I’ve seen lots of Art Thoughts circling around amidst the articles, headlines and memes. Everyone is dealing with a new trauma, a new form of grief, for themselves, their loved ones, their jobs, their social life. And in working through this huge dramatic change, lots of people have the instinct to work through it. This isn’t wrong -- it couldn’t be me but it’s probably something that depends on your energy levels and zodiac alignments. People need a way to cope with everything and productivity and community and thinking and talking is great (if you are able).
People have begun to process what this means for the art world and I’m seeing a lot of Art Thoughts about isolation, about fear, about lack of freedom, about precariousness, about a loss of community. A lot of Art Thoughts about how to address these problems.
I’m thinking about disability. I’m thinking about November 2018 when my body decided that I would stop going outside. My paces slowed and my tiny girlfriend had to lift me off the sofa. I couldn’t see my friends cos I couldn’t process what they were saying a lot of the time and trying to keep up exhausted me and I couldn’t get to their flat anyway. I was scared and undiagnosed (I remain undiagnosed). I was unsupported, I had no game plan. After weeks of appointments and tests I was told vaguely that I had to see how I felt in six months, we could plan from there. And so I stayed inside for six months.
And here we all are. We’re waiting out these next few weeks until we know what happens after that. After this, lockdown might be loosened or tightened. For now, galleries have shut their doors indefinitely.
It wasn’t dramatic when I stopped leaving my flat for anyone but myself and my partner. It never is. ‘The year I stopped making art, it was before COVID-19. […] It was so mundane no one noticed. No one noticed because I couldn’t make an art-work out of it. It couldn’t be turned into art. It just ended. My shows were cancelled and no one paid me and no one saw me’. (Paul Maheke ’The year I stopped making art’)
I’m thinking about Anne Boyer’s recent text ‘the virus’, and its finishing line: ‘The time when the invisible becomes visible is at hand’. We are all talking about this invisible change, the loss of art space, the lack of access to artwork, the unseen exhibitions that are currently behind closed doors. This invisibility, this lack. We’re all talking about it and we’re all trying to work around it, to put cameras behind those closed doors, to build that digital gallery on SketchUp, I’ve lost count of the amount of Quaranzines that beat SB to the punch.
This situation is new for a lot of people, but it is old to lots of us too. The isolation and fear is dulled, the lack of art space, the lack of access, the impossibility of visiting a gallery is a frustrating given. The year I stopped making art, I stopped going to galleries. Why would I go? How could I go? A particularly Mancunian compliant is that all artist-led spaces in the city centre have stairs. Why would I go? Do they have enough chairs at the opening? How am I supposed to stand up for that long? My brain can’t focus enough to read wall text. My legs hurt, my arms hurt, if I go today tomorrow is a write off. Galleries stopped existing to me, bar invites on facebook to another opening I couldn’t go to.
What I’m saying is;;; though the Whitworth only shut its doors a couple weeks ago, galleries have been closed for a while to a huge amount of people. You are joining us as first timers, I’m watching from the my bed as you bang on the doors.
I’ve seen lots of Art Thoughts, a lot of people noticing that it’s hard to be an artist or a curator or an organiser without a gallery to work in, without a community to talk to. A lot of people trying to work out what to do now, how we can operate in this time. I’ve seen people acknowledge that this state is impermanent, that it has an end point, at which galleries will open and your SketchUp-rendered walls of paintings won’t be so interesting. I’ve seen people suggest this is a pause, a time for rest. I’ve seen people predict that this will be a turning point for the art world.
I’m interested in everyone’s suggestions. I’m keeping an eye on them. Let’s see what happens when we render these digital galleries on a website, create a VR experience, buy take-and-make art kits and run virtual workshops, if we do our crits on zoom, studio tours on Twitch, build websites as exhibitions, see a resurgence in postal art, or start live-streaming talks, performances, films. I’m interested in their effectiveness and their creativity, and mostly mostly mostly I’m interested in how long they will last.
The art world has experienced a deactivation not dissimilar to my own disablement. The body has stopped working. Suddenly, we will not move from here, until we do. I am inviting all within this body to look at their current circumstance, and wonder what it would be like if they ended up here without their peers at their (digital) side. If the world stopped, but only for you. And then - how can you learn from this? How can we help the people who will stay in this position long after the art world’s body scoops itself up from the sofa and opens the front door again?
I’m asking all within this body to use this time as an exercise in empathy. When we consider how we can build temporary methods of working within this pandemic, let’s also consider how we can draw these methods out to create accessible models for those that will stay indoors once this is over. Let this make the invisible people of the arts visible. Let this draw attention to the people who can’t come to the opening because the gallery’s website doesn’t include whether there is an accessible toilet. Let this draw attention to the people absent due to chronic illness. Let this draw attention to the people who couldn’t come see the show cos of the step outside or the faulty lift. The time when the invisible becomes visible is at hand.