Author Meghan Daum suggests when picking an event to write about you should pick one that is far enough in the past so that as a writer you have the gift of perspective. The more distance we have from a subject, the more we can clearly see it, pick it apart and understand it. This feels next to impossible in our current state of affairs. We’re unable to process times passing, unable to see it from different angles and in some cases, unable to see it at all. Uncertainty and change have enveloped us, making it difficult to feel at ease letting a paragraph unfold with the naïve assumption we might know how all of this will end.
COVID is illuminating the glaring cracks in the structure of our society while simultaneously holding us in checkmate, a situation that could be described as disorienting at best. This insecurity undoubtedly marks the end of something, but in it can be found an equal opposite - a beginning. Jenny Holzer’s re-issued work for Earth Day, Delicately Interconnected, reminds us that even in the most isolating of times this lingering feeling, albeit uncomfortable, is one we share. Though this discomfort is to varying degrees, it is with optimism I hope that it’s acknowledgement not only triggers a consciousness of interconnectivity but a consciousness of privilege as well, as there can’t be one without the other.
To begin to acknowledge this discomfort is no small undertaking. It requires us to volunteer for more shifting in our lives, to sign up for further testing of our malleability as a whole. The first shift, which some may have come to terms with already in the initial two months of isolation, is pausing and confronting the grief that now pairs with our everyday. I relate the longing we currently carry for days when we could roam freely in our communities to Anicka Yi’s work in The Flavor Genome. It explores an animal-plant hybrid which blooms once every one hundred and seven years, mutating in shape every time it comes back. The name of the plant comes from the Portugese word saudade, which Yi translates into, “the feeling of missing something you love, while knowing that its likelihood of return is unknowable”.
It’s tempting to want to cling to our old habits, hoping for a return to what we knew, but we must interrupt our nostalgia and pause if we’d like to be on speaking terms with the new space we’re standing in. We do ourselves a disservice when we believe that pausing is non-action and that we could be doing better things with our time. Pausing is a movement in itself and should be valued as such; an enlightening, frightening, un-doing of our identity, an identity which, up until this point, has somewhat been defined by outside factors. We have to hold space for ourselves in order to do this work. It’s not to say we shouldn’t take inventory of the amount and type of space we occupy, but we should keep in mind that overall, if we deny ourselves introspection and emotion, we are ultimately denying ourselves a greater capacity for empathy.
To look inward and be willing to unravel and unlearn is essential if we desire any chance at productively examining and being compassionate to what we find when we look outward.
It would be sufficient to say the work doesn’t end there. We will find, again, new and unfamiliar territory. We are now distanced from the world we make art about - like an unfinished symphony, looking for direction from an unfamiliar composer, unsure if we’ll ever be performed to an audience we can see or feel beyond a camera lens. The certainties we used to look to for validation, direction and inspiration need redefining. As we can’t turn to the same spaces which once fed our fantasies, dreams, and wonderment – we must create new ones, spaces within our spaces that can stimulate our creativity. Let’s help each other with this; let’s exchange our ways of seeing and being. We cannot ignore the plain and simple fact that above all else, during this time and at all times, we need each other.
In brief, solitude is a welcomed rest until it is imposed upon us, forcing our hand to the microscope analyzing our self-discipline and autonomy. As we take a closer look, it’s a good time to reacquaint ourselves with why we create. Our artistic approach could be less focused on a tangible thing but rather a magnification of our questioning process and purpose. Where can we find inspiration that we haven’t before considered? How can we add playfulness and curiosity into our now daily, predictable routines? If you’re sharing work right now, things to consider might be, what type of impact do you want to make by sharing? How does your work invite others in? How can you use your visibility to make others feel visible?
The beauty of creating is that we do not have to know any one particular thing for certain when we begin. To do right by our work however, we have to be willing to confront our questions and uncertainties, exploring the possible perspectives even when this seems next to impossible, maybe most essentially then. Showing up uncomfortable but curious is the bravest thing we can do. Perhaps we can make peace with the unknown, nodding towards it in the morning and resisting the urge to take it with us the rest of the day. If we can attempt to focus on the necessary internal work, allowing for compassion within ourselves and in turn for others, that work will carry over into our creations. We can grow the capacity to move forward one day at a time as a more mindful, purposeful collective.