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Speed Exhibition


Exhibition Speed Limits, 2009. View of the installation at the CCA.
Photo Credit: 
© CCA, Montréal

Taking the Time to Study Speed

“Life in the fast lane” is a contemporary phrase we often use to describe exciting, action-packed events in our lives, but just what is the human obsession with speed?  Jeffrey Schnapp, Stanford professor of Italian and of Comparative Literature, explores this very question in an exhibit titled, Speed Limits, at the Canadian Center for Architecture (CCA).

Not coincidentally, Speed Limits, an exploration of speed and its evolution is taking place during the one-hundredth anniversary of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s foundation of the Italian Futurist movement. Futurism dismissed the past and its old political and artistic traditions, admiring among other things, speed, industry, and technology’s conquest of nature.  As its founder, Marinetti stated in his Manifesto of Futurism, “The world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.”

Schnapp, a leading expert on futurism has edited several volumes by Marinetti. He is a former motorcycle racer and is currently researching the cultural history of speed from eighteenth century to the present. Speed Limits, open at the CCA from May through October, 2009, delves into the importance and influence of the concept of speed, from Futurist conceptions a century ago to modern society.  It highlights the constant presence of speed in art, architecture, urbanism, economics, and modern material culture.

Schnapp explained that the unique and singular focus of the exhibit would have appealed to Marinetti. “Whereas other shows will explore Futurism's impact on the visual arts, Speed Limits is critical and speculative in character. It interweaves a virtual and a physical exhibition in ways that I think would have excited the movement's founder far more than a conventional commemorative show.” Through a variety of multimedia exhibits in six different galleries, Schnapp explores the concept of speed and its cultural evolution in all aspects of life, including construction and production, household functions, traffic and transit, and workplace rhythms, into its role in contemporary life. 

The exhibition uses images and artifacts spanning the hundred-year period contributed by the Canadian Center for Architecture and the Wolfsonian-Florida International University to enhance conceptions of the contrasts between fast and slow and also questions our reliance on speed and its effects. “The Speed Limits exhibit is part of a longer term project that will eventually lead to a mixed reality show bearing the same name in early 2010,” said Schnapp.  It will include such features as virtual reality gallery tours and interactive creation of virtual reality objects. The exhibition is presented in a progression of galleries, each focusing on separate but interrelated themes within the concept of speed.

Schnapp is the co-editor of the Johns Hopkins University Press quarterly Modernism/modernity, the official journal of the Modernist Studies Association.  He is the founder and director of the Stanford Humanities Lab, which allows scholars in the arts and humanities to engage in collaborative, co-creative, team-based experimental projects with a "laboratory" ethos, integrating arts, critique, research, publication, and practice. 

Schnapp is also a well-regarded guest curator who has, collaborated with such institutions as Stanford’s Cantor Art Center, the Wolfsonian-FIU, the Triennale di Milano, and the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio. Speed Limits is a collaborative exhibition between the Canadian Center for Architecture and the Wolfsonian–FIU.  The exhibition runs from May 20th to October 12th, 2009, at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal, Canada.

Galleries Illustrate Speed Concepts

Pace – The first gallery includes a projection of a video of a slow-moving snail on the ceiling in contrast with a video of urban city motion projected on the ground.  It also contains Futurist artifacts, including a copy of the Manifesto of Futurism. 

Traffic – The second gallery features photographs of New York City traffic and traffic jams, grid network illustrations that represent the movement of objects and data, and documentation on transportation efficiency and accident patterns.

Fast Construction – The third gallery displays date-stamped photographic sequences of the construction of the Irving Trust Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the China Central Television Building in Beijing.  The gallery includes a showing of Andy Warhol’s film Empire about the construction of the Empire State building, as well as trade catalogues of modular homes and buildings and photographs showing their assembly.

Efficiency – The fourth gallery juxtaposes efficient production within the office and kitchen spheres.  It presents office data search and extraction tools like a 1936 mechanical classifying system, along with photographs of 1960s modernized workplaces and studies of worker and equipment productivity.  These elements are shown in contrast with the industrial environment of the kitchen, featuring electrified kitchen equipment and artifacts, photographs of early 20th century kitchen innovation demonstration, and architectural drawings of kitchens by renowned architects.

Motion Capture and Measuring – The fifth gallery features diagrams depicting complex data traffic in a visually understandable form, along with an array of clocks, calendars, speedometers, odometers, and other instruments used to measure motion in order to highlight the rhythm of modern life and its sophisticated technology.  The gallery also contains posters and graphics that depict the notion of speed within commercial advertising contexts.

Mind and Body – The last gallery shows the ways in which speed and motion can result in both pleasure and exhilaration, as well as in risk and exhaustion.  It portrays bodies in motion through photographs of gymnastics and athletics in the early 20th century as well as the contemporary obsession with the human body and natural and artificial enhancements of it, including stimulants and tranquilizers such as caffeine, cocaine, and amphetamines.  It ends the exhibition in a comparison between Edward Muybridge’s photographic studies of motion from more than a century ago and a large-scale projection of Usein Bolt’s record-breaking sprint in the 2008 Olympic Games, inciting the viewer to think about the trajectory of speed’s evolution.

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