top of page
  • Stephanie Fuller

Still Life: Navigating the temporality and spatiality of a slow practice [Essays, 2018]

Our company, Significant Other, has developed a practice that is non-linear, non-narrative and scenographic asking audiences to adopt a mode of attention that privileges the slow. We resist the urge for dramatic crescendos, crests and climaxes in favour of smaller ripples, trickles and minor splashes. Now working towards our third work in progress showing of Castles Palaces Castles I will investigate one aspect of the work that has been both commended and criticised that addresses the temporality and spatiality of the audience experience; namely the slow pace and stillness.

Laura Cull discusses slowness and duration in terms of theatre practice and suggests that within capitalist structures there is a ‘dominant political economy of speed’ (2012: 194), where communication, goods and services travel at a breakneck pace in our globalised world. Within the context of performance, this can lead to what Cull describes as a ‘contemporary cultural pressure to communicate or entertain quickly’ (2012: 138) whereby audiences come to expect rapid flows of information. What, therefore, is our audience’s experience when time has been slowed down? What can emerge from spaces when the temporality of a performance operates at a slower flow? I shall later explore these questions using bodies of water as a metaphor, mediating a line between theory and practice so that I may navigate my way through the flow of our slow practice.

As a company we aim to show that each element of our work, no matter how small, slow or still, is as important as any other. There is no hierarchy of meaning-making, instead each element of our work sits next to another and can form connections with any other. West-Pavlov discusses Giles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri’s theories of ‘rhizomes’ and explains that for them, space ‘develops horizontally, spreading out like tendrils… forming a dense web of allusions and interconnections’ (2008:171) and I am keen to explore ways in which our practice utilises a slow temporality to facilitate the witnessing of these interconnections in the space.

Drawing upon Deleuze and Guatarri’s theories of rhizomes and flow I am interested in how a temporally slow and spatially still approach to our work might foster a multiplicity of connections between performance elements. I am also interested in how this practice of slowness fits within, or evades, capitalist economies of speed and how we might balance flow within apparent inertia so that audiences are still engaged in our work.


At twenty-five minutes I move behind an armchair. Stillness. I tip the chair over. After five minutes a folded screen is placed leaning against it. Two minutes go by and I lean against the screen. Stillness. A white sheet is lain over me. Stillness. A video of a waterfall is projected precisely over my body. A man sloshes a water bottle into a microphone. Stillness. I begin to slide down the screen, like cascading water. (Castles Palaces Castles, 2018)

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari’s posit the notion of rhizomes which allows for non- hierarchical and multiple entries into information. This speaks to the way in which our company values the multiplicity of elements within our performance. Likening rhizomes to maps, with their extensions in all directions, they state ‘Any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be’ (1988: 5). In Castles Palaces Castles we present an assemblage of elements that do not operate independently, rather they connect with one another and can be accessed through multiple entry points.

In the example stated above, a waterfall is created after elements such as bodies, fabric, furniture, processed sound, live foley, speech, text, music and projection has slowly coalesced over time. Each element connected to the others, without hierarchy, and if we were to remove one of these, the connections would form something different entirely. The rhizomatic nature of our work is undoubtedly tied up with the slowness and stillness of our practice. We value duration as a facilitator, one that supports the development of a network of relationships, creating lines between our visual, aural and spatial elements. Duration is not a “foundation” from which the rest of the work is built, on the contrary, as this would imply that there is a sense of hierarchy, a central ‘root’ from which other elements evolve in a linear way. Comparing rhizomes to that of tree-like structures, Deleuze and Gutarri note; ‘Aborescent systems are hierarchical systems with centres of significance and subjectification’ (1988: 16). We do not wish for duration to be the starting point of the work, but rather the middle, developing horizontally, extending its tendrils to build bridges so that each element can flow, reach each other and connect with one another. Put another way, the slowness sits within the work, the work does not precede (or proceed from) the spatial and temporal stillness.


Images of ants are projected onto our bodies. Speaker: Sometimes I've, I have, found myself, walking back from the shops or the library or the dry cleaners, automatically, pre-set, pre-programmed, following a trail, a channel carved into the space between my feet like a pre-recorded image of myself. (Castles Palaces Castles, 2018)

As a process, flow implies movement, a steady stream from place to place and one that enables the connections of elements to take place. West-Pavlov explains; ‘For Deleuze and Guattari, space is a fluid medium, a domain whose topography is one of constant flux and it is out of this flux of becoming that bounded, mappable territorialities with identifiable coordinates emerge’ (2009:192). This state of ‘flux’ appears on the surface to be a suitable term to describe constantly changing needs within a capitalist economy of speed. However, the word ‘flux’ is a noun, one that identifies the action and process of flow; it is applied to notions of flow. Rather than conjuring images of movement, it may imply a particular state, one that might be fixed, even if it is for a short period of time. On the other hand, ‘flow’ is a verb (something can be ‘flowing’, but cannot be ‘fluxing’) and this implicit connection to movement is perhaps more useful to my enquiry into the temporality and spatiality of our theatre practice. Through motion, however slow, each element of our performance is given the space to connect with one another.

How then might we visualise this flow? One metaphor that seems obvious is that of water, the compound that creates and sustains life and that itself appears to inhabit rhizomatic features. In Bodies of Water, Neimanis explains; ‘Because of the repetition of water, even the singular and differentiated expressions it gestates are nonetheless connected to one another by way of their materiality’ (2017:73). Indeed, while we could isolate bodies of water and identify them as a lake, a pond or reservoir we must still recognise that the very molecular structure of water exists not as singular but as a multiplicity, formed through connections between atoms and without hierarchy. This is significant when considering the use of water as a metaphor; it is impossible to place value in one body of water over the other. I am unable to assert that the image of a lake is better than that of a river because to do that would create a hierarchy and thus contradict Deleuzian theory. Therefore, I shall be employing several water metaphors during this enquiry, of rivers, ripples, lakes, splashes and canals. So, what of our flow? Having now established a metaphorical and methodological framework, I will examine the issue of pace within our work in relation to Deleuzian critiques of flow and desire within capitalist structures in order to find ways in which the temporality of our practice might offer an alternative experience to economies of pace, speed and productivity.

‘Some bits held too long’ 0 minutes: turn laptop on. 1-3 minutes: performers make quiet noises: tapping mics, drinking, breathing. 3 minutes: white noise. 5 minutes: music builds, lights fade up. 6 minutes: Elana enters. 8 minutes: Ally begins to speak. (Castles Palaces Castles,2018)

A dominant critique of Castles Palaces Castles was that there is too much stillness, bits are held too long and one audience member commented that this made them ‘lose the flow’ of the performance. Indeed, our performance does not travel swiftly, as highlighted in the example above. We ask audiences to adopt a different economy of attention, one that is more akin to a dripping tap than a rapid river. While the notion of flow is crucial to the rhizomatic nature of our work because it allows the connections between elements to take place, it is interesting to note that our glacial pace created a sense of frustration in the audience.

Lin Hixon reflects upon Goat Island’s slow practice within a context of capitalism and its constant need for movement, remarking; ‘It’s like you have to be moving in order that your worth as a person is appreciated. You have to be in motion, you have to prove your productivity’ (Goat Island in Goulish & Cull 2009:141). Indeed, in a world where productivity leads to economic growth, standing still is often branded as a little useless. Evidently there was a tension between our audience’s expectation for us to be productive and our refusal to do so. Rather than providing a rapid river of information we chose to stay still for a while; we opted for a lake. We wanted the water to sit still for a long period of time, so that each element - the soundscape, lighting, bodies and text - could flow and forge connections with one another, percolating within the space, alongside the audience. It felt greedy to move on too quickly, and as a company we were concerned about what could be easily overlooked if the water moves too soon. When time is slowed down, how does it affect the way we perceive the space? I would argue that even within apparent inertia, movement and flow still takes place; the surface of a lake may appear to be calm, but beneath it, currents create motion. As Cull suggests; ‘seeming immobility is not the absence of movement, but rather movement at a different speed’ (2012:204).

Desire Speaker: So I speak Really slowly For his benefit And mine (Castles Palaces Castles, 2018)

What is it then that tempts us towards a faster flow? In West-Pavlov’s exploration of Deleuzian theories, he states that ‘Underlying flow and its direction is desire… Desire pulls beings towards each other, generating connections’ (2009:179). He goes onto explain that in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari criticise capitalist structures for co-opting flow for its own purposes, one that is driven by greed, stating that ‘desire generates a gaze always directed elsewhere… constantly oriented towards the new’ (2009:187). Indeed, desire does take us to new places, however within our capitalist systems it is also something that is monetised, commodified and shipped out at rapid rates. The redirection of our desire is constant and relentless, never resting and always in motion. How, then, does a spacially still and temporally slow performance interact with this constant stream of desire?

When discussing duration, Cull explains; ‘In the performance of waiting, I directly experience my own duration, I am immediate to memory, listening to time, a moment of self-sympathy’ (2012:142). Our decision for stillness, to sit in calm waters, barely moving creates an interesting challenge to our ever-wandering gaze which is fuelled by economies of greed, one that perhaps encourages audiences to experience their own duration. Cull’s “moment of self-sympathy” is a result of a sense of presence in the moment, an awareness of our body in the space, of how we as audiences too can connect with the elements around us, where we have refused the capitalist desire its restless flow, adopting a mode of attention that allows us to wallow in ourselves for a moment. Stillness Speaker: He wants to know about the placing of things, by me, between the plaster and the air, between the materials of and the ideas of, a space like this. (Castles Palaces Castles, 2018)

In ‘A Global Sense of Place’ Doreen Massey discusses capitalism’s relentless mobility and argues that ‘in the middle of all this flux, people desperately need a bit of peace and quiet’ (1994:151). Therefore, it is interesting to explore the possible reparative qualities of a slow and still practice. While economies might be flowing at a furious rate, perhaps there is some worth to staying still for a while Matthew Goulish from Goat Island describes a room we have all walked through, leading from a restaurant to a bathroom, a room where you can momentarily get lost, because this room wasn’t meant to be seen, only passed through; ‘…a left-over space after all the other rooms had found their appropriate definition. It is the sort of area owners hope visitors will pass through without pausing to notice: the back of the place, but in the middle’ (2009:130). This space which should ordinarily be ignored in favour of a speedy journey from one place to another, can be transformed into a space in its own right by slowing down and staying still for a moment. Goulish states that it is this kind of space that finds a flaw in the capitalistic system, ‘It makes explicit that which remains implicit in most buildings: the gaps between concept and reality– a form of failure, an overflow into inefficiency, a gesture that can’t be serious’ (2009:130). When the flow has been too rapid and restless, spaces like this remind us that stillness is possible.

How then, can performance spaces mimic this space “in between”? Perhaps like a lock in a canal, where water flows in, eager to get to its next destination but is stuck between gates, its rhythm altered from fast to slow. Theatre spaces too occupy a temporary stillness between the flows of our desire. It is a destination dedicated to liminality, in between reality and fantasy, a space for waiting. Cull asserts 'Performance is a privileged space in which we can experiment with non-utilitarian uses of the senses, an education of feeling that enlarges the senses as well as the consciousness’ (2012:142). With our slow and still practice, we create a space that does not conform to relentless productivity, and instead asks audiences to notice what this still space does to their senses. A space where audiences don’t have to be productive, where they can sit, form connections, become a multiplicity in the space and intermingle with the elements; where they are not just swimming in the water, they are the part of its molecular structure.

Stasis/Stagnation The projection changes and is barely visible. We stop swaying. The voice fades. (Castles Palaces Castles, 2018)

Flow, however is what keeps our blood going to our organs, cleans muddy waters and provides nutrients to the living organisms inside bodies of waters. Flow, wrapped up in temporality, seems to indicate a vital component to being. Therefore, can stillness also present problems of stagnation? Massey states, ‘While “time” is equated with movement and progress, “space/place” is equated with stasis’ (1994:151). Indeed, stasis implies a state that does not change at all, a motionlessness space, temporally still, spatially static and geographically locked in. In a form of water this is the image of a murky pool or puddle, one that is flat and unmoving; the lack of flow causing the water to become stagnant and lifeless. Perhaps there are some moments in Castles Palaces Castles that resemble this image and as a result feel stale.

Within my journal, I reflected upon one example of a period of stillness in which very few elements are active, as noted in the example above; the projection is minimal and abstracted, the bodies on stage are inert and the text has been removed. Here, elements still exist in the space but there is essentially a lack of motion which has prevented connections from forming. The bodies have stopped interacting with the furniture or the voice, the projection can’t connect with the text, the speakers are disassociated from their microphones and so on. West-Pavlov argues that this kind of space is so flat it is almost geometric; ‘It is without ripples, curves, kinks and favours linearities’ (2009: 47). Perhaps this favouring of linearity creates a greater sense of time passing and contributes to the audience’s sense of frustration or even boredom. While I argue that stillness might be a welcome relief from relentless flow, too much stillness can lead to stagnation. As a company, it is not our intention to create great crashing waves. On the contrary, we still value the quiet serenity of a lake, but perhaps we do require a ripple or two in our performance to get moments such as this back in motion. As we work towards our next performance, our rehearsals time is spent looking for opportunities to create those small ripples when we feel the work has sat still for too long.

Conclusion The sheet is taken away from my body. The waterfall projection snaps out. I stand and walk away.

Speaker: And I can trace this channel, the trail, past the unthinking surface gleam and towards the thought, and the formation of thought, and the thought beneath the thoughtlessness. (Castles Palaces Castles, 2018)

On the nature of rhizomes, Deleuze and Guattari explain that ‘A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines’ (1988:34). Returning to the creation of the waterfall structure in Castles Palaces Castles one final time, the image is dissolved as soon as the sheet is removed from my body ,the projection stops, and the furniture is rearranged, however the connections have not disappeared, they are simply flowing in a different set of directions. Through a slow and still practice, we hope that audiences can witness not just the image itself, but the moments when those connections become redirected. We aim not to create a space where each element is hierarchally organised but present together, beside each other for long periods of time. Sedgewick argues that “beside” is a notion that can evade linearity and hierarchal positions, stating: ‘Beside permits a spacious agnosticism about several of the linear logics that enforce dualistic thinking’ (2003:8).

By allowing the elements of our waterfall image to lie beside one another, rather than follow on from, or lie on top of each other we aim to create a space in which a multiplicity of elements are present. A still space, requiring a slower economy of attention from our audiences so that they might witness the elements beside each other and shelter for a moment from the shower of a relentless flow of information. In this way we challenge the very physics of the waterfall itself, a body of water flowing so rapidly is suddenly slowed down, broken down into the bits “in between”, as if an eight-millimetre video has captured the cascading water and divided it into its still frames, and when we reassemble them we do not lay each frame in a line, but beside one another. All of a sudden we don’t see the waterfall in its vertical plane anymore, but instead as a horizontal view, witnessing its rhizomatic nature, the connections like tendrils extending out to one another. Through the rhizomatic nature of our work, we hope to build, create, dissolve, rebuild and recreate connections between the elements we work with on stage. We are aware that the temporality of our work may feel contradictory to an economy of restless flow audiences have become accustomed to, however we hope that by finding a few ripples or splashes, that we ensure that our waters are calm but in motion. As Deleuze and Guattari implore in A Thousand Plateaus: ‘Be quick, even when standing still’ (1988:24).


Cull, L. (2012) Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance, London, Palgrave Macmillan

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1988) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London, Continuum

Goode, C. (2015) The Forest and the Field: Changing theatre in a changing world, London, Oberon

Goulsih, M. & Cull, L. (2009) ‘sub specie duration is’ in Cull, L. (ed.) Deleuze and Performance, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press

Massey, D. (1994) Space, Place and Gender, Cambridge, Polity Press

Neimanis, A. (2017) Bodies of Water: Post-human feminist phenomenology, London, Bloomsbury

Sedgwick, E. (2003) Touching and Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity Durham, Duke University Press

West-Pavlov, R. (2009) Space in Theory: Kristeva, Foucault, Deleuze, Amsterdam and New York, Rodopi


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page