Time taken : ~10mins
Museums, galleries and art spaces across the world have temporarily closed their physical premises in light of government restrictions to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. While working towards reopening their spaces, many have moved to digital platforms to continue engaging with audiences through innovative methods of creating and collaborating. For artists, the postponement of work and exhibitions has led to a reorganisation of their practices with some turning to social media platforms to stay creative, make and share.
Contact tracing, a core control measure employed to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 all over the world, has emerged as a pandemic-era phenomenon. The idea of drawing connections and establishing networks resonates, especially when we are confined to our homes and human contact has been minimised. How could art connect us with each other in these times?
Originating from countries as diverse as Germany, New Zealand and Singapore, the following five projects, exhibitions and initiatives take the notions of “contact” and “tracing” to prompt connections, reflect and engage with realities past and beyond. Harnessing the creative potentialities of the digital realm, they were created in response to or as a result of COVID-19. Conceived for viewing from our personal devices, they illuminate traces of daily life, changing physical and mental environments and new methods of making contact as well as surfacing new subjectivities. There are also initiatives that invite the public to contribute creative responses to cities and countries undergoing change. Humorous, poetic and interactive, these responses reflect on living apart and together during these unprecedented circumstances.
A series of films, conversations, and letters
Presented by e-flux and International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
With many of us made to stay within the confines of our abodes, windows have become portals that allow us to gaze upon and connect with the physical world yonder. This joint-screening series draws inspiration from Józef Robakowski’s film Z mojego okna (From My Window) made from 1978 to 1999 that chronicles everyday life as observed from the artist’s apartment in Łodż against a backdrop of a rapidly evolving Poland.
As shared on the project’s website, “It has been almost two months since the world entered a lockdown. The situation has made us wary of human contact, while we also crave it; it has turned touch and intimacy into potential weapons, and—as we conform to the social distancing rules—it is also reconfiguring our collectivity and sense of solidarity into something that we never needed to imagine before. What is the social body without a body?... But perhaps if we resist the urge to fast forward over this moment and instead live through it together, we will be able to gather the tools that we need to build a future that—at the moment—seems to be up for grabs.”
Every week, the series presents a short film that responds to the act, and sentiment, of looking from the window to the world beyond. Alongside the films, artists and filmmakers will contribute video-letters or video statements that lend insight into their current situation and how they are living through these extraordinary times. This growing collective record is born out of the hope that our engagement with the lived realities of the present would help shape the future that emerges out of this current situation.
NIRIN is an artist- and First Nations-led biennale showcasing more than 700 artworks by 101 artists, creatives and collectives across different parts of Sydney, Australia. The word “NIRIN” translates to “edge” in Wiradjuri, the mother language of Brook Andrew, the first Indigenous artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney. This event is an invitation to consider narratives and perspectives that are often overlooked and to allow a multitude of voices to emerge and be heard. Originally slated to run till 8 June 2020, the Biennale swiftly moved to digital platforms to engage with audiences after having to close its doors to the public in the wake of the coronavirus. During these times, the core themes of NIRIN are ever more urgent and poignant: finding ways to connect, help each other, listen, collaborate and heal.
Through artist interviews, podcasts, curated tours and virtual walkthroughs, viewers are brought as close to the the installations as possible and given insight to the artists’ creative processes. Participating artists are invited to share curated music playlists and to takeover the Biennale’s Instagram account to share about their influences, inspirations and art practice. There are comprehensive learning resources developed to engage young people. The kits include creative activities, inquiry questions and background info, which families and educators can adapt to different learning needs.
The virtual realm becomes a space for us to discover, connect with and build greater empathy for others across geographical borders and cultures.
28 April – 26 October 2020
Featuring moving image works by 12 artists, Spheres: An Online Video Project reflects on the idea of social distance and personal environments to examine the ways we interact, our emotions, thoughts and sensations.
The project draws on ideas of societal structures and spatial peripheries posited by philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in Spheres—a trilogy comprising Bubbles, Globes and Foams. Likewise, these moving image works interpret and express the ideas of “intimate bubbles to globes and foams”, as noted by the curators. While some works explore the domestic and intimate, or feature surroundings within close radius of home, others are concerned with the environment, consumerism and the importance of preserving cultural knowledge.
Out of the 12 artists participating in the project, five created new work directly responding to the way the pandemic has affected their current 'spheres'. These include Reservoir Romanticism that traces water sources within a one-kilometre radius from the home of Conor Clarke, resulting in an experimental map of sorts.
Others such as Xin Cheng’s Seeing Like a Forest from 2019 reflect on the artist’s research of over a decade observing small modifications made by non-specialists to shared spaces. With examples from Japan, Taiwan, Germany and New Zealand, the work highlights the inventive approaches taken by people to modify and adapt their communal environments.
Regardless of when they were made, all the 12 works prompt us to re-examine our surroundings and neighbourhoods, quietly observe the personal and private or contemplate histories and cultural practices. Imaginative, humorous and inventive, they offer some new ways of thinking about the current situation.
In the middle of March 2020, as Singapore saw a rise in the daily number of COVID-19 cases, advisories implementing safe distancing measures were announced. Shortly after, the city-state witnessed a transformation of its spaces as surfaces across the country were marked out with duct tape and floor markers.
The Instagram page Tape Measures uploaded its first post on 29 March 2020. Based in Singapore, Tape Measures is a crowdsourced archive tracing and recording safe-distancing markers across the island. As noted by artist Berny Tan who started the account, these indicators have “become this new visual language that can be straightforward, or scary, or amusing, or even confusing, such that it almost feels like this surreal, city-wide, community-driven art project that captures this strange time and space that we are all inhabiting”.
These scenes of displacement which verge on the uncanny or ridiculous pointedly signal our pandemic realities of brightly coloured geometrics. Many also reflect the stillness of our spaces following the closure of recreational facilities including playgrounds, fitness corners and beaches. Other harsher realities are made poignant—particularly haunting is a post on 23 April 2020 of Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium with all the seats taped, hinting at the delicate processes of mourning.
Presently, as COVID-19 continues to affect all of us globally, “Story Highlights” on Instagram's platform also feature international examples of global tape measures, most of which have been contributed by members of the community.
How does your idea of home and your relationship with the world beyond change in the time of the coronavirus? Citylab, an online platform that investigates urban innovation and the future of cities, is inviting readers to create maps of their neighbourhoods in response to the effects of a global pandemic. This exercise in cartography charts how homes, neighbourhoods, cities and countries have transformed as a result of safe distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Often taking home or the self as the centre of orbit, contributors from all over the world visually interpret their reconfigured daily routines, evolving boundaries of living perimeters, routes of “sanity walks” and discoveries of new places and natural environments. Executed using a variety of mediums from pencil and watercolour to digital drawing tools, the maps capture the broad spectrum of experiences and emotions of a world under quarantine. Some capture the pulses and quirks of the day-to-day like the one by Sharmaine Montealegre from the Philippines that illuminates how the moon offers reprieve in times of a lockdown. Others gamely imagine what the future could look like.
Discover this expanding archive of interpretative maps and stories of lockdown-era sentiment and if you are so inspired, contribute one of yours.
Lynda Tay is an Assistant Programmer at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay working and developing the centre's Visual Arts programme.
Lu Xiaohui is a Programmer at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay who oversees the curation of exhibitions and visual arts programmes at the centre.