making art | in times of rapid change |
How did the artists respond to the Covid-19 crisis? And how do they think the new situation had an impact on their creative practice, exhibitions and projects? Is the nature of work — made during challenging times and lockdowns — aﬀected by working from home for extended periods of time? Perhaps artists start making smaller-scale, more intimate works, made from simpler and easily accessible materials? And, what will the future hold?
Since not everyone can access their studio easily, many artists have converted domestic spaces into studios. I had to do that for a short time but am now fortunate enough to be able to work in my studio in Vancouver, WA. Here I can work on a larger scale and be messy without worry.
I had several shows and site-based installations lined up to occur from March through December 2020 that are now indefinitely postponed. While this is all very sad, it is completely understandable. It has pushed me to make work without thinking about the pressure of a show or audience. Perhaps no one will ever see the series of drawings I am working on beside maybe a digital image of it. I guess that’s just fine!
Conceptually, I tried to embrace the repetition and monotony of the days (especially during the lockdown) by making drawings of the exact same building over and over and over again. And then more!
Permutations of a single idea, by making slight shifts in composition, color, value and texture, is now the core query of my practice.
I have been thinking these themes since March just when Covid19 era started. I saw many artists post their sketches, photographs of empty city, and also art pieces they worked on during quarantine on SNS.
I realized that I am not a type of artist who continues creating own artworks whatever happened. Rather, opposite. My area Queens, NYC was a top Covid19 effected neighborhoods in USA at that time. I started making masks with my leftover materials for essential workers, and immigrant families in our communities.
I also read there are many people including undocumented people who can not get federal check or unemployed insurance. One of my friends started a community service project that distributes free fresh grocery bags to such people/families in emergency. I started to volunteer work to the project. In fact, my family lost most jobs since March, and haven’t recover from it yet. I connected with many local communities through donating my handmade face masks. Local garden, local farm, local kitchen, art groups that started to distribute a free food boxes, Burma group supporting refugees, and many individuals who helps seniors, and families in difficult times.
Making masks with a sewing machine is a simple work. I felt it was like a meditation, or, I was letting my thoughts wander, especially about my art projects that were supposed happen this spring-fall, but were all canceled in this year. All materials of masks I made, were from the Materials For The Arts, a NYC’s organization that recycles many materials for artists’ projects. More than 70 kinds of cotton fabrics I had were new and very beautiful, which were donated from Broadway fashion industry. This reminds me the industry announced that they postponed all shows until end of May 2021 already.
I am working smaller scale, about 30” x 40”. The current images begin with an ink monoprint from a New York Times spread, leaving crinkled textures, leached text, or actual bits of the newspaper glued to the surface. The image proceeds from that base. These works reflect my frustration with the obfuscating language of our current government concerning every aspect of our political, social, and ecological lives. The “ spin” has twisted real meanings, actual situations and scientific facts, leading to harmful misinformation. This work is related to former work in that I still use the aggressive mark as the emblematic carrier of immense forces within urban and natural environments.
I have felt more focused during the pandemic, even though the political environment has been immensely stressful. Maybe I could only have made this particular body of work in isolation, who knows?
Covid has certainly allowed more time to work, but how I conduct my studio life has not changed that much because of it.
Covid 19 and the reaction of artists and art to it is an extensive question that I can only partially answer. What I was able to observe in my own environment was that what I associate with the cultural work of art, to show oneself and to be viewed, was massively restricted. There were hardly any openings at the beginning of the first lockdown.
Then the resourceful artist or the resourceful gallery found ways to make art accessible to the public at a distance. That was in the summer. Even the art fair took place in Berlin. Nevertheless, it is a massive cut in cultural life itself when only 4 people are allowed to be in a gallery room ... the conversation about what is to be seen, the standing together in front of the work of art, the social togetherness is gone and with it the discussion about art, the exchange, the making of new contacts and new possibilities.
Art and its presentations are not created on paper or, as with Spitzweg, in the quiet "little room". Art is alive and if its air is taken away by the restrictions, it hardly gets any air. In this respect, of course, it also has an impact on my artistic work. Right now, a performance planned by me and my performance partner in November in Holland became impossible for the reasons mentioned. Working at home or in the studio, the so-called "home office" is nothing new for me as an artist. I love and know the withdrawal from the outside world as a necessity and a gain.
In relation to Covid 19, this was nothing new and compared to other professions, as an artist, I was able to continue to do my studio work, which despite the circumstances was something I feel grateful for. Are artists starting to make smaller objects and projects out of simpler materials? Surely artists will find their way and that might be one of them But I also think that artists are free spirits, free spirits who are always looking for new ways. As curious as I am, they will find a way to not “only” stay small, but big again.
The intersecting crises of covid-19 (new) and white supremacy (old) have had me putting my energy elsewhere. I’ve continued to make my work, but I’ve also been doing more organizing and working on an animation project related to the first covid death at Cook County Jail and the campaign to end money bond.
I believe that artists can use their gifts to resist the rightwing capitalist agenda (or the moderate neoliberal capitalist agenda! → both of which conspired to bring us the current situation) and/or artists can do that parallel to their art practices, which is sometimes more fruitful because they can process their idiosyncratic and soul-specific concerns without worrying about attaching a political thrust which may not be directly related to their weird and special work. I love some good movement graphics but I also love when artists make the freaky shit they wanna make and sell it so they can eat, pay rent, and give some money to prison abolitionists and Black Trans mutual aid projects etc. etc.
The Covid-19 pandemic has scampered things quite a bit! I was about to start an artist residency at a university in California in March 2020, which could have included a large scale wall drawing. It is now postponed due to the pandemic. There is a shifting opening date for an exhibition I have just curated for the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild here in New York. A local metal fabricator has not been able to make a sculpture piece from the maquette I gave them. The list goes on... I have been working just mainly in my studio.
Perhaps more significantly, in reaction to the doom and gloom brought on by the global health crisis, I find myself exploring visual excitement in col- ors, and happier subject matter, particularly in my paintings, as a way of engaging with more uplifting thoughts. I started exploring the theme of - Happy Dance, to connect with happier times and as forward looking to the time when the pandemic will be over.
Also, the new globally prevalent mask-wearing culture, a preventive mea- sure against Covid-19, made me start investigating mask-wearing in tradi- tional cultures in Nigeria where I grew up. I had done some work in the past inspired by the Egungun Masquerade. My new series - Masked Heads ex- plores the idea of masking, facial coverings, how facial expressions could be used to mask one’s true feelings, and whether the face itself could mask
one’s true identity. I am fascinated by the way mask wearing at once con- ceals and reveals - whilst covering up the facial identity of the wearers, re- veals something of the subconscious in their presence.
This is a really interesting question; there are both practical and technical adjustments that have had to be made by everyone. Personally, on a practical level, I was simultaneously separated from my place of work, colleagues and studio. Exhibitions were postponed or cancelled, public engagement events cancelled and a confirmed residency was put back to 2022 almost overnight. This meant funding, income and opportunities disappeared or were delayed.
On a positive note I found that the physical shift to working from my home created a new headspace and perspective. I had to prioritize the work I could do given the space available at home and also re-evaluate what was possible in terms of equipment, or lack of it, in order keep making. I realized quite quickly that my writing and drawing were becoming more closely linked during this time as I the demands on my time were allowed to shift. I was able to read, walk and draw in the same day allowing an extended but natural reflection process to take place.
The restrictions of travel had created a need to re-evaluate the places of engagement and I think shifted the timescale of those engagements. I revisited spaces and location close to and around my home with a new recognition I think. I became more attentive to the extra time, which lock down afforded all of us and I think I began measuring this through my walking. The physical world we could explore became smaller at this time but I was thinking about how we consider the world through multi-sensory engagements creating a pause in normal structures in which we could consider place. Technology did allow me continue travelling and in terms of Way Finding, the world suddenly had the potential to be explored as never before.
So I began thinking about how my drawing could be used to understand this and it has certainly shifted my practice and understanding from different perspectives.
My current drawings are reflecting on the many conflicting perspectives tied up in the landscapes I have revisited. Through the repetition of drawing and monotypes I have created a series of conversations, responding to emotional sensations as well as physical memory of the place. I heard an interesting discussion talking about the truthfulness of touch, which really resonated with me. Humans trust touch to give them access to reality and this comes from a feeling that we have of being active when we explore through touch. During lock down our sense of exploring was removed, touch was described as being dampened. Much of my last few years work has been about exploring connections to place and materials through touch, it is this sense which grounds us, connects us to the outside world from a direct perspective.
So at this time I have resorted to the most touch sensory method of working available to me, to draw.
I have embraced and enjoyed the freedom to work without restrictions of process. I used the daily repetition of drawing to structure my day; interestingly the spaces and spacing of the images on the paper feel as important as the marks themselves. They helped to ground me when the rest of the world was unsettled, there was a real need to draw each day.
Working without a studio space (actually working on paper pinned to a door at the bottom of my stairs) and access to my studio I have treated this project as a journey to reflect the reality of our world suddenly being restricted and shrinking. Examples of daily drawing have been posted my social media instagram - tchill80
The combination of fear, isolation, and to a degree material scarcity, have all certainly made me look at materials to create with in different ways. Like Picasso, I have gathered cardboard because it is versatile and can be both canvas and a construction material (as well as be pulped and transformed into something more plastic), and in addition, have found myself revisiting the large pieces of kraft paper that protected other works, to the degree that I am in fact incorporating them into this particular project, a reflection and an action that is purely situationally caused.
My big concerns now revolve around the state of the US as it moves forward, not only in terms of the pandemic (which is an immediate, "affects us all" concern and situation), but also the political climate, which seems to be specifically engineered to continue divisiveness, creating deeply entrenched points of view, and how in some ways banal it seems to be concerned about a personal future when a collective one seems so precarious.
The pandemic has caused me to scale back large endeavors in favor of smaller more modest ones. I'm grateful for my cartoon as a place to continue to present work. I have spent a lot of time writing longer work solo and collaboratively over Zoom, aimed toward develop the cartoon into a longer format. I am currently editing a narrative podcast (a sci-fi comedy) written with writer David Zorn. We finished that script during the quarantine and have been recording the voices the past month. It's great fun and a wonderful diversion from the problems of the world.
Julia Fish wishes to let her work speak for itself, in the context of this project,
until early 2021.
Of course it does. Since the crises started I feel totally lost when it comes to new ideas and projects. I think the problem here is that my work very often seems to or tends to be about scenarios like the one we are all experiencing right now. My work very often is dystopian, seemingly playing in some kind of a or our future or a parallel reality. But now the present seems to have out-runned if not outdated the future, so very often it feels the Covid crises put me in a work crises cause there is nothing left for me to draw.
In the beginning of the COVID crisis it was hard to concentrate. Then George Floyd was murdered and it was impossible to concentrate. During the first surge of COVID and the call for racial justice, my wife and I were also in the midst of moving to New Mexico. So the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, the countless murders of people of color, the uprisings, moving, reckoning with the privileges of my whiteness, the election…all of this has made it impossible to concentrate.
As a human, I am responding to more than just the pandemic.
The pandemic shed light on the “old situation” and all of it impacts my creative practice.
It’s been difficult to work on this online project. As the months wear on I have grown bored and disinterested in the online presence. Haven’t we all?
I crave the company of a person in the studio looking at my work. I crave looking at work in person…especially work that is about contemplation….I just want to look and be in space with art…without wall text…without screens.
Although I miss the freedom to travel and to do all the normal activities with family and friends, my studio is in the building where I live so I have used this time of lockdown to work, work, work. Also, my current work has as its foundation the study of slide sections of the effects of black lung disease on coal miners (like my family) back home in southern West Virginia. This fact somehow in a strange way points to the current virus in some respects.
Covid has changed everything about how I think about art. The art world is still reeling from the blow, and it’s hard to think of shows, exhibitions, and theory that seem more and more irrelevant. Having to work from home brought me back to what I loved about making drawings, but also led me to seriously question my motives for my ambitions. What has remained is outrage mixed with a somewhat uplifting realization that art doesn't need to be taken so deathly serious to be timely and enjoyable.
Yes, Covid has impacted my work. And in a way that is so beguiling and strange and otherly I canʼt get my mind into it. Time seems unpinned, unbearable, I canʼt remember things very clearly. March and April of this year feel like another lifetime. Thereʼs the obvious distress and sleeplessness and worry that comes with living and working in a Pandemic, but then thereʼs this other starry trauma unfolding in everything, like an assemblage of tenses clicking in and out of place. Everyone I know is going through this, too, it seems. As far as the studio goes, Iʼve never worked so hard in my life but I canʼt get anything done. Iʼm an essential worker, and my studio isnʼt far from my job, and so Iʼm one of the lucky ones thatʼs been able to stay employed throughout everything, nonetheless itʼs certainly taken its toll.
Most of the art work Iʼve looked at lately is just trying to get away from all this. Thereʼs a cheeky escapism to it thatʼs not at all subtle. Heavy-handed, cooped up, self-deprecating jokey stuff made by someone deadly serious, working awash in the grayness of what it means to be holed up in the studio right now, let alone laugh right now. I know itʼs been relevant for a while, but I see so many artists using humor in their paintings that I think itʼs telling of a different, depleting kind of pain.
I think we are going to see work for a long time that intensely, relentlessly, shamelessly looks inward. A lot of my artist friends had some serious time to be in the studio, just working and watching helplessly as the world burned around us. We are going to see art that grapples with our own lip-servicing ineptness to instantly effect real change in a time of actual social justice; work that fumbles with not knowing whether what an artist does is hurting or helping.
Moreover, the art world is so undone into a million pieces no one knows who is going to put it back together or how. And while we all know it canʼt go back together the way it was, there doesnʼt seem to be any other way.
I have a friend that works in Art Handling, and that industry saw a bump when collectors began moving their work out of New York City. He said heʼd never been so busy crating and shipping and driving work Upstate to storage. Wherever that work is headed, draining art out of the art world is like sucking momentum from a tossed cinder block. I think itʼs going to have very material and lasting effects on an economy that so many of us are grinding every day for the opportunity to dip into. I think we are going to see a much different, much more fiscally conservative art world, and those opportunities will thin out for a while.
But no oneʼs going anywhere (where would we go?), artists are still here working, and so we are also going to see a world insanely joyous for the sake of joy and making art (why else would we stay here?); an art world high on working and contributing, with itʼs shoulder pressed so hard to the wheel that we may be able to prop one other up for a while, this way we donʼt have to sleep with our heads in the mud.
I think when galleries do open again people will want to go look at art that knocks them out. Theyʼll want big, bold, triumphant moves from painting and sculpture. Something to get them washed out of their bodies and feeling the world around them again. I recently saw the Suzan Frecon show at Zwirner and I was so grateful to be in a gallery again, I had not been to a gallery in months, floating around room after room and standing in front of good paintings, like a communion. It was overwhelming. I left feeling like I had just witnessed something special, and hadnʼt realized how starved I was for that feeling.
Covid certainly has had an impact on my practice. I am working at a smaller scale. I’m also working out of a little home studio- a room on top of the roof of my home- instead of walking an hour to my studio, which is in a private space but has a shared bathroom and hallways. I’ve also shifted away from making narrative drawings about politicians, dictators, cult leaders and other public figures who abuse power. I’ve always been intrigued with the people, structures and organizations that openly and secretly possess power, but because this is now what almost every news story is about, continuing to make work about these themes seems redundant. I feel like I’m adding to the ugliness and polarization that is so sharp and present. So I’ve moved into more benign topics such as architecture, which might still nod to prior content, but in more subtle ways. I’ve also gone back to focusing on drawing basics- shapes, color, line, composition, etc. I’m finding joy in this. I think it’s really important to have some source of joy during a pandemic/economic recession.
If there have been any positives to the ongoing Covid pandemic, it is perhaps that it has given us time to reflect without the usual demands. It has been a time to re-valuate what is important, what does making work mean for me, even if there is no audience at the moment. Stopping is unnatural, but also has its values.
I have continued to make work in the studio. In fact Experiments XXX and Experiments XXX Part 2 are very recent works made during lockdown. Last year I did a small research project with University College London in relation to Motor Neurone Disease. As part of that process I spent some time with an elderly woman, Mrs Begum, who was in the very last stages of the illness. She described how gradually her life was curtailed by what she was able to do, effectively restricting her movements and shutting her off from the world. I did not know how to process that information at the time, but ironically when Covid19 effectively put us into lockdown curtailing our daily lives, Experiments XXX, Part 1 and Part 2 found their form. I wanted to do a drawing where I was fixed to one spot - shoes nailed to the floor - and explore the extent of my reach. I also thought about the collapse of the physical body, which informed the second part of the work.
I have also been working on a series of drawings ‘measuring time’ in different ways. A series of continuous drawings where I would draw without stop for 12 or 24 hours and a drawing creating a single line for everyday of my life – a drawing which I hope does not reach a conclusion for many years to come!
The situation emerging early in 2020 quickly made me rethink my creative practice for the year. I had a number walldrawing projects in progress, exhibitions overseas that are nearly finalized, and a series of big black and white acrylic paintings that is nearing completion. Yet I put all these projects on hold -- it won't be forever -- and started working on a much more intimate series of hybrid paintings. I don't have a title for this series yet, but it is brashly painterly and done in neon colors, and very different from anything I have ever done. Each piece originates in a piece of software called 'KidPix', before becoming painted, printed, and drawn hybrid paintings. Maybe this was my form of escapism for this year?
Oh, and then... there is also: OnBigDrawings.