So, we’re in Lockdown 2: The Tiresomeness – tentative art plans are shelved again, isolation reigns. We go to online art events, some by digital artists, others by analogue/physical/non-digital artists doing what they can, exploring new routes. Some are wonderful, many in fact, and we appreciate each other’s efforts in trying times, but… it’s not the same. The back-in-March Zoom enthusiasm has worn off, we want to see work in the real – in the space and at the scale it is meant to be – and we want to see each other. So much. Our laptops, tablets and phones are lifelines, but they are not galleries or performance spaces, nor are they a post-show bar. I could sit at my desk with my own wine and nibbles, but, hmm, no.
Given this could last a significant while longer, what do we do as artists when real-world exhibition opportunities are largely zero? Do we adapt our practice to embrace media that are suited to small-screen online sharing? Well, maybe – I’ve tinkered with a bit of sound art, exhibited paintings virtually, and performed a few spoken word pieces on facebook & Insta, but I’m a materials-driven artist. I make physical objects which are intricate and textured. They need to be seen in real life.
I could creatively hibernate and certainly some artists have. I’ve written very little because all that comes out most of the time is ‘rona-anxiety and doom. I don’t want to write about that, so mostly I don’t write, though workshop prompts sometimes do the trick. Fortunately, my visual art takes a different approach and I’ve still been able to generate ideas and enough energy/headspace to realise them. Maybe the answer is to start a long-term, time-consuming project to fill the daysweeksmonths; again, yes I’ve done this to some extent by going back to my drawing roots and creating large, intricate ink-work. 70cm x 70cm + 003 pen = a lot of time. However, it’s still not really at the core of what I do, even if I am technically capable.
This leaves me with the option of making, making and more making – trying not to become a production line, but still effectively stockpiling pieces for when events can happen again. The latest of these is Presentation Complex (2020), mixed media, 27 x 56cm. It follows my usual practice of using waste materials, found objects and so on. I’ve been reading quite a bit about Kurt Schwitters and his Merz – he’s a key influence I find eternally fascinating. Collecting the detritus of consumerist society is something that’s at the heart of what I do though I still find it hard to overcome the nervous embrassment of pocketing items in the street, now with the addition of not wanting to touch potential Covid-surfaces. Schwitters’ mid 1920s Merz column is a kind of totem as I work and rework sculptural and suspended assemblages. His collage approach is something I’ve embraced as in Presentation Complex – a empty frame within a gilt frame, collaged with materials such as torn binding and pages from an early 19th-century bible, wrapping paper from a zine a friend posted to me during the first lockdown, a screenprint I made at a pop-up workshop in a park. This is now on my studio wall, and soon I will embark on something else. I do have a show pencilled in for April/May 2021. Will it go ahead? I hope so. Still, at least I’m not stockpiling toilet rolls…