“The year of living differently.” Dr Margaret Harris (World Health Organisation)
20/20 vision means perfect sight and provided a handy title for a range of forward plans when 2020 was still in the future. We’re now half way through a year full of the unforeseeable. Locked-down in our homes for many weeks we are now permitted and encouraged to gradually emerge. The images here record some of the moments of experimentation and joy experienced by the Fife Contemporary team during confinement.
Our lives changed dramatically with the closing-in of the pandemic and we must now consider the possible shape of the future. Undercut throughout by uncertainty we navigate the language of the new normal and blended or hybrid activity. Interestingly, using language associated with museums and galleries, a pub owner asked by the BBC about how to leave lockdown safely, described it having to be a ‘curated experience’. We may try to carefully plan the process as we would an exhibition but we will have to engage with an increasingly complex and challenging context.
Colliding with Covid-19 are the longer-standing crises of Climate Emergency and Black Lives Matter. The momentous challenge is to find a symbiotic way forward to address these seemingly distinct but related issues, locally and globally. The explosion of actions triggered by the death of George Floyd reminds us of the still open wound of racism, at its most acute for people of Black heritage. Covid-19 has disproportionately affected people of Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage. The effects of the pandemic have also brought into focus social injustice more generally.
Climate heroine Greta Thunberg interviewed by Justin Rowlatt for the BBC stated that the only positive that could come out of the coronavirus pandemic would be if it changes how we deal with global crises: “It shows that in a crisis, you act, and you act with necessary force.” and that society has “passed a social tipping point, we can no longer look away from what our society has been ignoring for so long whether it is equality, justice or sustainability”.
BBC radio has been trying to address our multi-faceted challenge through their Rethink series featuring the responses of a range of guests. There is an opportunity, and necessity, to do things differently. It feels as if we have reached a crucial point in human and social evolution.
At first my own view was that we needed the leadership of a profound and all-encompassing political vision. Realistically, the multiple fractures from the local to the international prevent this. As individuals we will have to take responsibility in both our personal and professional lives. We can find collaborators with whom to make a multitude of perhaps small but cumulative positive actions.
As part of this, creative practice can provide both comfort and challenge. We need to cherish humanity in all its diversity while recognising the damage caused by our anthropocentric world and making changes. Artists can highlight and inspire through their work in exploring, exposing and imagining our lives and our interaction with our environment. Three artists, in their eloquence with language as well as image, have recently expressed shared thoughts more eloquently than I can:
Artist and poet Alec Finlay suggests in a blog for disabilityarts.online that “If we’re serious about making a new world then we need to learn more than one lesson at a time. We need recuperative forms of imagination.”
An Artnet interview by Taylor Defoe with Anicka Yi raises the issue that there is an alternative viewpoint of the earth from the human-centred one – difficult but timely to contemplate as humanity experiences a pandemic. The artist brings us back to human responsibility: “…historically viruses have wiped out a lot of the population – that’s just how they work. I feel that the virus’s work is a lot less treacherous and malevolent than the kind of violence that we inflict on each other as humans, as a society. To me, the virus is not really personal. It’s the social injustice that is.”
When challenged about the possible role of the artist at this time she responds: “I would say that, as an artist, I am not some sort of siloed, isolated entity…I think that artists can ask the difficult questions and demand a lot of accountability…We can’t do anything alone. We make an artwork and want to speak with an audience, that requires a symbiotic relationship.”
Lastly, in an interview for the Royal Academy by Louise Cohan, Lubaina Himid describes her current work which presents a hopeful and healing way to think of humanity coming together: “I’m currently working on a very, long, thin painting of about 60 different patterns, that will, I hope, go all the way around the room at a museum in Brussels; a Japanese pattern next to a Nigerian pattern, next to an Austrian pattern. You’ll see connections between them, and the point I’m trying to make is about the world we live in – that there are conversations to be had between these different patterns. It’s not an impossible combination. It’s not an impossible world.”