How slow can you go?

Anna Starkey
4 min readJun 1, 2023

I’ve been thinking about slow a lot lately. Partly because I’ve had to increasingly embrace slow as a way of being, and partly because I have always been interested in time. I’m fascinated by time as revealed by physics, and also by time as a human construct, the way we talk about it and how and why we’ve built clocks and systems to measure it. At least, we imagine we are measuring it — because from a physics point of view, time doesn’t really exist.

“Things change only in relation to each other. At a fundamental level there is no time.” Carlo Rovelli, Reality is Not What it Seems.

So if there’s no universal time anyway, who gets to say what’s fast or slow, and relative to what?

the word slow is painted on the right hand side of a road in big white letters. The tarmac road is curving through green countryside.

If you look up the synonyms for slow in a thesaurus, they are mostly negative, framed as a lack of something — a lack of speed, of smarts, of busy-ness. If you or something is slow, according to Collins thesaurus it is: sluggish, lagging, lazy, behind, unwilling, hindering, disinclined, tedious, uneventful, unproductive. And it gets worse, being slow is apparently also associated with being : wearisome, boring, and even….dead.

Meantime, the words listed as antonyms, the opposite of slow, are : interesting, exciting, stimulating, lively, animated, action-packed.

Could slow not also be interesting or stimulating? Has the Thesaurus never laid on its back in the grass and watched a cloud slowly morph in the sky, or had all the cinematic feels watching an epic slow motion sequence in a film?

There are just a tiny handful of synonyms that suggest slow as a quality that might possibly have something positive to offer : unhurried, leisurely, easy. These are pretty much the only meanings that don’t give slow a hard time, or make you feel like you definitely wouldn’t want to BE slow or have to be around anything slow. Having had plenty of slow time to absorb this, I am furious on behalf of slow. Who was it that decided slow is all these negative things?

You probably already know the answer, because it’s the same answer to a lot of the problems we’re facing as humans right now. The main reason I can find for slow having such an apparently undesirable set of meanings associated with it, is that dominant white capitalist culture that has colonised peoples, lands and languages to position our bodies solely as actors for work. It has conditioned much of the global population to labour under a clock time coupled to productivity and financial value. This has broken our relationship to ourselves and our natural world, and creates a society where slowness is viewed as either something to feel bad about, or a luxury. It excludes or devalues any human life that exists outside of this dominant temporal framework. Honestly, this blows my mind in a very uncomfortable way.

But happily, there are plenty of far more articulate artists, researchers, writers and thinkers who are challenging and enquiring around ideas of slowness and rest and time, and have hugely influenced and inspired me:

Tricia Hersey’s Manifesto for Rest as Resistance

Raquel Meseguer Zafe’s rest and horizontal centred practice and exploration of crip time

Bayo Akomolafe’s The Times Are Urgent: Let Us Slow Down

Professor Keri Facer — Possibility and the Temporal Imagination and Educating the Temporal Imagination

There are lots of Slow Movements too — in architecture, design, cinema, food production. And slow adjacent work, people advocating for long termism — the Long Now Foundation and the Long Time Project. There will be many more I’ve not come across yet and I’d love to hear about them.

In my creative practice I’m starting to, slowly, dream up something that reclaims the word slow. What if we could design an experience that celebrates and explores slow, that challenges our perceptions of time and opens up different ways of being.

Could slow be nourishing, restorative, expansive, thoughtful, beautiful? What would it mean in the world if different values for slow existed in our systems?

I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but for now I’m developing The Slow Show, and like most of my work it exists somewhere between art and science, experiment, experience and exhibition design. It brings in a bit of not knowing, a bit of curiosity and invites everyone to imagine new possibilities for humanity and the planet through a liberated understanding of time.

I have found more precise and generative language for what I want to do with The Slow Show in Professor Keri Facer’s work — adopting her term, ‘the temporal imagination’ and responding to her proposal and provocation for the need to sensitise and cultivate our temporal imaginations as a possibility practice.

In an exhibition/experience space for The Slow Show, I want to explore the potential for cultivating temporal imagination, with slow as an entry point.

There’s lots of great work already out there that connects with slow and time that it would be great to curate, and brilliant people to commission. And as I develop my own installation ideas, I am interested in what happens when we use experimental media to alter the anticipated temporality of an object or experience space.

Can we play with temporality by integrating technologies with objects we otherwise expect to be analog or unsurprising — might a hybrid, expanded reality sensitise people’s temporal imaginations more than something we read as purely digital or virtual?

And how might we be able to gather, describe or visualise different lived experiences of slowness, that could inform and expand our collective temporal imaginations?

If you want to share something about slow that you’ve seen, or are making, I’d love to hear about it.