Active Rest

By Nicolas Galeazzi

First, this text tries to distinguish the difference between resting and performing on rest. It asks questions about what is rest and when does it “work”. It also claims that rest is part of live and the logics of hyper production is keeping us from being able to let go. Finally it explores rest as political claim to stop overusing resources leading to exhaustion.

There was that entry in the common notepad of the TIME TO REST day: It quoted the story of a celebration at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Morsbroich in Leverkusen in 1973, where two SPD politicians cleaned out an old dirty bathtub in their search for a vessel to cool some beers. Unfortunately, Joseph Beuys had meticulously worked his grease, some dirty bandages and rusty wire into it and considered this very same tub an artwork. The two politicians had to pay a serious compensation and left us the famous sentence:


“is this art or can it go?” This story is a perfect sum-up of my mixed feelings during that REST day. Like the person who posted that quote, I was not able to distinguish whether I was resting or performing rest. Of course, I could not dedicate every activity of that day to an art event called REST. I still had to get things going apart from art, and I needed a break before being able to let myself go into the DAY OF REST. You see, I saw myself confronted with the paradox of active participation in a day of rest.

In times of abundant choice and boundless work – of professionalisation of artistic practice and art practice invading every aspect of life, ‘time to rest’ appeared to me a declaration of war against myself! The question gets pathological: in every tiny action, I’m asking:


Lying in my self-imposed laziness of that Saturday and dreaming through the potentials of RESTING and letting go, etc., I was asking myself:

Why did we organise a day-long programme for rest. Why are we not just resting, instead?! Why do we feel the need to set REST at work, and meditate on our thoughts towards that precious topic? How much outcome are we eager to generate? How much does it cost? Are we accountable for what has happened within us? In the culmination of these questions, REST appears at the conceptual top of immaterial labour. It seems we are simply unable to shake off the neoliberal ghosts that haunt us for over 30 years. REST! So you DO at least something! I easily find myself in situations where REST is a MUST. Relaxation not from, but for self-improvement! Can that work? Is it better to have a good sleep, or a good night out? Better to cross through consciousness by meditation or to cross bounderies through mischief? Better to have good art, than just good life? Let it go!

In the preparations for that day, we were asking ourselves whether it would be possible for us to experience rest, not as a duty that brings us to better performance, but simply as an intrinsic aspect of aliveness. In return, it would mean considering work not as an obligation but as an intrinsic part of aliveness. REST and work appear as intertwined aspects of life. They might condition each other for productivity, but as part of aliveness, they are simply counterparts of one and the same wave. Would that mean:


I mean, isn’t a good artwork simply a statement of aliveness? It’s obvious: the unfairness of production logic keeps us far from deep resting, to an extent that they make us – and everything around us – need REST more than ever. For a short lockdown moment in April 2020, it felt like everything was put on hold. The world (around us) was put on hold; it took a rest. Dolphins found their way back to the Adriatic sea; birds and bikes found space again in traffic, we spent time like kids, alone at home. Why for only such a short moment? Why did globalisation proliferate the virus so fast, but that state of rest didn’t ‘wave’ over the globe despite repeated lockdowns?

Beuys’ bathtub has got a break forever from performing as an expensive artwork. I just imagine the emotional labour Bueys had to do when seeing his dear bathtub very clean, used to wash dishes. The sentence “Is this art or can it go?” completed the artwork to its full extent without his involvement. We need to be flexible to accept the consequences of letting go!

In the past, I might have claimed ‘flexibility’ as a key aspect of my identity. It allowed me to create all kinds of parallel worlds, crossover and overlapping work-life balancing acts. But flexibility became an intrinsic part of economic life – a flexibility of boundless labour, of letting go of rules of rest. Flexibility has become a cloudy horizonless mashup of hyper-public, hyper-intimate perma-distractedness. With every click, with every YES, I’m constantly putting myself at a blink from a stress-test. Within this kind of economic flexibility, there is no notion of REST.

How urgent it is to put things on hold! To experience and explore, to ‘stay with’, to fall deep, to give and take rest, etc. Seeing it from this – let’s say – ecological perspective, REST! becomes the ultimate political claim. Just stop it! Stop exploiting resources that can’t recharge themselves! Stop trying to solve problems that were created by you! Stop producing and consuming alternatives, it’s just continuing on the path of exhaustion! Not doing is political and if art shall be political, our sentence might become:


It seems so urgent to find powerful claims that hold up against all labour-logics in our own minds and governments. There’s the paradox: to be active against activity. We need to give as much space to share, leave traces, enable oneself and others to repeat, intensify or understand moments of REST. There the arts are at stake.

The relations between taking REST and fairness are complex. Art is often seen as leisure and non-productive. This trivialising perspective ignores the pressures and engagements of a market-driven art field, the high standards, the values and impacts art has in society. At the same time, art is providing ‘releave’ from the tunnel visions of the daily and suspends the stress on productivity by pointing at other aliveness.

Resting is wrongly considered as something intimate, individual – a place of retreating into the private. However self-responsible we might be to take our REST, resting needs social contracts and rituals. REST needs rituals, and art might be a place to provide them!

On the common notepad someone wrote about the experience:

“Mandate: Only unavailability creates the conditions to rest. This needs a social contract, otherwise we remain on duty”.