waking up and slowing down, creativity and becoming-with climate change

by Emma Lindsay

On the 6th October 2018, a report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating the environmental, social and economic risks to the planet should the average temperature of the earth rise by just 1.5C. (IPCC, 2018) ‘Hundreds of millions of lives are at stake, the report declares, should the world warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which it will do as soon as 2040, if current trends continue.’(Walace-Wells, 2018). The report describes the scale of mobilization necessary, to even minimally curb the climatic change created by the byproducts of an accelerating world reliant on finite unsustainable resources and de- regulated trade systems, as unprecedented (IPCC,2018). It is no longer possible to ignore these figures and predictions as they become our undeniable reality.

With the rise in globalization and merging of technology with the everyday (Archey, cited: Time, 2013: 126), capitalist agenda and subsequent neoliberal ideals have become so deeply imbedded in our society that it seems impossible to imagine a world in which slowing down, living intuitively, creatively and ‘becoming-with’ (Haraway, 2016: 12) the planet is more than a bohemian ideal. The commercialization of planet earth in all its’s forms such as the ‘privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and the lowering of income and corporate taxes’(Klein, 2014: 72) is incompatible with both the actions and lifestyles that promotes creativity and deceleration. Lifestyles which could not only reduce physical emission levels but provide valuable and practical ways of living and thinking within a fragile world. Nato Thompson goes as far as to state that ‘operating against the grain of contemporary temporality (…)(is a) hallmark of the arts’ (Thompson, cited Time, 2013: 93) – it is now, more than ever, paramount for the artist to demonstrate potentially beneficial modes of symbiotic interaction borne from the creative process, primarily the importance of slowing down.

With a history of artists stepping away from mainstream ideas of productivity and slowing down, the creative process could be thought of as a form of spiritual practice; one that provides a vital antidote to a spiritually dislocated, accelerating western world. ‘In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is “art”’ (Susan Sontag:1). The reintegration of meditative, slow and contemplative practices into modern life, through the creative process or otherwise, is of paramount importance when engaging with the socio-ecological future of the planet.

It is slowing down, or ‘non-doing’ (that which is vital to the creative process) which allows us to step into the flow and ‘become-with’ the wider biosphere and our own intuitive nature. Like Taoism and Zen, the psychic processes involved in art-making enable an understanding of the interconnected rhizome of natural systems and a questioning of predominant capitalist ideals that place high levels of productivity above time spent in reflection and reverie.

Many critics of a capitalist society have argued that the current neo-liberal model ‘ignores the most distinctive characteristics of human society – morality, religion, art and culture – that provide higher values than the individual and elevate humanity above the animal condition of seeking immediate gratification’ (Clarke: 2) - a mentality that has contributed to high levels of consumerism and environmental destruction. We exist against a backdrop of hyper- productivity and thus slowing down becomes ever-more paramount. The pregnant, meditative pause (Austin, 1999: xx) practiced in meditation is similar to the creative process in that comparisons can also be drawn between psychological processed involved. Alan Watts describes the Tao- ‘it may be felt but not conceived, intuited but not categorized, divined but not explained’(Austin, 1999: 42).One might use the same words to describe the impetus behind making art work. Comparisons can also be drawn between Surrealist thinking and the argued benefits of practicing meditation. Zen practice invites us to wake up to the true nature of all things (Austin, 1999: 3), a revelation which is strikingly similar to Dadaist Andre Breton’s proclamation that ‘the mind is ripe for something more than the benign joys it allows itself in general’(Breton, 1928). These insights borne from meditation or the creative process, are valuable when thinking about climate change. Quiet time spent in reflection connects us to long-time, deep-topography and to a multiplicity of places and beings.

Stopping in one’s tracks, opens up a substratum of histories and places the individual on a continuum of deep time. This empty space/time situates the individual within a time-frame that extends back to the beginning of geological time and thus gives, simultaneously, a sense of perspective and a sense of becoming-with planet. Antony Gormley describes the deceleration within art as ‘so precious a place in which the discussion about our human future in relation to deep time can be felt, thought about and shared’ (Gormley, cited in Groom: 75). Grounded in this long history, a connection to one’s own sense of wellbeing, ‘to follow our own threads through the tapestry of life with authenticity and resolve’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1994 :209), becomes ever-more important in a world enthralled by hyper-productivity, a world that dismisses the wellbeing of the individual, as well as that of the planet, for the sake of profit.

In the context of the creative process, slowing down allows work to be made and grow organically as the artist subconsciously weaves together the rhizome. While placed in the present moment, we are witness to a deep topography. Embedded in the creative process, the rarity and idiosyncrasy of our earthly experience has the potential to provoke an understanding of the precariousness of it and thus the urgency of protection. In a world of excessive consumption and hyper-productivity, the creative process becomes a potent spiritual and political act. It allows room for ‘certain incandescent flashes linking two elements of reality belonging to categories that are so far removed from each other that reason would fail to connect them’ (Breton,1953:302). Likewise, an understanding of the perpetual flow and interconnected nature of earth systems is highly valuable when considering future development and modes of environmental sustainability which will require creativity and resourcefulness.

The uncertain and ever-changing flow of both earth systems and the creative process is a ‘salutary political reminder that whatever we do has implications’(Massey, 2016:122). It also enables the existence of loose-ends amongst the ‘mesh-work’, between which lie the potential for surprise, politics and the spontaneous action required in the face of environmental uncertainty. Slowing down changes our relationship to the world in which we live. It has a ripple effect. Like the rhizome, change in an individual psyche can far-reaching in its impact. Slowing down has the potential to induce a variety of ways of thinking, being, ‘becoming- with’, adapting to and mitigating the un-predictable effects of climate change in a society driven by neoliberalism. Art has the potential to induce a suspension from mundane-reality, from the habituated constraints of a society governed by capital. This suspension, an absurdist revelation, allows one to question the reality in which we exist and the future we are heading for. We are reminded that we are a mycelium tendril in a much wider system.