Gabriel Barcia-Colombo: Can Slow-Moving Art Disrupt Our Hectic Routines? Early in his career, video artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo noticed the way people breeze past works of art. He describes how his deliberate, slow-moving installations encourage people to stop and think.
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Can Slow-Moving Art Disrupt Our Hectic Routines?

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Can Slow-Moving Art Disrupt Our Hectic Routines?

Can Slow-Moving Art Disrupt Our Hectic Routines?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

On the show today, ideas about slowing down and savoring the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GABRIEL BARCIA-COLOMBO: It's kind of funny because I speak very fast. And I think my mind is very fast. Not in the sense that I'm very, you know, super smart, but that I move very quickly between topics a lot of the time.

RAZ: This is Gabriel Barcia-Colombo. And he might not sound like he particularly appreciates slowness.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: But I make artwork to encourage people to slow down.

RAZ: Gabriel's artwork is mostly video. He makes these installations designed to get people to stop and think.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: And these video installations can take place over anywhere from, you know, a minute to a 25-minute loop.

RAZ: So you can't just pass by them?

BARCIA-COLOMBO: No (laughter). Well, you can, but I'm hoping that you don't.

RAZ: Gabriel says there's a problem with the way most of us view art. Not that we're not going to museums, but when we see art we rush right by it. Or we end up seeing that art through our cellphone screens.

RAZ: I mean, I think we've all become collectors of media. And so when people visit a museum now, they see it just as another part of their collection. And you've got this device that you're just - you know, you're carrying around with you. It's sort of like a jar that you're collecting insects in.

RAZ: So how do you make the world slow down for art? Gabriel explains from the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Did you know that the human attention span is, now, only eight seconds?

(LAUGHTER)

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Eight seconds is important because eight seconds is also how people look at art in galleries. If you ever go to museum these days, you'll notice something - that people walk up to a painting or a sculpture. And they'll take a picture with their iPhone and walk away and take another picture of the next painting.

And to me, that's not a really good way of looking at art. I don't know if you agree with me or not. But as an artist, I'd rather people spend time with artwork and slow down.

My artwork is not your traditional paintings or sculptures. My artwork moves. And some of my artwork can take up to 20 minutes to see at once. Or some of it - you never see the whole piece.

RAZ: One of Gabriel's installations that works like this is called "Tube." And it's about our relationship with technology.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: And it features one of those old TVs you had in the '80s. And when you look at it, there's static on the screen. And every so often, a small figure climbs out of the screen made out of static and walks around on top of the television.

RAZ: OK, so obviously people can't see this on the radio. But in your talk, you show video of this. And it's like a hologram projected on top of the TV set.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Yes. It's as if the characters, like, emerged from the screen itself and walks around. And then another character will appear. And these two characters walk around on top - inside this little glass container on top of the TV. And when they touch each other, it shuts off the entire television screen and removes them from the world around them.

RAZ: So to really experience that piece, you've got to give it 20 minutes of your time.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Yeah. To see the whole thing, you'd have to wait there for 20 minutes and really think about why these figures exist in the world and also how does this relate to the form of the actual television itself and what am I saying about media? So these are questions that I'm hoping people will start to ask when they spend that much time with the piece.

RAZ: That's really what you want to happen. You want people to be forced to kind of think.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Yeah, I want them to ask questions. You know, I think that - I want them to think about how their life relates to the piece as well.

RAZ: In the past few years, Gabriel has taken his art out of the museum and into crowded, hectic places, places where art is the last thing on people's minds, like Fulton Center, a shopping mall and subway station in Manhattan that hundreds of thousands of people pass through every day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBWAY ANNOUNCEMENT)

RAZ: So Gabriel thought, what better place to get people to slow down?

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

BARCIA-COLOMBO: It came from this idea of walking around New York City streets and seeing these little interactive moments that you may miss. Everybody's missing all these great things that are happening, right? There's all these little plays that are happening around New York.

So I came up with this idea of shooting these tiny, little scenes of New Yorkers - these portraits of New Yorkers in super slow motion. So I filmed over 50 people. And in this Fulton Center there's going to be 50 different screens that are around the space that are showing advertisements, usually. But every 10 minutes they're going to fade out, and they're going to show video art.

So these takes are actually done over about two seconds. These are two-second takes that are stretched out to 30 seconds. So you're going to be surrounded by these slow-motion portraits.

RAZ: So what did it look like in the subway?

BARCIA-COLOMBO: It's 52 different screens. So it's this very, very - and some of the screens are 30-feet tall and some of them are 18-feet wide and some of them are just normal screens. But the idea is that at one moment, they'll all go to this piece at the exact same time. And you're sort of in this under - you know, it reminds me of being in an aquarium but with people instead of fish (laughter).

RAZ: So when you - if you just pass it by, it looks like a static image. But actually, it's just a very slow moving video.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Yes, it's a very slow moving portrait. We film at 1,000 frames per second. And what I love about it is that you can see things at that speed that you can't see in your normal life. And what's great about that is that, you know, some of the dancers that we've filmed. You can really see the way they move their bodies in a different way. Or even just their expressions on people's face.

I filmed these two older women that were good friends. And they came dressed in sort of their beach outfits (laughter). And at one point, one just sprayed the other with a bottle of water. And the reaction to her being sprayed is just very authentic. And you can really see that, you know, the muscles in her face move and react to this scene in a way that you wouldn't even be able to notice it in real life.

RAZ: So have you ever stood in Fulton Station and just watched how people respond to it?

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Yeah. And that's the best thing that I got out of this piece - was watching people, sort of, on their phone walking through the station.

They look up for a second, and then there's a giant tattooed girl dressed as the Statue of Liberty in front of them. And she flicks her lighter. And it turns on - very slow motion. You see this flame burst on the screen. And they stop and they look at it, and they don't know what to think. And if that just breaks them out of their daily routine a little bit, that will make me happy as an artist.

RAZ: Yeah. Do you work slowly?

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Yes, definitely. For one of these artworks, in terms of the process, it takes me - it can take me up to, like, two years to develop.

RAZ: Just because of all the moving parts?

BARCIA-COLOMBO: Because of the moving - not even just because of the technology, but more because I want to get the idea right.

And I'll do a drawing, you know, now. And then two years from now, I'll revisit that drawing and look at it and redo it again and think about what it means to me and write down, you know, a bunch of brainstorming sheets on that drawing. And then maybe it'll come out three years after that sometimes.

But I like to have things percolating in the back of my mind. I find that I can reflect on things better when I have an idea that sits there for a while. It's like a cheese (laughter).

RAZ: You - by the way, you speak pretty fast for a slow guy.

BARCIA-COLOMBO: (Laughter) Well, I didn't say I'm not a nervous person (laughter). I think it's just my mind works in these loops. And so I try to jump to the next loop really fast. And sometimes that's why I have to stop myself and slow down and write some stuff down - you know, really looking at things in their smaller form rather than trying to just find the next thing or to answer the next email or to get that done. You know, maybe it's not all about completing a task. Maybe it's about admiring something for a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Gabriel Barcia-Colombo is an artist based in New York. You can find more of his TED Talks at ted.com. And by the way, his Fulton Center installation has since closed. But he plans to rotate it through other New York City subway stations soon. And to find out where you can see Gabriel's work, we have a link at our website ted.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE YOUR TIME")

BUDDY HOLLY: (Singing) Take your time. I can wait...

RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to our show on slowing down this week. If you want to find out more about who was on it, go to TED dot NPR dot org.

Our production staff at NPR includes Jeff Rogers, Brent Bachman, Megan Cain, Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour and Casey Herman, with help from Rachel Faulkner and Daniel Shuckin. Our partners at TED are Chris Anderson, Kelly Stoetzel and Janet Lee.

I'm Guy Raz. And you've been listening to ideas worth spreading right here on the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

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