ON WAITING (FOR THE HOST TO JOIN) , Legacy Russell
May 18, 2020
Legacy Russell is a Platform 2020 Writer in Residence
The question of the riot is that it seeks to preserve nothing .—Saidiya Hartman
Slowness is a (re)negotiation of spatial desire, a wrestling and (re)definition of time. It is a love-making, not a fucking. Slowness searches for the parts that are closed, tight, sealed off, and makes them cavernous. When words fail, there will be tongues, fingers, fists, to force the loss of time, to recalibrate the molasses-metrics of desire. There is redemption in slowness, as there is in prayer. One coming before or after the other remains unclear. To slow down is a privilege, a mourning, and an act of humility; it forces the breaking of a bow that snaps and sings, bringing us to our knees. Slowness is a rupture, and, as Okwui Okpokwasili asks of us as we convene, slowness requires each of us to be “in that rupture” , to occupy it.
We are searching for signs of life, of living. When we are slow, our muscles aspire to adapt but they ache. This ache reminds us that we are alive, gives us the vision needed to make sure we see the signs of life around us, that we do not miss them in our hurry. Things that are slow tend to terrify the senses, delighting in the uncanny as they slither, drip, wail, hiss, moan. There are ghosts there, gently bending the waiting hours as they delight in our haunting. When we speak of time it is often in relation to action, gesture, movement (”Time flies!” “Time grinding to a stop.” “Killing time.”), or to drive an economy (“Time is money!”). The pathologizing of non-linear time does violence to the body. We push ourselves and one another to account for every moment of our time, to assess and analyze with brutality our productivity, to equate our individual value with our speed. Through this lens, real slowness—and the boredom, frustration, fear that can accompany it—threatens our understanding of who we are, and of what our position is within an accelerated world. Survival under, and beyond, capitalism cannot come with matching its speed, but through resisting it. Still somehow—to bring the words of Asiya Wadud into the room—“We are knotted, and tangled . . . pressing on” . We grit our teeth and double down for fear of collapse.
When asked to find other forms, to “imagine some other stuff” , we freeze and falter. Recently speaking to a friend via video call while we both “shelter in place”, they reflect on this moment of wildness: “Have you ever seen [the 1948 movie] The Red Shoes? That girl, who, if she stops dancing, dies? That’s me, right now.” This image of a dancer spinning and spinning, faster and faster, continues to rotate in my mind’s eye. Are all the world’s dancers on pause an automatic death? Or do we willingly sacrifice our own lives—rob ourselves of time, and the signs of life that we might find along the way—because we cannot fathom slowing down? Because we elect to imagine a static dead that feels sterile, finite, complete, mapped, than to lurch into the possibilities triggered by the unknowing of a stranger speed? From the congregation , comes an admission and a prayer: “I need to pause because I’m violent to myself.” Still, we are violent to ourselves when we pause, heads filling with obsessive thoughts of failure, pushing us toward breakdown.
Breakdown, dissolution, fracture, loss — all have an emancipatory potential. All these bodies in a collective sigh and sob, now pixelated with poor connectivity. What happens to time, deferred?
A body is a temporary archival architecture. Something that can appear and disappear, be constructed and then be broken down as if it never even existed. Losing a body—the architecture and the time spent curled up within it—comes with a mal de debarquement, a dissonance between body and mind that disorients. Losing a body we mourn the one, and the one million that have come before, they each surge within us, we grieve for them. Thus a body, ever a construct, is an ultimate expression of non-linear time: it carries all other bodies, from past, present, and future, those we know and those we may never know, a constellation and a chorus. Okpokwasili proposes “the body as a recorder . . . the body recording things that the body hasn’t even been present for . . . [which requires] a certain type of excavating”. In our slowness, we open ourselves up to new forms of sonic engagement, a different type of listening that casts an expansive dragnet to excavate. Through this, we become collectors of things, people, places, all bound up within the archive of our architecture.
Tiana Clark writes: “What is God to us now? / We stopped going / to church. In bed / our hands still / find each other / to send up / prayers like we / did that first night— / when I touched / the aching thing / inside the dip / of your chest.” These words confound and clarify in quarantine. Slowness is that dip: the time to notice it, study it, traverse it. Therein’s the slippage, that queer newfangle clock, tick-tick-ticking like a bomb in the basement.
Legacy Russell is an artist, writer, and curator. Born and raised in New York City, she is the Associate Curator of Exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Recent exhibitions include “Projects 110 : Michael Armitage”, organized with Thelma Golden and The Studio Museum in Harlem at MoMA (2019); “Dozie Kanu : Function (2019)”; “Chloë Bass : Wayfinding (2019)”; “Radical Reading Room” (2019) at The Studio Museum in Harlem; and “MOOD : Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2018-19” (2019) at MoMA PS1. Amongst other institutional projects, Legacy is currently working on organizing with Thelma Golden and The Studio Museum in Harlem “Projects: Garrett Bradley”, a presentation of the artist and filmmaker’s multichannel video installation, America (2019) forthcoming at MoMA. Russell’s ongoing academic work and research focuses on gender, performance, digital selfdom, internet idolatry, and new media ritual. She is the recipient of the Thoma Foundation 2019 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art and a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency Fellow. Her first book, Glitch Feminism, is forthcoming from Verso Books in Fall 2020. For more, check out her Instagram @ellerustle + visit: www.legacyrussell.com.