‘What did you do last Friday night?’
‘But you left work in a hurry at 6pm sharp!’
‘That was to go and do absolutely nothing.’
In fact, I joined the launch event of Alessio Mazzaro and Fiona Winnings’s new project, ‘The Do Nothing Club’, running until 20th November at Studio RCA Riverlight. And the club is exactly what it sounds like: a celebration of, and an invitation to partake in, the art of doing nothing.
Admittedly, the idea is not a particularly innovative one. Leaving the Latin concept of otium aside, the paradoxical productivity of laziness has been acknowledged since the beginning of time. The ‘Do Nothing’ project acknowledges this, and the artists have collected a series of ‘precedents’ in a booklet the visitors can consult. From the king of Belgium taking a day off in April 1990 (for political reasons), to German artist Maria Eichhorn forcing a London gallery to remain closed for a week (with the staff still on full pay), it was fascinating to find out about the various ways the concept of ‘doing nothing’ was brought to society’s attention in the past.
What is special about this project is perhaps its small scale and intimacy, and yet at the same time the ambition to be experienced by as many people as possible. The visitors have to wear a cape (apparently to become super heroes of doing nothing) and only then are they allowed to enter a space of quietness, separated by the rest of the studio by a big screen. In spite of the space being really small, the atmosphere of calm and relaxation is palpable. The only thing that might be missing is a bit of extra comfort (perhaps larger carpets and a few more cushions?), but the essence is there: a truly mind-cleaning, serenity-infusing space.
Once there, then, what should you do? Well, nothing, that’s precisely the point. Of course, doing nothing is virtually impossible, and what I ended up doing was thinking about the idea of doing nothing. In our everyday lives, and especially in large, hectic cities like London, we are endlessly dragging ourselves towards the next meeting, the next deadline, the next week. To-do lists, to-buy items, to-see people. What we should be doing, ‘The Do Nothing Club’ suggests, is taking some time for ourselves. In a way, it does not need to be time in which we literally do nothing. To do nothing is, in my view, a way to catch one’s breath, to take stock of one’s life, and to contemplate from a place of stillness the plethora of things we busy ourselves with everyday.
The point is, our time is actually ours. When Seneca urged Lucilius to ‘lay claim to himself, and gather his own time’ (vindica te tibi et tempus…collige et serva, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium 1.1), he was speaking to all of us. How many times do we get the impression that what we’re doing has been imposed on us as a burden by someone else? Instead, while cannot always choose what we do and some things are indeed imposed onto us, how we do them is in our hands. If we live with the awareness that we are fundamentally in control of our time, and that we can use it to put our lives to good use, then we have made the first step towards a fuller existence. So the lesson I take away from ‘The Do Nothing Club’ is this: live every moment as if you had the option to do nothing, but chose to do that specific thing instead.