Welcome to The Slow Grind
Curator Georgina Johnson's first book explores the interconnectivity of race, mental health, creativity, and environmentalism to seek out balance in an accelerated world.
Cover design by Josh Woolford
Someday, somewhere down the line, there will be countless texts written on what happened to productivity during This Time. Maybe we were doomed the moment the King Lear discourse began. But perhaps “This Time” will simply be a means to an end, a turning point we can name when maybe, the change was waiting all along.
The Slow Grind: Finding Our Way Back to Creative Balance is an anthology of essays and conversations two years in the making, curated by multidisciplinary artist Georgina Johnson, that builds upon an idea she and mental health activist Sara Radin first transcribed in a manifesto to the fashion world, titled Slow Fashion to Save Minds, in 2018. The manifesto, which appears in The Slow Grind, urged an industry long marked by the compounding anguish of rampant racism and overwrought expectations, to do better: “Give yourself more time to think. Be transparent, be conscious, be ethical, be fair.” Unsurprisingly, its plight and its petition appealed beyond the fashion set. In turn, Johnson’s book—featuring words from the likes of artist Deborah Joyce Holman, stylist Ib Kamara, and photographer Campbell Addy—expands on these ideas as a framework for survival, for an exhausted populace living in an exhausted world. To approach any notion of sustainability, we need to treat each other better. We need to treat ourselves better. We are a finite resource, in more ways than one.
When you put it like that, how could there be any other way?
Johnson—also the founder of The Laundry Arts, a platform to promote equality in creative industries—took her time across to complete the book, saying, “I had to be empathetic with myself because I’m trying to undo a rhythm. We aren’t encouraged to simply take our time, we’re encouraged to run as fast as we can, sleep for four hours and go at it again.” That meant finding empathy and fostering balance for herself as a creative: setting boundaries, collaborating with friends, taking breaks, allowing herself the time for recalibration.
“There were times that it felt as though it was taking too long, but that’s the residue. Any attempt to speed up felt counterproductive and out of sync with the nature of the project anyway,” she said. “With loss, grief and the confluence of pandemics I couldn’t do anything else but be compassionate, slow and forgiving of myself.”
Via email, Johnson gives thoughtful consideration to finding empathy in her process, the grind of self-publishing, and the work that still needs to be done to prioritize Black voices across industries once and for all.
The Slow Grind is a collection of essays, think pieces and conversations, centered on hyper-accelerated systems and the interconnectivity of race, mental health, creativity, and environmentalism. How did you approach telling this story?
It started by me taking the time out to acknowledge my own experience first. I had a season of telling myself no, of intentionally working to dramatically restructure my sense of self and unlearn a lot of practices and values I’d adopted and embedded in my life. It was a slow work untying all of those knots. An exercise in compassion with myself, which was actually quite painful because of how much there was to unroot. It’s almost like exorcising what’s been indoctrinated—high-performance culture, competition, the commodification and consumption of everything including the body, the need to contribute, look alive and busy by any means necessary. Systematic exhaustion. I was always tired but more than that my psychological and physical health were repeatedly threatened by the senseless spectacle of it all. What became bigger was my personal need to have a more symbiotic relationship with myself and the world I navigated. I had to opt out, pause and commit to pretty much reaffirming myself and removing certain things from my life.
How did the book’s themes inform its format?
My research started with a lot of conversations. I was someone approaching climate justice through the lens of race, mental health and regeneration because I was aware of who was consistently missing from the conversation, yet whose lives are affected the most on multiple levels. I was approaching the conversation simply by questioning value, where we place it and why? What is the effect of this, communally, socially, environmentally?
I spoke to people about how they experienced the creative industries, especially Black people and POC. What kept coming up were the insatiable habits and hunger that a majority of people had honed to feel a part of something: for relevance, for survival, for success. Anyway, what was increasingly obvious was just how burnt out and depressed a lot of people were. Burnt out and depressed people’s auto-pilot is survival mode, hence the overwhelming and somehow inescapable belief that you have to comply to the unyielding demands of an industrialized society. Our worlds are built through these ideals, if they aren’t challenged they’ll just continue.
What was encouraging were the conversations with people that were building solutions on the peripheries, having uncomfortable or unpopular conversations, those that were open to committing ideas that speculated on other capacities and possibilities to paper. It could only be an anthology. Anthologies are quite textured and alive, with tone and style, it’s a community.
Discussing the project recently, you said, “The book asks more questions than it answers.” How do you represent that in the collection itself, via your editing process?
It’s just a conduit, right? For us to recognize and be honest about what isn’t and hasn’t worked for an era, it asks you to question how inequality and inequity has been allowed flourish, and who benefits from the replication of actions and modes of thought that make up the composition of these industries, who is being most affected and why, how there is mass complicity in practically every part of the system—from education to industry, what this is doing to the bio and social world and how we’re all a part of that. Of course, there are clear lines drawn, but ultimately it asks you to raise your awareness on multiple levels and then act.
The work of making a book together seems like a grand puzzle. What were some of the most challenging parts of putting it all together? The most exciting?
What was exciting was the potential of the project. It became a rare opportunity to create an intersectional and accessible text. Which is innovative in itself.
Whilst internal, questions that informed my editing and creative direction of this project included: how someone with different learning abilities like myself experiences texts and accesses information. I tend to read and write in color because it helps me focus, and a lot of people that are dyslexic do the same, so we played with subtle tones and bright contrasts to lift the pages and aid a more pleasurable and hopefully accessible reading experience. Shades of lilac and lavender and flashes of lemon and living coral do that beautifully.
Akin to this were my thoughts around how I can make the subjects more accessible for people that aren’t exposed to these types of conversations generally and might also have different learning abilities. I wanted to expand on terminologies in essays and articles so that it felt more like a resource rather than mounts of information to swallow—we broke large bits of text down with annotations, in an attempt to make the information more digestible and educational. The Slow Grind is yes, a book, but it’s also a guide and resource.