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How are creatives reacting to the pandemic? My favourite initiatives – Part I

An unprecedented pandemic has hit the world, forcing life as we knew it to come to a halt. In the art world, this meant closing indefinitely physical art spaces, postponing or cancelling exhibitions and events, and entering a phase of total uncertainty. Luckily, creativity never stops. In the midst of  challenges and restrictions, gallerists, artists, and creative thinkers showed resilience and inventiveness. I have collated some of my favourite initiatives. and will interview the key players in this wave of change in the following weeks.

In this time of seclusion, we discover the pleasure of slowing things down and enjoying forgotten delights. Forced to adapt to new routines, new spaces, and an infinite list of constraints and limitations, we are also offered the chance to delve into new opportunities. Alongside the less innovative online exhibitions, the art world has found many ways to stay relevant and engaging. I am particularly enjoying the ICA newsletter, which everyday packs an eclectic series of suggestions on what to read, watch, listen, or do. This goes from listening to Marianne Faithfull & David Bowie: I Got You Babe, to reading the full dOCUMENTA (13) project 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts– a collection of mini booklets made fully accessible by its authors Bettina Funcke, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s and Chus Martíneznow.

© Louise Ashcroft, Another way to read: used copy of ‘A Land’ by archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes bought on route and repurposed as stepping stones to cross muddy Leyton marshes, 2020.

Open Space, an organisation supporting emerging creatives from different backgrounds, was meant to organise a screening event, Manufacturing Memory: If It Only Were A Dream at the RCA, as well as hosting the group exhibition Edible Goods: I Have Eaten It at Platform Southwark. With eight artists, it set the task to explore food, excess and production systems through sculpture, sound, video, performance and a public programme of artist-run experiences and workshops. With Covid-forced closures, Open Space moved its initiatives online, promptly conceiving an engaging and uplifting programme for everyone to enjoy at home. Over Instagram, probably the most hit platform during the quarantine, it launched the hashtag #OpenSpaceChallenge. This is an open call, inviting everyone to answer five questions giving an insight into their daily routine and sharing a photo of their current living environment and inspiration.

Open Space will also collate a series of stories, poems, thoughts and memories from artist, curators and writers to reflect on this peculiar period, inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decamerone. In the book, ten young Florentines refuged in the countryside to escape the Black Death of 1349. They started amusing themselves recounting tales (a hundred in total), often marked by erotic tones, as a healing remedy against boredom and solitude. Open Space is curating its own After Decameron, starting with Riet Timmerman (8 April), and going on with Louise Ashcroft (15 April),  Artun Ozguner (22 April), Aubree Penney (29 April), and  Ines Neto dos Santos (6 May).
© Courtesy of Inês Neto dos Santos at Villa Lena residency, photo by Lottie Hampson

Additionally, the platform introduced Kitchen Takeover on their channels. The project, an extension of their annual programme ‘Edible Goods’, which explores the connections between food and art, launched three weeks ago on Open Space’s Instagram and website. For one day, creatives are invited to tune on the platform’s Instagram, sharing their kitchen secrets with their community, from recipes to drawings, musings or performances. As Huma Kabakci, founding director of Open Space, stated,

We see this project not merely as a platform to present recipes, but to explore the domestic kitchen space through issues around sustainability, food production systems, hierarchy, excess and the lack of food (especially in times of panic buying). Kitchen Takeover? is a social, domestic, somewhat political and experimental space.

Kabakci herself was first on the Kitchen Takeover line-up, followed by Ines Neto Dos Santos and Laura Wilson. Next up are Basim Magdy (10 – 12 April), Nora Silva (17-19 April), Antonio Riello (24-26 April), Louise Ashcroft (1-3 May 2020), Ingrid Berthon-Moine (8-10 May 2020), Michel Scherer (15-17 May 2020), Tasha Marks AVM Curiosities (22-24th May 2020), Lucia Veronesi artist (29-31st May 2020), Lemonot Architectural Collective (5-7 June 2020).

Installation view, John Newling at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham UK, 2020, © Ikon Gallery. Photo by Stuart Whipps

Galleries are keeping up their educational role, especially Ikon and Pinchuk Art Centre. Before the shutdown, the Birmingham-based gallery had inaugurated an exhibition by John Newling. To continue championing the artist’s work, Ikon started a collaboration with the app ArtimBarc, creating a special audio tour of Newling’s show. Listen to readings of Dear Nature – a book published in 2018, comprised of the artist’s letters to nature– a great way to mentally escape from our four walls. Ikon is also working to offer its youth/education programme online, allowing families to participate in their activities from home.

Madison Bycroft. Minotaur, 2018. PinchukArtCentre © 2019. Photographed by Maksim Belousov

Similarly, PinchukArtCentre is offering free video-courses, teaching art to children. The series was initiated by the centre director, Bjorn Geldhof. The centre also hosts the biannual Future Generation Art Prize, a global contemporary art prize created to discover, recognise and give long-term support to a future generation of artists. They are encouraging artists to use this ‘downtime’ to apply to the prize, and are offering free seminars advising how to tackle the application. All artists aged 35 or younger from anywhere in the world, working in any medium are invited to apply; applications close in May 2020.Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin; Chinese embroidered robe made for Emperor’s Consort; Pierre Soulages, Peinture, 1983

Christie’s is also offering free online access to new educational videos, collector interviews, discovery stories and dozens of collecting guides across categories. The auction house is also launching an ‘Art as Therapy’ series, sharing uplifting stories specifically commissioned for this particular moment. These include ‘From the inside out — 10 scenes from the artist’s window’, ‘Gardens in Art’ and ‘Create with Christie’s’. As Matthew Rubinger, Deputy Chief Marketing Officer, commented:

“We recognise that art and objects are an important source of enrichment and enjoyment for so many, and our focus these last weeks has been on refreshing our digital offerings in several key areas. Our goal is to ensure our doors remain open from a digital standpoint, so that our audiences across the world can continue to engage with us, whether that means learning more about their favourite collecting category, seeing a work of art in a virtual viewing room, or bidding on an item through our trusted online sale platform.” 

Katy Stubbs during her residency in Venice. Courtesy ALMA ZEVI. Photo: Enrico Fiorese

Alma Zevi, a gallery operating between Venice and London, was forced to postpone to an indefinite date the first solo show in Venice of London-based artist Katy Stubbs. Stubbs, working primarily with ceramics, had created 12 ceramic pieces that, together, narrated a captivating story full of humour and satirical notes on our contemporary society. To promote the artist’s work, the gallery decided to post on Instagram some close-ups of the 12 works, accompanied by ‘behind the scene’ footages and artist’s quotes. Right now, the gallery is also hosting a series of Instagram takeovers, offering its roster of artists a chance to sponsor their work and share their creative routines and inspiration.

Daina Taimina, Global Warm(n)ing – 2008-2010, acrylic tape crochet, 75 x 75 x 55 cm

RIBOCA (a biennial in Riga) launched a very interesting project that keeps the public extra-engaged, educates them on specific artist’s processes, and connects with its ongoing artwork production. The Biennial invited audiences to join and contribute to a social network of crocheting for Latvian artist Daina Taimina’s new commission. This comes with video instructions on how to crochet her signature hyperbolic planes (two-dimensional surfaces with constant negative curvature).

The Manifesta 13 Marseille Trait d’union, which was meant to run 7 June – 1 December 2020, has been postponed. The team has called for its partners, colleagues and participants to record their own home videos and home podcasts. These will offer a unique insight into how collaborators are shifting their focus and their project’s formats during isolation. The podcasts can be found on Manifesta’s Soundcloud page, free for all to access. Sound pieces also include playlists from collaborators and recordings from previous openings. All home videos are uploaded onto Manifesta’s YouTube page. Find the content in their social media accounts as well.

AntiVirusCoronaVirus (AVCV01) by Atelier dell’Errore.

Collezione Maramotti is using its social media channels, especially Instagram and Facebook, to offers a journey of the past exhibitions, presented in conjunction with the Fotografia Europea festival. Via the hashtag #paroledartista, the Collezione will also share some thoughts from its artists, reflecting on their works and relation to the foundation. Furthermore, Collezione Maramotti shares a special gift from the visionary arts workshop Atelier dell’Errore. The AntiVirus for CoronaVirus (AVCV01) is an extraordinary medicinal image that the Atelier’s young artists have created as protection against the many fears, heartaches, and physical and mental quarantines of these times. To keep it at arm’s reach, the kids from the Atelier have set it as the wallpaper on their phones, which is currently the recommended usage. Additionally, you are all invited to make your own “Self-Portrait with Antivirus” and join the series. You can send it to avcv01ade@gmail.com, to help create an expanded, long-distance collective work, or post it on social networks with the hashtags #AVCV01 and #atelierdellerrore.

Hans-Peter Lindstrøm. Photo: André Løyning.

Henie Onstad Kunstsenter will stream hidden gems from its archive, every Thursdays, 8 pm CET, on its Art Channel. Each piece will be available for one week only, so make sure to tune in! Most audiovisual works presented have originally been commissioned by Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, such as “Blinded by the LEDs” by Oslo-based producer, DJ and artist Hans-Peter Lindstrøm. This had been commissioned for Henie Onstad’s 50th anniversary, performed in three sold-out concerts in August 2018.

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