3.3 Fast and slow art

The purpose of this research task was to look at the work of five artists whose working process or the content that they produce is ‘slow’, and to consider any challenges this brings so that any learning can inform my own practice.

Key words from the brief:

  • Search for and record your thoughts on the production of both ‘Fast’ and ‘Slow’ artworks
  • What are some of the arguments for and against this kind of real-time viewing?
  • Research these artworks and artists for different approaches in different creative contexts [list provided]

‘Fast’ and ‘slow’ art – research

The following artworks all involve the passing of time, either in the content or making of the work, and include film, sculpture, music and performance.

A brief overview of each piece of work is followed by a reflection on the arguments for and against each approach.

Given the transitory nature of many of the works discussed here, one of the themes that will be discussed is the question of how work is documented.

Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of balance

Koyaanisqatsi is a American experimental film release in 1982, directed by Godfrey Reggio, filmed and edited by Ron Fricke with music composed by Philip Glass.

The film is 86-minutes in length.

Koyaanisqatsi film still
Fig 1 – Still from Koyaanisqatsi of a cityscape at night (1982)

The film consists mostly of slow-motion and time-lapse footage of American cities and landscapes, juxtaposed against a Philip Glass soundtrack. There is no dialogue.

The clips I’ve seen are beautiful and haunting. The images are edited to the music.

The final scene (below) is a single shot of over 5-minutes duration and tracks the flight of a rocket blasting off and then exploding high in the atmosphere, before, the camera follows the spinning and flaming debris descending gracefully and menacingly to earth. The images are both beautiful and shocking.

The films ends with with a couple of still graphics that translate the meaning of the Hopi word “Koyaanisqatsi” which means “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living.”

This final statement provides the key to unlock the meaning of the film. Viewed from this point of view it becomes a commentary on contemporary America and American/Western culture.

For me, this piece of work is slightly incongruent when compared to the other works considered below because the content is highly edited and curated, and viewers are led through the film. Whilst there is no dialogue, the imagery and sound track provide the impetus. The work is the same every time it’s viewed.

The remaining artworks are more problematic in that they are transient and designed to change. Each person viewing the work will get a slightly different experience, or only a record or archive of the work.


Longplayer is a 1,000 year long musical composition that started at midnight on December 31st 1999 and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999. It was conceived and composed by Jem Finer.

Longplayer can be heard at several listening points around the world and is installed at the Lighthouse in Trinity Buoy Wharf, London.

Longplayer screenshot
Fig 2 – A screenshot of longplayer.org showing the duration of the work at that moment in time (2020)

Conceptually the idea is more than a piece of music and is about understanding and managing the logistics of a transgenerational piece of music that will need to be maintained, listened to and understood for 1,000 years.

Considerations such as technical survival/update, legislating for its upkeep and it’s social survival as a thing future generations will see value in and therefore want to maintain are major considerations.

The composition is based on a simple set of rules that are applied to six short pieces of music. This is a project of truly epic proportions that could very well outlive our species.

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy is a sculptor, photographer and environmentalist who works directly with materials he find in the landscape. He lives and does much of his work around his home in Scotland

He works in harmony with nature and what he finds, so many of the works are ephemeral and transient state. Examples of the materials he uses includes flowers, twigs, mud, stone, snow and thorns.

The works are beautiful, gentle, subtle and contemplative. It’s transient nature raises the problem of how to document the work.

He describes how he uses photography to do this: “Each work grows, stays, decays – integral parts of a cycle which the photograph shows at its heights, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expressed in the image. Process and decay are implicit.” (2006)

Fig 3 – Millenium Cairn (2000)

The Artist is Present

The Artist is Present was a performance took place in the MOMA over three months for 7.5 hours every day. The work was created and performed by Marina Abramović, a Serbian born artist who now lives and works in America.

The work involved the artist sitting at a wooden table opposite an empty chair. People visiting the gallery would participate in the work by taking turns to sit in front of the artist, locking eyes. During the performance Abramović met the gaze of over 1,000 strangers. In other words, she uses her body as the art.

She describes her work: “I’m interested in how far you can push the energy of the human body, how far you can go, and then see that, actually, our energy is almost limitless. It’s not about the body, it’s about the mind, [which] pushes you to the extremes that you never could imagine” (Abramović, 2010)

Fig 4 – The artist is present (2010)

In an interview for the MOMA she explains her reason for turning to performance: “The moment I started using the body there was such an enormous satisfaction I had, that I can communicate with the public…. I could never go back to the seclusion of the studio and be protected by the space there” (Abramović, 2010).

During the performance, the work operated for the audience at different levels depending on whether they participated directly, by sitting opposite the artist, or indirectly through standing back and viewing the spectacle.

Like Goldsworthy, Abramović used photography to document the performance by photographing the participants as a record of the event.

Tehching Hsieh

Tehching Hsieh is a Taiwanese performance artist known for his works that involve extreme endurance over long periods of time. Conceptually the works are very simple and rules based, but the act of doing the performance is like a marathon.

For One Year Performance, Hsieh rigorously punched a time clock every hour for 366 days, from 11 April 1980 to 11 April 1981. The resulting installation that was displayed in the Tate Modern consisted of letters, statements, uniforms, photographs, punch clock and a time cards.

One Year Performance1980-1981 1980-1 by Tehching Hsieh born 1950
Figure 5 – One year performance (1980)

In another performance titled Outdoor Piece, made 1981 to 1982, he spent one year outside, moving around New York City with a rucksack and sleeping bag.

Thoughts on the production of both ‘Fast’ and ‘Slow’ artworks

There are inherent challenges in the production of both ‘Fast’ and ‘Slow’ artworks and these are discussed below from a number of different angles.


There are very different practical considerations between making ‘Fast’ and ‘Slow’ works of art.

The life changing year long performances of Tehching Hsieh being the extreme example. Generally, the longer an artwork takes to create the more costly it is going to be to the artist in terms of time spent and any production costs. Perhaps the way to fund this kind of work is more reliant on arts funding or sponsorship.

For artists that work fast, the logistical challenges are different. Reportage artists recording a political rally need access to the event and a suitable location to work from. The artist needs to work with what’s in front of them and under the prevailing conditions, for example, adverse weather or in a war zone. There is also a risk in doing this kind of work. What happens if your one chance to capture an event fails?

What is the artifact – the problem of documenting

Then there is the problem of documenting the work.

With most ‘fast’ artwork, the art is expressed in an artefact i.e. a drawing, painting or photograph is the work. As well as having artistic value, an artefact is an object that has a monetary value.

The challenge for slow artworks are how they are recorded and then monitised. Most of the ‘slow’ works discussed above no longer exist. In the case of Goldsworthy’s transient sculptures, they only exist for a short time before being reclaimed by nature. The performances of Abramović or Hsieh are strictly time bound. This leave the artist with the problem of how to document the event in a way that preserves or creates some kind of value.

Hsieh talked about the problem of documenting his work with regards to a piece he exhibited at the Venice Bienniale in 2017: “My performance artwork is time-based, once time passes – they all disappear. All that’s left are the records; and that’s all you see in this show, an archive.”

His exhibition in the Tate of One year performance is described on the Tate’s website as an installation. The experience for the viewer is no longer a primary experience but rather a once removed record of what happened.

The arguments for and against this kind of work

By its very nature, all art, whether made slowly or quickly has a value. The nature of the making will change the perception of the viewer because it provides context for the work.

Once a  viewer understands the context of the rows of punch cards created as part of Hsieh’s One year performance installation, they can relate to what this means and the great lengths of endurance involved in doing the performance.

Picasso’s drawing Bullfight scene (1960) was one of 14 he made around the theme of bullfighting in one day. The rapid gestural nature of the drawing brilliantly captures the drama and dynamism of the scene.

Bullfight Scene 1960 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973
Figure 6 – Bullfight scene (1960)

In conclusion, the way in which an artwork is made may have particular logistical challenges, but the method of making, whether fast or slow, is at the disposal of the artist to use depending on the needs of the work.


Andy Goldsworthy: Art of Nature (2006) At: https://web.archive.org/web/20071016185515/http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/art_profiles/article_1934.asp (Accessed 03/07/2020).

Delaney, B. (2017) ‘Tehching Hsieh, extreme performance artist: ‘I give you clues to the crime’’ In: The Guardian 24/10/2017 At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/24/tehching-hsieh-extreme-performance-artist-i-give-you-clues-to-the (Accessed 03/07/2020).

Finer, J. (2002) Longplayer. (s.l.): Artangel.

Goldsworthy, A. and Janiesch, I. (1990) Andy Goldsworthy. (s.l.): Viking London.

Koyaanisqatsi – Ending Scene (Best Quality) (2014) At: https://youtu.be/OacVy8_nJi0 (Accessed 02/07/2020).

MoMA | Marina Abramović. The Artist Is Present. 2010 (s.d.) At: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/marina-abramovic-marina-abramovic-the-artist-is-present-2010/ (Accessed 03/07/2020).

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Still from Koyaanisqatsi of a cityscape at night (1982) [Film still] In: Koyaanisqatsi. United States: Island Alive, New Cinema

Figure 2 – longplayer.org home page showing the duration of the work at that moment in time [Screenshot] At: https://longplayer.org/ (Accessed: 02/07/20)

Figure 3 – Goldsworthy, Andy (2000) Millenium Cairn (Stone sculpture) At: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/goldsworthy-andy/ (Accessed: 02/07/20)

Figure 4 – Abramović, Marina (2010) The artist is present [Performance art] At: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/marina-abramovic-marina-abramovic-the-artist-is-present-2010/ (Accessed: 02/07/20)

Figure 5 – Hsieh, Tehching (1980) One year performance [Performance art] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hsieh-one-year-performance1980-1981-t13875 (Accessed: 02/07/20)

Figure 6 – Picasso, Pablo (1960) Bullfight scene At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-bullfight-scene-t06803 (Accessed: 03/07/20)



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