see the entire scroll displayed at once, in those days viewers only saw parts of it, one after the other. It is not difficult to see how the slow unrolling of the scroll created a heightened pleasure for the audience. I often wish that painters would return to this form of painting that not only creates a work of quietness, but also generates excitement over what we will see next in the scroll; a real journey through a painting.

– Nadin

Slow Art Cinema

For years now we have been engaging in the art of slow looking. Slow Art Day is, in some ways, part of the Slow Movement, which seeks to reintroduce aspects of slowness. In many cases the “slow” values are ones that we have long lost, dating back to the introduction of mechanical time-keeping, which put time and its importance at the centre of our lives. Slow Art is but one of many other ‘slow’ activities; for example, the Slow Food movement thrives in many parts of the world. What I personally find intriguing, though, is the link between Slow Art and Slow Cinema, the subject of my on-going research. We published a brief blog entry about Slow Cinema before, which I want to expand on here.

The term ‘Slow Cinema’ was coined in 2004 by film critic Jonathan Romney. Since then it has been widely in use, although the term is somewhat limiting and derogative as ‘slow’ implies boredom for many people. The truth is that the aesthetics of Slow Cinema can be found as far back as the very beginning of cinema history, for example in long takes, which are (often mundane) events filmed in their entirety without a cut. Hungarian director Béla Tarr only cut when the reel came to an end, after about ten minutes. Lav Diaz from the Philippines, who used to be a painter but has now shifted to filmmaking, often goes as far as recording events without a single cut for as long as twenty minutes.

This, the use of an often static camera with little movement in the film frames, might remind one of paintings – only here these paintings are not hanging on a  wall, but instead are projected onto a screen. The result, however, is the same. The viewer sits in front of the visual image, studying every detail of the frame, and may find him- or herself marveling at the beautiful rural landscapes that are often found in slow films. Take Michela Occhipinti’s Letters from the Desert (2012), set in rural India. The protagonists appear as mere dots in the landscape.

Still from Michela Occhipinti's "Letters from the Desert"

Still from Michela Occhipinti’s “Letters from the Desert”

Or take Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra’s Birdsong (2008), which is not only a comedic study of the Three Kings on their way to Bethlehem but also a stunning portrayal of empty landscapes.

Still from Albert Serra's Birdsong

Still from Albert Serra’s Birdsong

Then there is also Panahbarkhoda Rezaee from Iran, whose superb Daughter…Father…Daughter (2011) shows the audience a stunning Iranian landscape we perhaps never thought existed.

Still from Panahbarkhoda Rezaee's "Daughter...Father...Daughter"

Still from Panahbarkhoda Rezaee’s “Daughter…Father…Daughter”

And there is Caspar David Friedrich’s famous Rückenfigur that appeared in Lav Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos (2007), an overwhelming nine-hour film set in the aftermath of a natural catastrophe that finds little likeness in the Philippines.

Caspar David Friedrich, and Lav Diaz's "Death in the Land of Encantos"

Caspar David Friedrich, and Lav Diaz’s “Death in the Land of Encantos”

There is more to the link between Slow Art and Slow Cinema than the apparent focus of traditions of landscape painting in the latter, however. For a long time I have thought and argued that slow films should be screened in galleries and museums. Locations govern our experiences; hence people tend to go to the movies to escape from reality, to see some action-laden blockbuster that puts them on a roller-coaster ride through the full spectrum of human emotions. A gallery audience has different expectations, ‘slower’ expectations, in fact, so that a projection of the fourteen-hour long Crude Oil (2008) by Wang Bing might sit much more at ease in this surrounding than it would in a cinema. And indeed, slow-film directors are more and more moving into gallery spaces, merging their work with other forms of art. Taiwan-based Tsai Ming-liang, whose superb short film Walker is available and free to see for everyone, even shot Visage (2009) in the Louvre after the museum commissioned him to do so. Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011) won the Golden Palm at Cannes in 2011, is also widely known for his gallery works, such as Photophobia. His short film Dilbar is also available for you to watch online.

It is in this light, then, that I don’t see Slow Art and Slow Cinema as being separate from one other. As mentioned before, there are several slow activities thriving around the world. We have seen everything from Slow Education to Slow Finance to Slow Parenting. But none of these are so intricately intertwined as are Slow Art and Slow Cinema.

You can find more information, thoughts, film reviews, and interviews with directors on my website, The Art(s) of Slow Cinema. Or you can get in touch via theartsofslowcinema@gmail.com. I’m always happy to have slow discussions with people!

– Nadin

The Slow Pleasures of Looking at Art – Cincinnati CityBeat Feature Article on Slow Art Day

by Steven Rosen
Published in CityBeat: April 2014

“Usually, I feel pressured to look at everything in a specific gallery (or, if out-of-town, an entire museum) and that inevitably means spending too little time with the life’s work of so many talented, creative people. That’s what Slow Art Day is attempting to remedy.

Rather than a Slow Art Day, there should be an ongoing Slow Art Tour. I’d come once a week.”

Read the full feature article on the Cincinnati CityBeat website.

The Value of Slow Looking

But what’s interesting about Slow Art Day is that it offers a practice (look for at least 10 minutes) and the possibility of an experience that’s owned by the viewer. It’s why giving attention to art at the very least brings new perspective, and is in the words of business thinkers potentially ‘disruptive’ in that it can over time shift how you see things. In a world of customization and personalization digital technology provides us with the stuff based on previous choices – it makes life easier.

John O’Reilly, Slow Art Day and the value of spending time looking at pictures, Image Source, (via).

 

Image Source has interviewed our founder, Phil Terry, on his thoughts about Slow Art Day!

Read on to find out the original inspiration and “a-ha” moment that sparked Slow Art Day’s birth, why freedom is important for the viewer’s engagement, what Phil Terry means by “monogamous-in-the-moment“and much more here.

– Karen

 

Dig into Slow Art Day

A new education-based movement called “Deeper Learning” is proposing an alternative to educational styles featuring a skill us slow looking aficionados already know well: undisturbed, passionate study.

Emma Lloyd - "Emergence" Find this and other works on our Pinterest page!

Emma Lloyd – “Emergence”
Find this and other works on our
Pinterest page.

The concept of Deeper Learning is defined as “a rich learning experience for students that allows them to really dig into a subject and understand it in a way that requires more than just memorizing facts” according to Katrina Schwartz, of KQED’s Mind/Shift blog.

This kind of advocation for “digging into” something applies well to the slow looking philosophy. Instead of glossing over a work of art to see every item in a museum’s collection, Slow Art Day invites the viewer to stop and find inspiration within only five pieces for at least ten minutes at a time. The results are spectacularly diverse as seen in our well-documented catalog of slow looking experiences.

Scharwtz proposes that for the Deeper Learning model to catch on, it would help for educators to see it in action first before implementing within their classrooms.

Don’t have a handy Deeper Learning optimized classroom to bring the educator in your life too? Why not bring them along to a Slow Art Day event in your area!

This April, start the discussion around alternative ways of education and art experience.

– Karen

 

Rippling Recognitions

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013-14 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing. Jennifer Latshaw, Slow Art Day intern from De Paul University, writes here about her experience seeing the unexpected.

Looking at art slowly is not my typical way of visiting a museum. Like many others, I tend to quickly stroll through any special exhibits that are currently on display and then visit some old favorites without spending much time with any single work. As a result, when I visited the Art Institute of Chicago to complete my slow looking assignment, I decided to find a famous work that I had never really focused on before. While the impressionist collection is a highlight of the museum and a section I’ve visited many times before, I guessed that I could find a painting there that had only gotten the quick treatment from me before.

I chose one of the most popular and well-known paintings in the collection – Monet’s Water Lily Pond, 1917-1922. Of course, I’ve seen this painting before – so have many millions of people. It is such a familiar painting that I wondered if slow looking would reveal anything new.

I started the exercise by standing a few feet away from the painting in the gallery. Then after a few minutes I moved farther away. Eventually, I then got closer again. Not surprisingly, I saw different things depending on my distance from the painting. Up close the painting appeared to simply be smudges of color with no rhyme or reason to where they were placed. I noticed how it was thick in some places and sparse in others. I had not really noticed or thought about the thickness of the paint. Moving farther away from the painting, the larger image came into view. At my farthest from the canvas, I sat on a bench across the room and considered the entire painting at once. From this distance, the lilies appeared to be sitting on top of the lake with dramatic brush strokes of contrasting colors to the rest of the painting suggesting movement or reflection to give depth and dimension to the entire image.

Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1917-22

Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1917-22
(Image Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Varying distance also allowed me to really reflect on the way the colors interact in the image. Up close I could see not just the relative thickness of the paints but also the individual pinks, reds, yellows, and purples. When viewed from farther away they came together to make greens and browns. I had never really taken the time before to see how colors change depending on perspective. It’s one thing to learn that in color theory class. It’s another thing to really experience it from a session of slow looking.

My original goal was to look for five minutes and then jot down some notes about the experience. Once I really started to look, however, I could not get enough of the painting. During the first minute or two, I glanced at my watch every 10 or seconds to see how long I had been looking. But after that, I found myself caring less about the time and caring more about seeing new things in the painting. And before I knew it, I had been absorbed in looking at Monet’s Water Lily Pond for 30 minutes.

One unexpected and surprising benefit was that slow looking is relaxing. By focusing on one painting I was able to stop multi-tasking and really pay attention. Everything else that would regularly consume my thoughts was gone and I was left only with Monet, his beautiful water lilies, and the ability to see so much more than I ever realized was there.

– Jennifer Latshaw, De Paul University

Claude Monet’s Water Lily Pond among other great works are available to view at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The Art Institute of Chicago is not currently a 2014 Slow Art Day venue.  Sign up to host here!

You Can’t Pin Us Down…

By MadeByBride (via Etsy c/o Pinterest)

By MadeByBride (via Etsy c/o Pinterest)

…Except on Pinterest!

Get ready for Slow Art Day 2014 by browsing our Pinterest boards, featuring some of the most thought-worthy slow looking quotes and eye-catching works to view slowly.

And while you’re there – don’t forget to relive the Slow Art Day 2013 memories in our special Board of our venues’ highlights!

We’re still dipping our toes into the Pinterest pool, so why don’t you stop by our latest nook of the internet and follow us while we’re ‘under construction’ ? No hard hats required.

– Karen

Seen Again in New Light

Paul Coffin

Paul Coffin

Bernini like you’ve never seen him before…

Artist Peter Coffin introduces his viewer to time-honored works in new light, or rather shadow, but creating simple but identifiable outlines of artworks such as the Ecstacy of St. Teresa.

In order to view more works such as this, take a gander at our facebook page!

– Karen