Slow Report from PICNIC'08


PICNIC 2008 has come and gone here in Amsterdam. One of the themes of his year’s conference was ‘Green,’ which is ironic given the massive amounts of energy and resources that obviously were consumed to put on this spectacle of international speakers, installations, programs and daily print media, and big, big parties.

So was there anything truly ‘green’ at PICNIC? And, most importantly as to why I’m even writing this, was there anything Slow?Once again, PICNIC and the Dutch Postcode Lottery presented the PICNIC Green Challenge, awarding €500,000 to the best entrant with a greenhouse-gas-reducing product or service. You can see the results of that contest on the Green Challenge web site.

slowLab network members Butterfly Works put on an inspiring one-day side conference called ‘Surprising Africa,’ giving the public a taste of the cross media storytelling and fast moving technological developments from cities across Africa. The event had speakers from Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda and Algeria, presenting projects like how Africans are building peace using mobile tools and how young artists are investigating their changing cultures through new media.

And at the conference I discovered the work of Dutch artist Levi van Veluw, who creates self-portraits by applying materials directly onto his own body and then photographing himself. The work is all done by hand, no photoshop at all, and he doesn’t seem to mind all the glue, ink and other potentially toxic materials applied directly on his skin (one of the images above is carpet). So while PICNIC probably chose to show his ‘Landscapes’ series for their visual impact, I have another, slower reading: For me, van Veluw’s portraits provide opportunity for reflection on how we, as designers and consumers, use and abuse substances in our lives. I wonder, does this artist really absorb more chemicals by applying them directly to his skin than he would through exposure to them in his daily life? And so I pose this Slow Design challenge: Before you use any potentially toxic materials in your designs or pour them down the drain in your home, ask yourself whether they pass the Levi van Veluw skin test: Would you be happy to apply them directly onto your own body as Levi van Veluw does? And, if not, how do you justify applying them anywhere else in the world?

TreeHugger guest correspondent Carolyn Strauss is the founder and director of slowLab, a laboratory for Slow Design thinking and creative activism. Since 2003, slowLab has served as a catalyst and resource for designers, artists and others to begin to understand and reframe their practices through a lens of Slowness and 'Slow Design.' Find more articles from Carolyn here.

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