During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Patricia Miranda is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, and educator, and founder of MAPSpace and The Crit Lab. Her process-oriented objects and installations utilize found textile and books altered with handmade natural dyes and pigments as acts of ecofeminist lamentation and resistance. She has been awarded residencies at I-Park, Weir Farm, Julio Valdez Printmaking Studio, and Vermont Studio Center, and been Visiting Artist at Vermont Studio Center, the Heckscher Museum, and University of Utah. She received an artist grant from ArtsWestchester/New York State Council on the Arts and was part of a year-long NEA grant working with homeless youth.
AS: How are you coping?
PM: At this point I find it hard to entirely express in words. Dreamlike. Like being in a continual fugue state, intensely aware of time while not having a solid sense of how to evaluate or measure it. There’s the contradictory shared isolation- the knowledge that my building is full of neighbors I can’t see but know are there. I look out at my street at night, and every apartment window is lit up in an abstract sense of commonality. Very dystopian on the ground, and only more so when you see images of normally crowded places all around the world. New York City is the quietest I’ve ever experienced, just occasional sirens and firetrucks. Was there ever a time when the world stood so simultaneously and collectively still? As though the whole earthly population is holding its breath, to see where this will take us.
AS: Has your routine changed?
PM: I went from running around, Crit Lab to Crit Lab, home to studio, teaching, event to event, to now being mostly home, managing the anxiety and roller-coaster of emotion, buying more food than we need, and realizing that as a self-employed artist, all of the gigs I had lined up for the foreseeable months dissipated, poof, in a single moment.
To be clear, while I am anxious about the future, I am extremely lucky. I have a roof over my head, and a partner whose job can, at least for a bit, keep us safe until my income (hopefully) returns. Many are in dire straits, putting their lives on the line for the rest of us – from medical staff to grocery clerks. I am very grateful for their work, and aware of my own good fortune. In my neighborhood in Washington Heights neighbors open their windows each night at 7pm to cheer, clap, and clang pots and pans, to celebrate and honor those people. The sound resonates through the streets, in a wonderful act of recognition and solidarity.
A regular routine, as in a 9-5, is not my normal mode, however having zero external structure of time (an idea I have explored in past works) combined with the uncertainty and unknowable sense of danger, mean that each day stretches out into an open field of raw emotion. The time can be a seemingly endless void, then compress in an instant, when suddenly a day ends with barely a notice.
Mainly right now I have been working on the computer, optimistically catching up on the digital work required of an artist’s life that usually there’s little time for, such as updating websites. And after spending hours on the computer, feeling that I am not accomplishing much, I wonder what exactly I am trying to catch up to? Some sense of normalcy I suppose. Video meetups with friends and family has been a lifesaver. As we move further into this pandemic, we will need to find new ways to cope, to help one another through, psychologically, physically, emotionally, and financially. We’re in for some rocky months.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
PM: Surreal is a word I would use to describe it. Emotions change from moment to moment, like a collective grief that we can only experience privately. I cycle through the stages: One minute I am fine, working, then anxious, then fine, then crying, then busy, then exhausted, then fine again. Like after 9/11 in NYC, only then we could gather for comfort in all kinds of intimate social ways. Human touch, being in the same room, these fundamental things are suddenly precarious, and yet we yearn for them. At this stage in the pandemic, and especially living in the heart of New York City, it can be hard to gauge one’s own level of reasonable panic.
From the start I’ve been keeping connected with friends in northern Italy. Videos of Italian friends and neighbors singing to one another across balconies re-centered me as an artist, reminding me of the value and solace of art. As artists we can feel frivolous in moments like this. Yet art matters, it gives a sense of meaning and purpose. Art, the making and sharing of art, is an act of hopefulness. I was able to work in the studio again after that.
I am working on ways to do small works at home. My studio is not in my home, so I don’t go every day. Since I can go and come back without interactions or public transportation, I plan to keep going, as long as that seems reasonable. I am in the midst of projects that feel very close to the bone, it is hard to let them languish and most of what I do is not possible in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan that I share with another human and a small cat.
AS: What matters most right now?
PM: On a personal level, keeping safe, and supporting my partner who has had to move an entire department of courses online in a moment in the midst of the disarray; and staying connected with family and friends, making sure we are there for one another. Professionally, finding ways to keep the amazing Crit Lab community connected, and importantly – to sustain my own studio practice, however that needs to manifest now. All these feel essential, even with the doubts and questions that come along.
This expands out to my beloved New York City, doing what I can to help neighbors (even if that means staying home), advocating for artists and other gig workers through the challenging next months, and turning to both local and national elections to see if we can fight for a society where people are not thrown into real precarity due to the lack of a social network and health insurance. This crisis lays bare the terrible inequities as well as the essential generosity of our communities and country. It can be an opportunity for us to rethink, to realize how interconnected we are, how this interconnectedness is necessary, and how we can focus on a human and earth-centered model for our country and our world.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
PM: Art , in particular the landscape for art and artists (among many other professions), may look very different when we emerge from this. Many small organizations will close. Perhaps the tolerance for certain excesses can be rethought. Having founded and run more than one artist-centered organization, I have always been involved in and an advocate for artist-run culture, for artists building alternative economies and ecosystems, for artists recognizing themselves as a community and a constituency.
This crisis can be another opportunity to re-envision how art and artists can meaningfully engage with the world and with one another. Perhaps we can build new muscles in our focus on what matters by using video conferencing across the world to reduce our footprint on the earth and our reliance on real estate, while being together in real rooms to forge local art communities that are supportive and resilient. These art communities can serve the larger community in so many ways, and share beauty, creativity, reflection, innovation, agitation, criticality, and hope.
The ways artists have continued to stay connected through this — sharing work on social media, institutions moving exhibitions online, organizing online exhibitions of closed, postponed and canceled projects — have been inspiring. I think it is a necessity for artists to work together and we each bring unique skills, passions, and stories to the table. As we move through this crisis I hope to connect with artists who want to collaborate, to build on the legacy of artist-run culture, and imagine a future of sustainable artist communities.
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org