Art in the Time of Corona (2020) WORK IN PROGRESS
Covid-19 has disrupted every aspect of our lives and is expected to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Aside from the physical and emotional toll this will take on the world, it leads us to consider how this will, in turn, impact our artistic practises and attitudes. It is of general consensus that the periods of most pain for artists generally lead to the best era of work for them: Picasso's Blue Period, Kahlo's bed ridden paintings, Grande's 'thank u, next', et cetera et cetera so it is to be expected that an international pandemic should result in a whole catalogue of "great" art following this shared trauma. Coronavirus would not be the first time a global health crisis has influenced the usually untouchable bubble of the art world. The Black Death wiped out 60% of Europe's population in the 14th Century, but it also led to the Italian Renaissance. And whilst I'm not sure the death of 50 million people is a reasonable price to pay for a few nice paintings, I couldn't help but wonder how art will change in response to this pandemic.
I maintain that the best thing about being an artist, today, is eating custard creams in your studio with your peers, and then getting drunk at private views for free, so when this - and everything else - is gone, what is left? Art is generally one of the only thing that prevails in times of distress - especially within the notion of the tortured artist, and many turning to art as catharsis in order to make sense of the world. The YBA's success is owed, in part, to the major recession of the mid-1990s which largely ruined the mainstream art market, allowing a bunch of bright young things to change the market on their terms. And the HIV/AIDS crisis beginning in the 80s created a huge catalogue of activist art borne out of radically queer spaces (which is only recently being taken seriously by mainstream galleries!) This current period, however, differs in one fundamental characterisation: isolation. Whereas previously artists have been able to thrive in community spaces, DIY exhibitions, and the general collective in times of shared suffering, we are explicitly unable to do that physically.
COMMENT ON HOW USUALLY WE'D BE ABLE TO PROTEST BUT NOW WE CANT ?
I was speaking to my tutor the other day about how she thinks our graduating class will make some of the most interesting work from this period. They said they'd gone through something similar when she was graduating. Their class was meant to go on a holiday somewhere just before their degree show, but it got cancelled because of a volcano and they were really upset. They keep trying to make us see this as a positive scenario, but I wish they’d just say that it’s really shit. I hate feeling like I’ve got to make the most of it. This is a horrible situation for everyone, and I hate feeling like we’ve got to exploit every situation we’re in as artists.
From a trend point of view, I anticipate that we will see a huge dip in practise based art, with most artists being less able to experiment with different mediums from the comfort of their bedrooms. The lack of affordable studio and living spaces in London will never have such a great affect on art as it will now. Whilst I doubt already successful artists with home studios will feel this knock-on effect in their work, young and struggling artists will have completely reinvent their practise in order to survive. Most of these artists have their "side hustle" (read: main job) in either hospitality, retail, or gallery invigilating. With these spaces being deemed non-essential, they will be hit even further after having their already miniscule amount of disposable income slashed. If you work in hospitality, 80% of your monthly wage under the job retention scheme will more likely look like 40% without the usual gratuities. With so many workers being on zero-hour contracts, and many retail staff fired just before the lockdown, many creatives' first concern will be how to pay their still astronomical rent rather than whether they can drop a hundred quid on new materials. Whilst this puts many further in the archetype of struggling artists where so much success evolves from, it renders them unable to buy materials that they would usually experiment with. There is far less wiggle room to fuck up and for things to go wrong if you need to get returns on every penny you spend. Many may retreat into familiar, or pre-pandemic-bought, materials that they already feel comfortable with, smaller scale works to save on canvas costs, or quick drying so they can both sell the work faster, and store it away when it's done to save on studio/living space. I expect that film and digital may prevail because of its accessibility and availability during this time, which is ironic considering the price tag attached to the software is completely inaccessible usually. I would be extremely surprised if any of my peers are able to make ambitious metalwork sculptures, or larger than life oil paintings in the foreseeable future, as I doubt anyone has access to an equipped, ventilated workshop at their parent's house or their bedsit in zone 2.
Thus I think we can expect to see a rise again in research-based, conceptual art and proposals, with far more emotionally charged work to evolve from this. We have a lot more time now, given the unemployment and solitude, to ponder our thoughts and loneliness. Indeed, I think that if a body of work does not become more literal and emotive, it may not survive in the same way it would usually. Audiences may be less inclined to shock given the political landscape of this time, and where the gallery model is going to shifted even further online, art will now need to break through the cold digital screen in order to connect with the viewer.
Where the gallery moves to be online, through social media or websites, we will be making it so much more accessible for larger audiences. Physically, those that previously were unable to attend galleries due to distance, or inadequate disability access, will now be able to. And by shedding the white cube gallery model, it will start reducing the elitism found in these spaces. There's less of a worry about looking like you don't understand the work, when you are seeing it from the comfort of home ground. Virtual reality exhibitions will become a necessity - rather than just something fun, or as art themselves. Degree shows are now online showcases of work, whereas galleries could previously utilise V.R. as a way to explore new mediums in the age of advancing technology (for example, Zabludowicz's 360 Room and Rachel Roisson's Stalking The Trace there this time last year). But contemporaries already face insecurities with the importance of being online in the 21st Century as an artist and this will only get more stressful in the coming months. I find myself, and my peers, getting into our own heads about how our work will look on Instagram or our websites, before we've even begun making it. Making sure a piece of art will look good on the grid, in a square format, in lighting that will suit a phone screen and the quality of the picture too, is overwhelming enough without even getting into the consideration of likes and whether a post will 'do well', however this problem will now be something crucial to overcome in order to survive.
The discrepancies between rich artists and struggling artists will grow from a chasm to a gulf/a ditch to a canyon/a moon cup to a keep cup. Just as it has been amusing to watch those usually performing as working class go back to their mum's country homes in the last month, seeing artists now with an abundance of materials and space is going to feel alien to the majority of audiences. 'You can wear those kappa trackies, gold tooth caps, burberry caps and bucket hats' (Posh Kids Wear Trackies, Sarah Smith a.k.a. saucysez) but you're not going to be able to hide the home studios, and DSLR photos of your #wip now. And those who have the privilege of these spaces will not feel the effects of this pandemic - in the same way as those struggling. The transparency that the lockdown is creating will change the face of the art world forever. AUTHENTICITY. New York Frieze went virtual last week, and whilst every year when I go I feel out of place because I haven’t had a blow dry and my shoes have holes in them, generally – at the London one at least – gallerists tend to be quite unostentatious with the prices of the art available. It plays into that whole thing of if you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it. But as a virtual ‘showroom’ (you’d think that as their whole lives revolves around aesthetics and appearances, they’d have hired a good web designer to make the site bearable to scroll through at the very least), they had every single price of each work on show. Artists had taken photos of their work lying on the floors of their studios and they were being sold for £80,000 and upwards. When you’re actually in these spaces you can ignore the money flying around it, pretend that you’re actually there to see “good” art, outweigh the obvious elitism for the fact that YOU are actually there too. But when there isn’t that physical space, the money feels like bitcoins, and the art market even more bizarre than usual. There was a good meme Jerry Gagosian did about it which I’ll link here.
Lots of people have been comparing this time to the 90s just before artists such as the YBAs were able to come out of this on top (Russel Tovey and Robert Diamont’s podcast with Jerry Saltz touches on this). There is no doubt that art won’t continue to exist after this, but I refute this idea that my generation of young artists are all going to thrive because of this. In the 90s, artists were able to survive on so much less because squatting was easier, so they weren’t paying rent and they were all living in these spaces together as a creative community, constantly feeding off each other’s buzzes. They were able to put on shows in abandoned warehouses because those spaces hadn’t been turned into an M&S and unaffordable flats yet. Even if we had the luxury of affordable live/work spaces (guardianships are not exception/replacement/substiution WHATS THE FUCKING WORD!!!), that would not be possible in this age of quarantine.
New Labour’s involvement with the burst of young artists and creatives being able to do well welfare benefits – him and her, spaced, etc
Whilst tory austerity and right wing media brainwashing us into thinking being on benefits is bad, most artists have been working fulltime hosp jobs to make ends meet, leaving them with so much less time to create the work that needs to be made. We are now being posed with an opportunity, Stats on people going on the dole since lockdown. We have the time to be making work about being sat on our arses at home because we literally cannot do anything else. Blah blah blah Big increase in works like Him & Her, Spaced etc.
Nothing else to do, but make work.
And whilst this seems bleak, we can hypothesise that the work that we make in response to this struggle, is going to be so much 'greater', that maybe, it will all be worth it.
NOT SURE ABOUT ANY OF THIS. NEEDS TO END ON A MUCH LIGHTER NOTE.
This seems really bleak?
Maybe some more ideas about how art will change?
And for bad?
And then round it off with witty statement i guess?
However it will change, art's unlikely to die out anytime soon, no matter the odds/mortatlity rate. // We don't have a choice.