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Artists: Tamy Ben-Tor / Marnix de Nijs / Mark Formanek / Marzia Migliora / Julius Popp / Reynold Reynolds / Jens Risch / Michael Sailstorfer / Arcangelo Sassolino / Fiete Stolte
Zygmunt Bauman
Sandra Bonfiglioli
James Bradburne

Andrea Ferrara
Antonio Glessi
Alessandro Ludovico
Franziska Nori
Hartmut Rosa
 
As Soon As Possible


ASAP - As Soon As Possible. This acronym routinely used on Internet has become a symbol of our relationship with time management in general. Everything must be done immediately, or actually, it should have been done yesterday.
Time is one of the paradigms that most profoundly characterize contemporary life. Our society is marked by its increasingly flexible work hours and ever more individualized and pluralized lifestyles. The tendency to acceleration and twenty-four-hour-a-day activity manifests in daily life in constant haste, lack of time, and difficulty coordinating our many commitments. Indeed, the apparent scarcity of time and its consequent value as a resource are defining elements in both the economic sphere and everyday life. Along with phenomena of compression, continuity, deregulation or individualization, acceleration is one of the main trends not only of the Western world but of the entire global village. Mobility, information, economy, agriculture, industry, education and even daily life and leisure time: no sector of society is free of the temporal dictate. Economy and efficiency characterize the relationship with time in all social spheres, including even the micro-economy of feelings.
We are forced to live and work within smaller and smaller units of time. To survive in this way, we try to avoid downtime, to compress our activities, and to do a number of things simultaneously (indeed, the expression 'multitasking' has been absorbed into common speech). However, an unchecked increase in the pace of life pushes people to their physical limits. The moment comes when their personal energy and time resources verge on depletion, when the rhythm of life can accelerate no further. Eventually, the excessive speed upsets our economic, ecological, social and psychological equilibrium and the demands of economic growth exceed the regenerative capacity of ecosystems. The acceleration of traffic leads to an increase in accidents, emissions, and the need for space and energy. Growth hormones added to fodder increase animal morbidity. The everincreasing pace of innovation causes stress among entrepreneurs and workers. The cost of accidents due to fatigue is rising all the time, as is the number of people who get sick or depressed because of their working conditions (otherwise known as 'hurry sickness').
The recent interest in 'slowness' is a phenomenon that grew in response to these speed-related problems. The invitation to slow down being heard from all quarters may in fact be the only practical solution. The so-called 'slow food' is taking the place of fast food; cities pride themselves on being 'slow cities'. Even advertising has discovered a nostalgia for slowness and new, less stressful rhythms. Seeking slower rhythms as a solution to all the problems of modernity is not always the way, however. When it comes to gender equality or civil rights, for example, it is better to move ahead briskly rather than little by little. Likewise, the social and environmental sustainability of agriculture and industry must be achieved as quickly as possible before we risk total ecological breakdown.

What is life like in an acceleration society? Time is money! One must adopt a rational approach to the time factor, since here too the principle of economy rules: maximum production per unit of time. Fat salaries await those who work faster or reach higher growth rates than the competition. Society calls for flexible, timely reactions, effected without hesitation or loss of time. All concentration is on the present moment. The identity of a structurally-adapted individual could be called a 'situational identity'; for example, my ego constructs itself on the basis of the social context in which I find myself in a given moment, on how I behave or present myself in each different situation. Thus life splinters and becomes episodic.
Applying this analysis to the entire community reveals how the dynamic of acceleration provokes a new organization of society. Typically, those who have time have no money (due to age, unemployment or illness) and those who have money have no time. Thus, lack of time becomes exalted as a status symbol and those who have too much free time feel excluded from the system, virtually abnormal. Even worse, such alienation puts them at risk of depression pathologies. Meanwhile, thanks to medical advances, life expectancy has increased significantly, yet many elderly people find themselves with insufficient economic resources and suffer terrible solitude and depression. Each one of us has a given budget of time, which is our life, into which we must fit time for work, time for relaxation, and time for sleep, not to mention time for family and friends. In fact, today's most pressing issue is the distribution of time, which is usually resolved by multiplying the time dedicated to work. The motto is 'live faster and die slower'.
Even in the political sphere, the focus is increasingly on local, sectorial issues rather than any vision of the whole. Some may say it proceeds pragmatically, but in truth it is moving with tiny, unsure steps, not knowing how to make reforms that involve complex, gradual restructuring. (One need only think of the measures taken regarding ecology or pensions.) The number of decisions to be made grows while the temporal resources for each decision shrink. There is plenty of expertise but applying it in practice to such a complex reality seems almost impossible.

Capitalism itself is an acceleration of the means of production. In Das Kapital, Karl Marx states that the means of capitalist production are constantly being improved in the interest of increasing productivity. An effective way to achieve this goal is the acceleration of work. Driven by a desire for greater surplus value, the individual capitalist is helped in his efforts by the "uninterrupted flow of science and technology". Beyond that, the laws of competition do their part to guarantee that the new speed of production spreads everywhere. While the rhythms of agricultural society were determined by nature and religion, the advent of industrial society, with its technological innovations and new economic needs, gradually separated social rhythms from natural ones and lengthened economic and social life (night shifts, night life). This tendency is even more pronounced in the service society.
In 1977, the French philosopher Paul Virilio coined the term, and the concept, of 'dromology' (literally, 'the science of speed'), identifying speed as the hidden face of wealth and power and thus as the ultimate factor defining modern society. From this point of view, historical epochs and political events transpire according to the criteria of speed. Speed negates space and compresses time. In the essay L'inertie polaire (1990), Virilio theorized that the increased acceleration is a result of the omnipresent stream of images bombarding and manipulating us relentlessly. This dynamic immobilizes the spectator insofar as he or she can be omnipresent without even moving physically, thanks to digital images and screens. People become voyeurs or, at most, extraneous participants in a reality captured by surveillance cameras.
In his book The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, American sociologist Richard Sennett describes the effects of the new "flexible capitalism" on people: an acceleration of work organization, ever-greater demands, decreasing job security, and a need to move constantly from one place to another. Not only do these conditions provoke a decline in traditional values and virtues such as loyalty and a sense of responsibility, but they also lead people to forgo immediate gratification and to refrain from pursuing long-term goals. Pressure on the individual intensifies drastically, manifesting itself in a new interpretation of the concept of time as well.
This situation is further aggravated by the close surveillance of production processes made possible by modern means of communication, contributing to an atmosphere of fear, impotence, instability and insecurity among a large percentage of the population. In The Culture of the New Capitalism (2005), Sennett demonstrates once again how the new culture that emerged from the New Economy of the 1990s generated profound changes in the individual, in the organization of work and in society at large. Based on an analysis of the structure of global corporations and their demands on workers, Sennett speaks of the advent of "mp3 capitalism", whose watchwords are freewill and speed. No longer is there any need to learn and master a skill or trade; the new capitalism requires only the ability to adapt continuously to new situations.

In order to explain the contemporary phenomenon of lack of time, sociologists begin with the social origins of time. According to this interpretation, time is not a natural constant but rather a social convention, invented by man to cope with life. Time is structured according to community events and is measured using these rites, ceremonies, markets, gatherings, and seasonal holidays as its points of reference, in order to synchronize and coordinate social life. The so-called simple societies, with their small, highly cohesive groups, can function with a qualitative chronological system (for example, the time the sun sets or the time needed to cook rice). More complex societies, however, in which relationships of trade and production evolve among diverse geographic, social and cultural contexts, require a sort of 'Esperanto' chronology: an abstract reference system of astronomic time or the calendar that eventually becomes a system of measurement with clocks. In effect, the beginnings and the workings of chronological systems (like the corresponding awareness of time) result from the social organization of work and not from any natural law.
The effects on daily life are powerful and wide-ranging. Forced to rush and act upon criteria of efficiency and rationality, we adapt our personal lives to our partner's work schedule, our children's school day, the work hours of service infrastructures, the frequency of the means of transport, and media programmes-all combining with deadlines, expiry dates, and prescribed times to generate a fragmentation of time. This results in constant pressure and conflict between the needs of the various sectors of our lives. Indeed, lack of time is a fundamental concept in the politics of time and not simply an individual problem that men, women and children could control if only they were more organized. Thus, the social convention of time grows out of the need to synchronize and coordinate the life of the community. As Norbert Elias wrote in his Time: An Essay (1984), there are "phases in the development of human societies in which men have almost no social problems related to time, which require an active synchronization between their own collective activities and changes in the universe." Nonetheless, regardless of their level of development and functioning of societies and the degree of synthesis that marks the development of social time, this always emerges as a scheme for regulating the fundamental processes of life. In this way, time as a construction of the community, a symbolic structure of meaning, "is found in all societies, even where there is no explicit notion of time and the forms of consciousness and measurement of time vary widely. In other words, time is a structure of meaning, a structural character of the society" (Werner Bergmann, The Problem of Time in Sociology, "Time and Society", 1992).
In short, every culture has its ideas about the essence of time and its own way of regulating it, although this multiplicity is now in danger. What was once a complex, diverse sense of time in modern societies is becoming more and more uniform. We are witness to a universal standardization, in which the whole world is marching to the same beat-the beat of the economy. The cultural multiplicity of time, however, just like the biodiversity of ecosystems, is a vital resource. Multiculturalism also implies multitemporality. Indeed, cultural plurality of time must be respected and, where necessary, protected. Time, along with space, is a basic category of every form of life. Outside of time, there is no life, no change or evolution. All ecosystems are characterized by a dynamic stability that requires a constant balancing act, according to precise rhythms of regeneration. All this is altered, however, by the intervention of the acceleration society man. The increasing scarcity of fossil energy sources, for example, is the result of interfering with different velocities. In a brief span of time, humanity is burning up fossil material that took millions of years to form, an example of how the mode of capitalist production comes into conflict with the natural limits of the environment to regenerate and find its own equilibrium.
The politics of time has emerged as a new discipline in the academic world. This field considers time as a dimension of social and political action, which the ongoing debate about quality of life and sustainability has rendered increasingly important. It represents a new perspective that analyzes social and ecological problems, crises and conflicts not just to understand them but also to raise awareness. The discipline reveals that the causes of these problems can often be explained in terms of temporal relationships and changes. Just as the politics of society examine living conditions, so the politics of time interprets the temporal conditions of everyday life (time as a resource, time as a cultural means) as an object of participation-oriented, conscious organization. In its short life, Internet has become not just a more and more effective means of communication and information but the very heart of the globalized world. Through its technological infrastructure run rivers of money across all national borders as well as processes to control the exchange of goods and property. The activities of the economy, science, research, politics and culture all take place increasingly in or through Internet. Nonetheless, acceleration technologies are still off-limits to the majority of people on the planet. Only 8% of the world's population has a car, 3% has a computer, and surprisingly, only 20% has their own telephone. Clearly, speed is tightly bound to wealth, but it is also a crucial element in the information sector, the principal instrument to control public opinion. In journalism, which uses means of mass communication, there is a demand for increasingly topical issues and the latest, controversial scoops. Hungry for events, journalism opts for a permanent present. Years ago, the American television channel CNN created its communication model that clearly expresses the anxious need for constant updates in real, simultaneous time. Besides the image of the reporter, written headlines slide along the bottom of the screen or a window may even appear with completely different contents. Even more significant and illustrative of this trend is the rampant obsession with communication of the instant and with conversations in real time via chats or social networks. Twitter is the fastest and most immediate of these new platforms: nonstop flows of communication of instantaneous, everyday contents, often lacking any real need for information. Since there is always less time for serious thought, the quantity of uncertain or imprecise information grows, while previously acquired knowledge dilutes, goes out of fashion, and is replaced at an accelerated rate. As all certainty is rapidly swept away by new trends and innovations, planning the future becomes even more difficult and digital technologies' promise of a greater flexibility of time remains unfulfilled.

The works of the artists selected for As Soon As Possible. Acceleration in Contemporary Society are symptomatic expressions of this modern condition, representing diverse approaches to the issues of time, speed, acceleration and their counter-reactions. Thus the exhibition creates a sequence that involves spectators in a space-time experience exposing the contradictions of our hyper-fast society.
The essays in this catalogue contribute to the critical reflection from a variety of perspectives. In Liquid Life (2005), Zygmunt Bauman, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Leeds, describes a modernity whose structures and social relationships volatilize, leaving the individual prey to uncertainty and existential angst. Meanwhile, the risks and fears of economic globalization are undermining the role of the nation-state and endangering democracy. Bauman's essay published here is taken from the introduction to the book that has been generously made available by Polity Press and Laterza. Sociologist Hartmut Rosa deals with the issue of social acceleration (a term coined by Rosa himself), analyzed through the three dimensions of technology, social structures and the individual. Sandra Bonfiglioli teaches in the Department of Architecture and Planning of the Politecnico of Milan. Her essay summarizes the key hypotheses and results of her research in the highly-specialized disciplines of Architectural Planning of Mobility Spaces and Urban Time Planning. In Temporal Hesitations, Andrea Ferrara, Associate Professor of Cosmology at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa, analyzes the concept of time as perceived by man and in light of various sciences, including physics, theoretical mathematics, neurobiology and information science, which also provide the inspiration for his philosophic-existential observations on human nature. The essay Digital Time, the unneeded speed by critic Alessandro Ludovico discusses acceleration as a quantitative increment in information on digital networks in conjunction with the reduction of time for the user to absorb it. Vast quantities of information are produced and consumed in the media society, though most of it is destined to be forgotten. Ludovico presents artistic projects and behavioral strategies associated with the digital culture that seek to oppose this phenomenon of information over-flow.
As in all the exhibition projects conceived by CCCS, a series of lectures will accompany the show. Curated by Alessio Bertini, the programme features experts and professionals from a variety of backgrounds and contexts, including Arcangelo Sassolino, an artist whose work appears in the show, Antonio Tursi, information and communications theorist, Giuseppe Granieri, one of Italy's foremost authorities on communications and digital cultures, and Carmen Leccardi, professor of Sociology of Culture at the University of Milan-Bicocca. As part of CCCS's collaboration with other Tuscan institutions, the Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche (ISIA) of Florence has realized an audio-visual project on the theme of acceleration, which will be serve as a sort of introduction to the As Soon As Possible exhibition. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Antonio Glessi and his students for their contribution.


 
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