My Process: Slowness as Recovery


Interview with Justine Jenkins

Written by Stacey Cann

I recently sat down to talk about the intertwining ideas of slowness, capitalism, and process with artist Justine Jenkins. Deliberate slowness, a methodical approach to life, takes into account the unique nature of experience and relishes in noticing and taking time. For many, the pandemic has made them rethink their relationship with time and how they spend it. They are no longer able to do the things that they used to, and are exploring new ways to be in and think about the world. Slowness allows for reflection and discovery, time to build on things and appreciate their nature. Many have embraced slow practices during their time of isolation.

Slowness is in stark contrast with many of the ideas we have internalized from the capitalist society that we live in, that we must always be doing more, doing it faster, improving, accomplishing things, but what for? Slowness does not only ask how we do things, but it gives us the space and time to ask why we do things. As Justine and I explored her work Ecology of Recovery together we discussed slowness as not only an artistic process but as a way of being in the world.

Can you describe your work Ecology of Recovery?

The Ecology of Recovery is a book that is part of a larger project I’m exploring. An ecosystem is used to describe components in our natural world, and what I’m exploring in the book is human impact on the ecosystem and the intersection of longing, loss, and recovery, and the disconnection to and disappearance of place during the pandemic. The images are produced with a series of printmaking techniques, intaglio, etching, silkscreen and frottage processes. There’s also a red ribbon in the book and a parcel of seeds, which when they’re planted will assist with the process of recovery. The seeds are metaphorical, but also a literal part of recovery.

This book is an edition of one. Is the unique object important to this work?

The idea of doing an edition of one was to create less waste. The creation of something that’s compact and small, but still complex. Some projects can be quite complex, but not very large, the actual footprint of the project is very small. The uniqueness represents what’s happening at this particular intersection of time.

How does time and slowness relate to the Ecology of Recovery?

Slowness is forced upon us because of a pandemic, and it appears to be a disadvantage because of the way our society functions. We live in a hurried, capitalistic, accomplishment-based society. Slowness is an antidote for our regular living; it creates a chance to  turn inward and become more mindful about how we’re approaching what we’re doing. It creates a rhythm and ritual around exploring ideas which help ground us and that are a true reflection of what we want to do. It reflects the fact that people don’t want to do things the way they used to, and perhaps this is a gate that’s opening toward an antidote for a kind of frenzied panicked way of living. It creates a sense of meditation, and I think that it allows us to find our place in the world.

In your process you gather things together which build bit by bit, organically over time. Can you speak to this part of your process? 

The word gathering reminds me of nest building. It’s a methodical but seemingly random process made from found matter, and although it seems slightly chaotic, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s quite deliberate. It makes you feel grounded in the sense that I’m going to leave this here for a while. It’s not discarded, it’s really important, but it has to just stay here for a bit and it’s going to become something.

The gathering, putting together, and accumulating is a way of marking time and a document of your presence in a place. How has isolation affected your thinking about your work, and in particular how time is marked?

You’re in a situation where you’re restricted. In that restriction, you can find some creativity, and that creativity is found in a rhythm. So that rhythm, the gathering, leads to slowness, because the pandemic is going to be here for a while. There’s no sense of being frustrated or hurrying up to explore this.  The positive effect of isolation is that it naturally creates the sense of rhythm in me that says: If I’m going to have to do this for a long time, and I’m going to be in the situation for the foreseeable future, then I have to focus on something that actually makes or marks something. Every day, you’re still isolated. So then you’re left with your own self, your own thoughts and your own ability to create something, and that creates a sort of methodical, slow process.  It affords you an opportunity, you are not distracted by a capitalist busy making world where it’s rush, rush, rush, perform, perform, perform, make, make, make, consume, consume, consume.

You leave imperfections visible within your work. How does it relate to the processes and themes in your work?

There’s nothing slick about anything I do, I am not slick.  If you want to recover from something it’s not going to be all polished. It isn’t hidden or cleaned up, none of this can be cleaned up. The idea of healing from something is a fallacy, you don’t actually heal, you carry it with you. People often don’t see the things behind those scars, but the scars stay with you and they form who you become, how you interact with your world and the work you create. If someone sees the imperfections, maybe it gives them permission to realize it was all an illusion, it doesn’t matter if you leave it there. The flaws don’t matter, and whatever that flaw is there’s a beauty in that flaw. There is a tear in the seam of the fabric of our living and you can see it, and it’s okay.

Ecology implies a connection and interdependence between organisms and things, how do you feel that your ecology has affected this work?

Some of the images that I’ve produced in the book, reflect my connection to personal places, and within the context of the pandemic I can’t go there, or the place has been lost. How does this isolation affect us, not only physically, but also emotionally? We have lost a sense of place and our sense of identity is tied to a sense of place.

It is also a comment about the disconnection from our living world in the sense that we are part of the larger ecosystem. A couple of my etching plates are images of the earth and how the earth really heals itself, and the implication of human impact on the planet. The pandemic is creating a positive effect. The lack of movement of humans is creating a positive effect on our living world, our natural environment. What’s happening to the reclamation of spaces for other organisms in our natural space? For example the migration of animals in spaces where there’s normally humans, or there’s so much pollution and now there’s less pollution, what does that really mean for physical and environmental recovery? That’s a big huge lightbulb for humanity.

Other intaglio images reflect the tide pools: a place and ecosystem I wish I could journey to see. The frottage images were created at the beloved but now closed (because of the pandemic) Empress Ale House. I miss these places.

The pandemic may allow us to restart, to break our patterns. How do you see the idea of slowness fitting into a new post-pandemic reality?

I’m hoping slowness or thoughtfulness or mindfulness becomes permanent, instead of having an auto response to constructs that have developed. There’s a reason for the constructs but I don’t know whether or not people ever agreed with them or felt that they had no choice in the matter. I think that a lot of people are doing things deliberately in response to the situation and saying, I don’t want to do this anymore. I had all of this taken away from me and I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s permission to say, great don’t do it anymore. Don’t live that way anymore, don’t answer the questions in the same way. Don’t do it that way because everyone else thinks you should do it that way. I think of recovery as a more mindful process. I think slowness creates a situation where we can slow down a little bit and think about what’s going to happen here instead of having to respond the way we’ve always responded.