Our lives revolve around urban cityscapes in a myriad of ways – as spaces of imagination, interaction and conflict, with every movement we make. Shaping the structures and discourses of a large part of our contemporary life, cities have growingly become the proverbial thread that links us to – and often separates us from – ourselves. With all their eminence and bustle, cities present us with a seemingly contradictory question – can we really practice slow living in big cities? At IKKIVI, we spoke with a few artists to understand how they think of the city, their engagements and quarrels with its guises and whether it can become a meaningful conduit to live more consciously and slowly.
1.Your photography centres greatly on the ‘city’. Could you tell us a little about what the ‘city’ signifies for you, and how you would define it?
To me, the city is its light hum – the movement of vehicles, infuriating and consistent drilling noises from an ever-present construction site, rain befalling noisy roofs, three languages in one address. To me, the city is the sound and feeling of something in the works, of constant company and the people, stories and futures the audible movement of a city reminds us of. It moonlights as a fast paced life, but I feel so much is germinating – taking its time to come up. The city to me, primarily, is one that is constantly becoming. It is never quite complete and thus unsteady on borders – I find that very comforting, to think of a city that is yet to find out what becomes of it, much like most of its inhabitants.
2. Your pictures have a particular nuance to them – as though you have intentionally photographed a scene mid movement. In what ways would you say your photography has a ‘slow’ character to it?
It is photographing the city ‘becoming’ that is the fundamental essence of my documentation of it – most things I photograph seem incomplete. Which is why, almost as if by muscle memory, my frames seem to often have fragments of ‘another’ (person, object), or elements (people, spaces, contexts) in conversation with each other. It is like walking into a conversation mid-way,
you caught the last few words and it is photographing the articulation of what that moment would be, that is the feeling I document with. I like to photograph different portraits of what a slow city would look like – a cat lazily stretched into a snooze on a triple storeyed concrete landing canopied above with dusty, swaying trees, how sunlight makes different afternoons in different cities, how trees and plants consume the skeletons of concrete (old) buildings. I like to pause and indulge in collecting characters of the city that are forgotten on a hot, busy day in the city.
And while the city may be fast paced, it is an immersive experience in itself. It is precisely how consuming and demanding the city can be that prompts me to stop and find its various resting corners. Urban living is such a multi-dimensional phenomenon, but it is precisely that relentless integration of differences that makes me want to untangle it in my own language. It is a slow process, I’m only starting now. It makes me want to understand urban living beyond consumption, and as immersion – the latter being more purposeful in seeking, rather than aggressively consuming.
3. In what manner does your work interconnect with ‘slow living’? What was your intention behind starting ‘Slow Living LDN’?
Slow Living LDN began as a personal project while living in London. I realised I wasn’t prioritising my well-being or other things that were important to me, aside from my career. I remember looking around at all the other tired-faced commuters and thinking, “I can’t be the only one who feels like this.” I started researching slow living for myself, but also wanted to share this way of living with others. Today, Slow Living LDN aims to inspire others to live more consciously, both for their own sense of well-being, and that of the planet.
4. What kind of growth or insights has the platform and your work inspired in your life, and in your vision of it?
Embracing slow living has helped me understand that always being ‘on’, busy or productive doesn’t equal success and it definitely doesn’t equal good health. Our lives are always in flux, and sometimes we’ll feel like we’re living in tune with our values and at other times, we’ll feel so far from that. So, I don’t believe in the concept of work-life balance, as it assumes work is not part of life, and that a perfect balance is attainable – it’s not. I’ve also been reminded of the importance of nature for our well-being and how I find joy in living seasonally, and how this also helps me strive to live more sustainably, too.
5. Your art concentrates deeply on contemplative and slow living. Could you tell us a little about what these terms and ideas mean for you?
I love the definition of contemplation that I heard once, “a long, loving look.” For me, contemplation means that I am spending quiet time going deep within myself, deep within the world and deep within my art which brings back up to the surface such beautiful gifts that emerge as poetry, as stitching, as insights, as healing. I used to live a very fast paced life, always rushing around doing many things at once which left me constantly exhausted. Slow living has been a return to the natural pace and rhythm of my body and the way that we as humans were designed, to be deeply connected to nature and the pace it follows.
6. The pace of life in big cities often provide(s) quite a contrast to mindful, immersive practices such as with your art. What role and influence have city and urban living played in your draw toward these practices?
I have lived in cities for most of my adult life. I love the vibrancy, diversity and energy of cities. There is so much life happening within them. When I was living in Brooklyn, New York and working in Midtown Manhattan, I found myself craving something I couldn’t put my finger on. One day I decided to try making cyanotypes (also known as sun prints) on the roof of my apartment building. I walked along the sidewalk and picked bits of grass and leaves and experimented with making prints of them with the sun. I found myself coming alive in a new way through that experience. I felt like I was returning to a relationship with nature that I was forgetting by being surrounded by concrete and tall buildings, by commuting long hours on the subway and by working in an office with no windows or natural light. This art practice made me feel like I could breathe again. The role of the city was essential in that awakening because it was through the experience of suffering and feeling a deep longing for something, that I found a great peace within the art practice of collaborating with the sun and with the plants right in the middle of the city. I think having the experiences of living in cities has helped me feel intimately how much my soul longs for the trees and the sky, to hear the birds and the sound of my own inner silence.
7. What comes to your mind when you think of ‘slow living’?
I believe slow living is about being more thoughtful and mindful. It’s not about doing everything slowly but rather at the right pace. Sometimes you need a slow walk on the beach, other days the body craves a run through the woods. It’s about letting things take the time that it needs and enjoying the process, not just the final result. Slow living as a concept was born from the slow cooking culture in south of italy where I have my roots so that’s a natural state of mind I have. We all love a sugo that has simmered for hours and that’s something you can apply to many aspects of life.
And it might sound cliché but by not rushing through life you learn to savor it. I have practiced so much in being in the present that I now am a complete ”here and now person” it has made me realize how precious life is and that we never will experience this very moment again so I inhale life as much as I can
8. Do you think such conscious or slow living practices are sustainable in big cities? What do you think we as common folk can do to connect more deeply with this lifestyle within the cities that we live in?
The city is full of things that go very well with a mindful and slow living lifestyle. Sitting at a cafe looking at people or reading a book, walking in parks, going to old bookstores or antique shops. And not to forget museums and art exhibitions. These are all favorites of mine and I wouldn’t wanna be without them. Slow living isn’t so much about where you live but more a question of mindset.
9. Do you think ‘slow living in big cities’ is a contradiction?
The idea that living a sustainable, slow, mindful life is only possible in a rural setting largely comes from Instagram and all the image-crafting that takes place there. I firmly believe that any one of us can choose to live a conscious, green life regardless of where we are based, city or country! Cities are not going anywhere, and they are an environment in which vast swathes of humanity exist. It may feel counterintuitive, but life in a city – even a big one – can be just as sustainable if you continue to make the right choices. You can do things such as grow a patch of wildflowers for bees if you have a garden or even a windowsill in the city. You can pack your lunch, bring your own cutlery, or your reusable cup, and refill your water bottle. You can grow herbs for your cooking instead of always buying them in plastic, even if, again, all you have is a windowsill. You can be mindful of how many times you wear an item of clothing before washing it. The hustle and bustle of a big city cannot be an excuse to hide from the work towards better choices.
10. Beginning with mindful, conscious practices or activities (can) sometimes feel overwhelming, as there is much that can be done. Where do you feel may be a good place to start, for those who would like to welcome these practices in different forms in their own life?
I think that one of the reasons that people who live in a fast-paced, urban setting often find it harder to engage with more slow, mindful practices in their beauty or self-care routine, is because being busy becomes your default state. It is easy to be always on the go, especially if you don’t see much nature in your day-to-day life. We need to make time to slow down and notice things around, but it’s not impossible! If it feels overwhelming, or like it is yet another chore, I would suggest starting small. Commit to one positive mindful change, whatever calls to you the most. It can be switching to a bamboo toothbrush or meditating for five minutes in the morning. It can be committing to using up to what you already have in your bathroom and not buying more products on a whim. Anything to get you in the right mindset! Commit to that change for one month. Next month, add another small change and keep building towards a better lifestyle.
The five wonderful women we interviewed here are Nilanjana Bhattacharjee, Emma Freeman, Tanya Kuznetsova, Lina Paciello and Beth Crane and all images in this article are by them.