Slow News International / To get at the truth, you sometimes have to stand it on its head. So in response to the old “truism” that “news travels fast,” artists participating in Slow News International have used snail mail to send news from their various international sites of life and work.
The result: A testament that the relaxed pace of transit does not invalidate the message, but allows us to test its validity as we sort out the distinctions between timely and timeless, ephemeral and enduring.
The exhibition, developed by The ARTS at Marks Garage and a New York-based collaborative, invited artists from around the world to submit work in any medium–as long as it was in an easily-transportable format: no more than a three-foot-wide scroll that could be sent in a standard mailing tube.
A little grove of those shipping tubes forms the centerpiece of the exhibition–a contemporary format that aptly represents the current economic climate, as shipping costs present a significant challenge to local galleries and museums. But it also invokes more venerable tradition, when hanging scrolls (read vertically) or hand-scrolls (read horizontally) created a more leisurely and contemplative pace for the visual (and sometimes literary) experience. The Slow News artists employ both formats in shaping their messages.
Some works address the ways in which news is now transmitted. Gülsen Calik’s photocopied “Weather Report,” a long and tapering hanging scroll that reaches the gallery floor, seems to use the manipulation of the image being copied (thus rendering information illegible) as a kind of metaphor for the unreliable nature of such reports.
June Ahrens’ “Buried,” a digital print that combines text with an image of a graveyard, addresses the feared demise of print news. Newspaper news takes on a personal and poignant cast in Nikki Johnson’s homage to a friend and coworker, who was murdered in the Bronx, reminding us that the news media often requires us to negotiate between the public and the private.
Two other themes emerge as significant in the exhibition. One focuses on the natural environment, increasingly subjected to destabilizing stress. Another theme underscores changes in the human environment, as increasing population density in urban centers and changes in information technology and social networking seem to force both intimacy and estrangement.
Perhaps not surprisingly, several artists from Tokyo have focused on the idea of the density of city life in various ways. Sakura Hirai’s untitled ink drawing, for which the long, horizontal format is perfectly suited, shows the progression of passengers during a single day’s train transit in the city’s center. Hirai’s powers of close observation reveal (with affectionate humor) the ways in which travelers negotiate personal space and time while in motion. Emi Owada’s “Bucket Town,” also horizontal in format, is a kind of pictorial census of the workers who provide the people-power for the part of the city in which she lives. Though uniform in size and general contour, the numerous workers (all women–so there is also a gender subtext) are distinguished by props related to their trades and occupations.
Tomoko Harada’s “Wall Have Ears” conveys a darker perception of the information society and its mechanisms. Using the traditional noren or two-paneled curtain that often delineates a doorway, Harada has stenciled a repeat pattern of hands positioned as if forming a pair of glasses. The artist, who has experienced both rural and urban life, notes that “In the end, whether in the city or the country, past as in present, you never know when you are being watched.”