While reading a review of the New Museum’s upcoming triennial in the NYTimes (“Where Virtual Equals Real”), I was thinking how my creative impulses couldn’t be much further afield. This exhibition is dominated by digital dystopias tackling what the article described as “post-human and post-internet.” Author Brian Siebert defines post-internet not as being beyond the internet, but rather that the internet is so normalized and embedded in our lives that it has become us (or we have become it): an “Internet state of mind” (quoted from “Art Post-Internet” by curators Karen Archey and Robi Peckham).
When I dare to catch up on the news, this dystopic world looms large—perpetual wars and conflicts, beheadings, drones and robots, police brutality, the gulf between the ultra rich and everyone else, the erosion of the humanities and liberal arts education. All the values I hold dear, on which I have based my life, have been pushed to the margins at best.
My response is to retreat—slow down if not stop, unplug, observe closely, listen intently, and above all, take a deep dive into nature.
I am sure that there is utility in drones and robots, in that machine-made, human-dominant world, but while that world is spreading ever wider, subsuming everything in its path, the more-than-human world is dying. I will not list out all the ways non-human nature is gasping for water, air, and space to BE. Anyone who is awake knows this. What troubles me greatly is that the critical mass of humans on this earth are more interested in their devices, gadgets and toys than in the miraculous wonder of life that is in serious decline. What alarms me is that the human world is becoming the ONLY world—it’s all about US. Twitter reflects this perfectly. Undoubtedly, there is useful information being tweeted. But, how much of what is on Twitter is useful, and how much of it is ME, ME, ME?
I visited a retrospective exhibition of the artist Paul Thek at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2011. In one of Thek’s notebooks was written over and over: get over yourself, get over yourself. If HUMANity is going to survive, we are going to have to get over ourselves. We are going to have to acknowledge that it’s not all about us, that there are countless species with whom we share the planet, and they have a right to their continued existence just as we do.
We are enacting a genocide on non-human nature, and we are too busy tweeting and texting to notice. This cataclysmic injustice is not only perpetrated on non-human others who are unable to speak to us in our language. This ecocide is an injustice to future generations who may find themselves in an entirely artificial world and may never know the joy of birdsong, the taste of wild honey, the smell of a forest, or the sensation of walking on damp, spongy soil. A world that is just about us is not a world I want to live in. That world is without a soul.
So this all takes me back to slow art—slow not only in the making but in the experience of it. Over the last few years, I’ve been studying botanical art. In its traditional form, I find it is too painstaking and laborious for my temperament, but there is much I am learning from it. More than anything, I am learning to slow down and look very carefully at a twig, a leaf, a bud, a petal. And the more I look as I attempt to replicate the shapes, the colors, the textures, the more I am in awe of the miracle of nature, of life, of evolution.
So I am now working toward integrating this slow process of observation and its resulting imagery into my more contemporary forms of image making—that slow looking and sensing, and that life force. This requires much patience and suspension of self-doubt, for this is new territory. I am experimenting and I am listening. I am keeping the channel open.
Beauty is not merely in the physical form, but beauty in essence is that quality of sensitivity, the quality of observation of nature. – Krishnamurti