A man who falls in the subterranean world is seen by its denizens, who are giant sloths, as a kinkajou. For humans, animals are animals; for animals [who are humans for themselves, presumably], humans are animals. But for the Sun and the Moon, both humans and animals are animals (humans are monkeys).(1)
—Monkeys with outstanding capacities, that is. They may not be as perceptive, agile or strong as some of us but they still do incredible things. I use my hands (which humans insist in calling forefeet) to scratch and grab leaves. I have two toes and my nails are very long, perfect for holding from branches. Now look at what humans can do with their own hands, how they use them to adapt their environment, and even to transform time. If with writing they managed to stabilise and distribute memory, by inventing film they were able to capture and replay actions, permanently attuning them to the present. Which is how I am here, in front of you, permanently moving back and forward in a tree. This craftiness also gave humans a sense of entitlement: because they've learned to separate time from life, they consider themselves different from other animals. But we, sloths, also exist in multiple temporalities. Our fur is an ecosystem of living organisms: symbiotic algae live in our hair (making it look green) and so do beetles and moths. Together, we co-exist and cooperate at different speeds and modes. We have our own time zones.
We used to be a huge clan but humans reduced our size (some of us were as big as an elephant) and numbers: of over 50 species distributed across eight families, only six species of the smallest sloths survive these days. Humans also gave us names. Some are strange, others incomprehensible. (But they also don't know what we call them.) Our three-toed relatives were named Bradipus, the Greek word for slow feet. We, the two-toed ones, were named Choloepus, lame feet. Humans tend to relate most things they see to themselves, and because they think we move at a gentle pace, they called us slow. Slow-th. Sloth. I can't figure out if it has a positive or a negative connotation. Not that it matters, but I wouldn't want it to sound pedantic, you know, like Slow Cinema, where often the tone and content is reduced to the pace. But there aren't that many sloths in cinema anyway. Jean-Luc Godard's Sloth [La Paresse, 1961] doesn't feature a sloth nor does Chantal Ackerman's Sloth [La Paresse, 1986]. Probably they wanted to portray a real sloth but they couldn't find any so they choose a human to play the part. Couldn't they have figured out that Europe (where both films were shot) is too cold for a sloth to live?
But finally there is Now, at last! What a film! Ben Rivers travelled to Costa Rica with his camera to see me. He added no words, no tricks, no stunts. He didn't try to tell a story or compare me to human life. Now, at last! is not a film about me: it's just me, the environment where I live, the textures I know so well and the sounds of all the jungle animals that you hear but don't see. (I don't see them either, I'm almost blind by human standards.) They were kept off-screen: I am the sole star. Some think that when an animal crosses the frame of a film, cinematic time is suspended and a new temporal regime is installed: the specific time of the sloth explodes in its hallucinatory glory. It's true. It's magical. And who needs speed when time can do so much...
(1) Eduardo Viveiros de Castro quoting Francois Grenand on the Wayapi of French Guiana. In 'Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere', Hau Journal, Masterclass Series, Volume 1 (1998).
For his fourth solo exhibition at the gallery, Ben Rivers presents Now, at Last! a 40-minute film commissioned by 33rd Sao Paulo Bienal, shown here inside a specially made structure. Ben Rivers was born in Somerset, UK in 1972. He lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include the EYE Art & Film Prize with Hito Steyerl and Wang Bing, Amsterdam (2018); Urth, Renaissance Society, Chicago (2016); Islands, Kunstverein in Hamburg, Germany (2016); Edgelands, Camden Arts Centre, London (2015); Fable, Temporary Gallery, Cologne (2014). In 2013 he was awarded the Artangel Open Commission, the product of which, The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, was presented at the derelict BBC Television Centre in 2015 and at The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester in 2016.
Text by Filipa Ramos, February 2019. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin.