Can art, and our consumption of it, ever be detached from the context it is being viewed, or in which it was created?
In our current situation, it’s near impossible to remove our mind, and all that it absorbs subconsciously, from the very real, isolated settings we find our bodies in. Gone are the days of watching a film or reading a book where you can genuinely relate and get lost in a character. Instead, there is now a tinge of envy at their freedom to move about the world, touch strangers, hug loved ones and interact freely.
For many, creativity has become a source of survival, a form of escape and has taken on a new, higher, status in our attempts to stay sane. As we attempt to create and consume art in this period, it is near impossible to escape the subconscious thoughts of our quarantine. It appears that more than ever, we are turning to forms of art and culture that are reflective of our current state over fantasies on what could be.
Birmingham artist Rupi Dhillon has perfectly captured this zeitgeist in her latest project Going for a Performance. In attempting to encourage connection amid the pandemic, Dhillion set fellow artists the task of “using your government-sanctioned one walk a day to go for a performance”.
Dhillon was able to use social media as an art space in itself, exhibiting works as part of the project on her Instagram, encouraging the use of the hashtag #participationinisolation. Rupi explains that responses were “varied, some people understood the brief completely and responded more conceptually by considering the act of walking itself, others are using it as an opportunity to create again or just to build some routine into their day”.
Other Instagram accounts have also been spewing out creative content filled with initiatives galore. From the art-based Instagram accounts, to the tireless efforts of art gallery learning teams with arts council funding, creativity in quarantine has achieved a wave of support.
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The likes of the isolation art club (@isolationartclub) have led the charge on Instagram posting prompts each day for followers to create art in response to.
As for art galleries, local spaces including Grand Union and Ikon Gallery are hosting online reading groups, film screenings and virtual tours, in their attempts to support a creative community spirit. It seems that our worlds have never been filled with more vibrant and artist-centric spaces in which to create and find inspiration.
However, what is being missed in all these hot-takes and think-pieces which will inevitably come out of the pandemic is the fact that, for many disabled artists, none of this is new. It is not abnormal for those with chronic illnesses and disabilities to worry about keeping themselves and their living situation clean for fear of getting sick. Furthermore, it is not new for these people to be labelled as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘high-risk’, as this is a continuation of terms that they have previously been targeted with.
Overall, it feels that in many of the bodies of work that will come out of this, there appears to be an assumption that the previous stories of disabled artists are now in some way expendable and are not respected in the art world until the majority of people live under these same conditions.
However, quarantine has forced able-bodied artists to experience the lived experiences of disabled artists, which has the potential to result in greater understanding and empathy in artist communities.
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Therefore, in assessing this new period of creative expression, there is ample opportunity for collaboration between able-bodied and disabled artists, with Instagram accounts such as Behind the Scars (@behindthescars_) are being used as a platform to provide a to do exactly that. In assessing bodies of work post-quarantine, moments of collaboration and innovation during lockdown will be vital in creating authentic and interesting artwork in response to this period.
In choosing to consume and create art during quarantine, it seems that we have thrown out the rulebook of comfort watching and escapism in favour of acceptance and confrontation, with many of the creative conversations and projects which are launching bravely admitting to the fear and disillusionment of the time.
It appears that now, the ability to create art and continue to encourage creative connections is one of the most noble things we can do during this time of uncertainty.