It is an undeniable truth that the internet has changed the way we interact with the world. It has altered our language and reconstructed the way we relate to, and engage with, one another. What has perhaps suffered the most at the hands of the internet, however, is our ability to employ our attention.
With online spaces relentlessly vying for our attention, what we choose to engage with holds a more heavily weighted power than ever before. Despite this importance placed on our attention, it seems, however, that we have less and less to give. Endless scrolling and content delivered to us in shorter and shorter amounts of time have resulted in a passive engagement with the world around us. We are opting out of interacting with complex content and instead favoring the quickest and easiest route to mental stimulation. “Too Long; Didn’t Read,” a group exhibition at Heaven Gallery curated by Jenn Sova and featuring the works of Jose Luis Benavides, Andi Crist, Francis Dot, Hale Ekinci, Häsler Gómez, Kelly Kristin Jones and Yuyang Zhang, asks us to break away from this passiveness and slow down, pause and engage more thoughtfully and inquisitively with the environments we find ourselves in.
The works vary in medium and subject matter, and on surface-level engagement appear to be lacking a cohesive conversation with one another. But once you immerse yourself in the theme of the exhibition, the art of active engagement makes clear the string tying everything together—your attention.
The physical space itself is split into two separate rooms. Francis Dot’s “Time|Ghost|Town,” a twenty-foot installation featuring a layered work of art showing histories of violence, dominates the main space. To view the work passively would be to not view the work in its entirety. Dot invites viewers to interact with the installation through touch, allowing for an individualized perception of the work.
Directly adjacent to Dot’s work is a sculptural work by Häsler Gómez that asks again for audience participation only this time through engaging with text. Accompanying the hanging sculptures is a poem we are invited to take, read and keep. The title of the exhibition, “Too Long; Didn’t Read” echoes in the back of the mind as we force ourselves to slow down in the moment to read and reflect.
In the secondary room of the gallery, an installation by Kelly Kristin Jones featuring repetitious historical postcards displayed in a linear fashion requires viewers to get up close and personal with the work, taking in all the small details that would otherwise be missed. Through slow and conscious viewing, we are able to form our own connections between the images we see, altering our perception of what we are viewing.
Jose Luis Benavides’ “Letters to Lost Loved Ones” requires perhaps more than all a careful and active viewing. On display are letters featured in his documentary short of the same title. The letters tell the stories and experiences of those incarcerated during COVID-19 and shed light on voices that are often overlooked.
The question of how we stop ourselves from falling prey to the urgency and passiveness the internet and subsequent attention wars have sucked us into is not one that is easily answered, but “Too Long; Didn’t Read” offers a solid starting place.
“Too Long; Didn’t Read” at Heaven Gallery, 1550 North Milwaukee, on view June 6-July 9.