During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
With color, composition, line, texture, Diane Englander is aiming for a place between discord and tranquility, a zone with a charged harmony that energizes as it also provides refuge. Her inspiration to work on a specific piece comes from curiosity about the materials. She’s always thinking (though not necessarily in a conscious way), What would happen if I did this? What would this other thing do? But always bending back to the goal of creating a place of calm energized by tension.
AS: How are you coping?
DE: A major coping strategy is that I don’t watch the news and skim the papers for what I feel I want and need to know. I understand what is going on, but am not drawn to immerse myself in its horrors except when I feel more knowledge will help me act in a constructive way.
I am hugely fortunate to be able to spend this time out of the city. Coincidentally, I have been really busy with projects for two non-profit efforts I’m involved with, and these projects have meant that almost every day there are specific things that need to be done. Because of this, the days have passed pretty quickly and with a sense of purpose beyond my own handwashing and food sourcing! One of the non-profits, the Right Question Institute, has resources available to help with this period, particularly for teachers and parents trying to keep kids engaged while schools are closed. So I can offer my little bit of support and feel I am engaged in something big and positive, despite the backdrop of big and horrific.
AS: Has your routine changed?
DE: Oh my, my routine has completely changed. I almost feel as if I have gone back to being a consultant to nonprofits, work I haven’t done for about twelve years. Until late March, I had had absolutely no impulse to make anything since I left the City, though I have materials and certainly could turn to them. In late March I vacuumed up the sawdust in the workshop downstairs and brought some scrap wood up to my work area. Finally, in early April, I made a small wooden sculpture from scrap wood. But so far I have been almost exclusively motivated by work for other people, other causes.
Update as of May 5: Nina Meledandri and I are collaborating on two pieces for Christina Massey’s USPS Art Project, initiated to both address artists’ sense of isolation and to support the threatened Postal Service, so I completed a small collage and gouache on watercolor paper to send to Nina for completion, and she will send me a piece she has begun.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
DE: I’ve been out of the City long enough, and fastidious enough about any outside contact, that I no longer worry that I, my husband, and our grown son (we are all together) may have the virus. So now I worry about family and friends who are still in NYC or other dense areas, and feel a huge sadness about the risks to everyone, and the loss of income to so many. And both over and under all that is anger that politics has brought us to such a place. I harbor many uncharitable wishes towards a lot of people in power. Happily, wishes don’t hurt anyone, except maybe me.
As for my art-making, I will make something again when I am moved to. In fact, I find the pandemic is quieting many “shoulds” I usually hear in my head. One of them is “I should be making art”. I will. Just not right now. Other things that voice usually says are “I should be wanting to see exhibits, see theater, go out with friends, dressing for some effect, putting on makeup, cooking inventively.” What a relief! And what an insight, perhaps, into which impulses are genuine to me and which are externally motivated. In the meantime, it’s clear I genuinely want to walk on the beach, read Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, climb trees.
AS: What matters most right now?
DE: I see a sequence for what matters. First, we have to get through the first wave of the illness with as few deaths and as little misery as possible. For those not in health care, this means helping however we can to get masks to hospitals, sending crucial supplies to people who can’t find them, supporting food banks, sharing information about resources for people who now have no income, patronizing local businesses on-line, just anything we can think of to mitigate the disaster.
We also have to encourage everyone we know to fill out the Census. New York City always has a low response rate compared to the rest of the country, but this year it is way lower. And this will mean tremendous shortchanging of federal resources in the years to come, for housing, schools, health care, infrastructure.
Second, we will have to knock ourselves out to ensure that our next president and our next Senate majority believe in science, embrace expertise, and are committed to facts having meaning. This will mean throwing ourselves into work of all sorts: canvassing (if possible), texting, phoning, donating, sharing the Why Vote? tool from the Right Question Institute. It will have to be all hands on deck.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
DE: On the personal level, I am living now where my husband and I expected to spend the entire summer. Perhaps we will not go back to the City till the fall. I anticipate that social distancing will be necessary for months, and am incredibly appreciative of video chat, through which I am actually seeing friends and family more often than I had been before! Anyone who has not had coffee or drinks with friends, try it, it’s great! And then let’s remember how much we valued that more frequent contact once the health crisis has subsided. And remember both what we noticed we really missed, and what we noticed we didn’t miss. Our goal needn’t be just to get back to the life we had before.
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