Friday, 27 November 2015

why so slow

i've been taking a mini-programmable electronics workshop over the past couple of weeks through video pool here in winnipeg. andrew milne has been leading it, with help from andy, and there are seven of us in the workshop. all of us are artists looking to work electronics and new media into our practices somehow. by coincidence, three of us are textile artists (kelly was the one who reminded me to sign up). we are learning about analog versus digital, coding, ttl and cmos, how to build arduinos, the whole bit. all crammed into about 16 hours spread over four evenings. it's basically been a crash course into "here's electronics, here are their fundamentals and math and basic theory, here are some ways to apply them, try to build some shit, get past that initial fear so when you leave here you can jump into this with a little bit of comfort." and it's working. somehow, it's sort of making sense. a little bit.

plaster hands for the when nature fought back exhibit next week. trial and error and settling happily on imperfection.

i started investigating (in the most rudimentary of ways) the incorporation of new media into my practice during my master's degree in london. i studied aurality (the study of sound, not music, within the context of live performance) and started doing my first explorations into installations. when i got back to winnipeg, kelly was actually the one to introduce me to the new media scene here through cluster festival. i am fascinated by the idea and possibilities and theories behind interactive installations; how people interact with situations where they are given few concrete instructions (but where many unwritten rules, like how to behave in an art gallery, are a given); how to build soundscapes to manipulate an audience's emotions and journey (in a consensual way, if that makes sense). i'm also fascinated by the incorporation of electronic media into traditional craft - what if you knit a sweater that is somehow fitted with sensors, in a way where they're not just plunked onto the finished fabric, that then feeds a soundtrack and light show within a gallery space? the workshop has been very useful for learning major limitations to my imagination within reality, which is helpful.

huge blown-up photos from the photoshoot by leif norman. they'll be aged and burned and find their way to exhibit walls.
electronics and i have a lifelong and complicated (it's not me, it's you) relationship. i just don't get it. i'm great with math, theory makes sense, and i know what i want the output to be. but when it comes to programming the fucking circuit board, forget it. there is some level of magic that just doesn't quite connect in my brain's synapses. i'm starting to get a little bit better with it, but i have nearly burst into frustrated tears literally every single night of this workshop. electronics make me irrational. so why, given all of that, would i find myself being drawn to the most complicated, slow, arduous means of programming? and by that, i mean working in analog and using serial sequencing.

i don't totally grasp the concepts yet, so i'm not going to attempt to explain them, because i'll probably get most of it very wrong. but the philosophy is so beautiful to me, and it fits into my practice so nicely, that it just makes sense. analog is slow and often painful. you do things by hand rather than allowing a pre-programmed digital component do the work for you. even if you are a novice at whatever you're doing. even if the digital program could make you seem like you're an expert. serial sequencing is similar in its theory - things happen step by step rather than all at once. one component speaks to another which speaks to another, and you get this whole dialogue and conversation rather than the singular monologue of parallel sequencing. and if you fuck up with serial sequencing, good luck. you need to go through the whole chain until you figure out where the error is. but you take the time, and make the time, and ultimately, if you ever figure out where it went wrong, you understand the whole series much deeper by the time you unravel it. 

my textile process is slow. i knit hundreds of thousands of tiny stitches to make a single garment over a series of days and weeks and months and sometimes years. if i make a mistake that i can't bear to live with, i sometimes rip back three hours worth of work and spend five more fixing it and getting back to where i was. i make things with my hands, which are progressively getting achier and more creaky every month. i will most likely have early onset-arthritis by the time i hit thirty from the combination of repetitive movements and my genetics. right now, as i type this, my left index finger's top knuckle is sending pangs through the rest of my hand, and that's because i spent about five hours today knitting while also doing other things. there is no logic to this, if we were to look at it from a purely productive standpoint. i could have bought that sweater. i could have done other things with my hands that were not so repetitive. i could not spend an average of 60 hours a week knitting and making my finger joints into angry little demons. 

but that's not the point. the process of knitting is also a process of self-awareness and discovery and reducing anxiety and constant learning and of pure, unbridled love. when i knit for someone else (seldom these days, but there are specific situations where i fit it in), i try to practice mindfulness and intention, setting each stitch into place with as much peace and love and caring that i can fit into it. it's not always successful. in fact, it's often not successful. but that's part of the process, and part of the self-discovery. i learn more about myself, and about others, and how i and we and all of us connect together through the slowing down of life and making things stitch by stitch with my hands. which is why analog and serial sequencing just make sense. yes, they are electronics and they will be frustrating as fuck and i will get angry and cry because i don't understand why the hell the stupid doohickey isn't working again. but that will be part of the process, and it will inform and suggest and lend itself to the theories of interconnectivity, and community, and taking time, and making space, and failing, and spending more time figuring out how and why you failed before slowly getting back to where you were before you failed. that's the way i prefer to work. art is an extension of life, and the simulation is just not the same as the precision and messiness and effort that is the real thing. so i may as well do it the slow way, and the end result will be so much more fulfilling, and isn't that the point? that we swell with emotion until we feel like we are going to burst out of our skin and our hearts will escape their rib cage? 


  1. this is such a lovely reflection ash, thanks for sharing it. I love the idea of slowness (and its frustrations) as a deliberate approach rather than something to be avoided or optimized away.

    1. thanks julie! it's been a slow coming to awareness (ironic? appropriate?) that working slow is an integral part of my practice. it runs in quite the opposition to my anxiety ha.