Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives.
It’s hard to calculate the change and disruption the COVID-19 crisis has caused, on every level. We were curious about the ways it might have shifted the trajectory of artists’ work. We asked artists in different disciplines: How has the pandemic impacted your creative practice?
Cat Mazza, textile and digital media artist
With the pandemic I’ve been thinking about a personal experience with an active disease exposure to Tuberculosis (TB) in my UMass Boston classroom in 2011. Back then, 137 people in our campus community were contact-traced, with two of us needing treatment for Latent TB. That experience led to an artistic inquiry into quarantines and how people responded in the 19th and early 20th century when there was no effective medication for this infectious and airborne disease. One outcome was a proliferation of cure cottages and sanatoria and open air treatment on porches and roofs. At that time, needlework was a favorite pastime during quarantine and widely practiced to combat idleness during times of uncertainty.
So in the spring during our shelter-in-place orders when so many of us abruptly began remote teaching, I started cross-stitching the view from my window. I then assigned this project to students in my fiber studio class, and they seemed to delight in this process. Through this experiment I organized Pandemic Views, a Special Project of AREA CODE art fair, that involves collectively cross-stitching views from various landscapes, as numerous people continue to shelter inside.
Jennifer Tseng, writer and poet
When the shelter-in-place order was issued in March, I found it difficult to focus. The feeling of uncertainty was overwhelming. It was as if the future had just been erased. With this in mind, I gave myself an assignment: Write a story every day. Any length. If you can’t finish the story in one day, leave it. The next day, start a new story. I did this every day for the month of April. Eventually, my daily story became the one thing I could focus on. I began to look forward to starting over every morning. Now I have a drawerful of drafts and even a few finished short pieces. If you’re a writer who is afraid of, or perhaps can’t even imagine, your future, this could be the exercise for you. It’s a wonderful way to just work with today and the story it has to tell.
Adrienne Boris, stage director of opera and theater; Artistic Director, Helios Opera & Modular Opera Projects
In many senses, positively! Being forced to press pause on the usual breakneck speed with which I move from project to project gave me time to assess my current artistic identity with a clear head and some well-rested distance. Then, my Helios Opera co-founders and I realized that the pandemic was a perfect environment for a digital production of Francis Poulenc’s technology-infused and claustrophobic La voix humaine. I directed my co-founder, soprano Théodora Cottarel, in the production which is airing for free now through September 25 on Helios Opera’s YouTube page, and we hope to give other singers the opportunity to produce work in their own homes. We spent four months rehearsing and filming this pilot project and it was one of the most detailed and artistically-rewarding experiences of my career. In the “real world” we would have been given about 7-10 days to rush to put it together. Lastly, it has deepened my networking bench; my contacts have become more national both because of the digital ease with which La voix humaine has traveled and because the situation has humbled the entire opera community to the point where I feel fewer divisions between small local companies and larger more established companies.
Lisa Olivieri, filmmaker
As a documentary filmmaker, the pandemic has created quite a few challenges for my latest film, Recovery City. The film is tracing three separate storylines about addiction and recovery in Worcester, Massachusetts. Two of the women in the film, a police officer and a recovery coach, go into the hardest hit areas of Worcester to offer help to those suffering from addiction. Once Covid hit, they could no longer do this type of street-level outreach; everything they did was by phone. Another woman in the film runs recovery meetings for women at Everyday Miracles, a peer run support center. When the center closed, meetings were replaced by Zoom video chats.
The subjects of the film adapted from helping people in person, to doing it via computer and phone which made it hard to convey the same intimacy of seeing people working side by side. As a filmmaker I’m used to operating with a certain level of autonomy even as the subjects have limitations. The pandemic forced all of us to work within the same limitations, kind of like trying to film a prison documentary while being an actual prisoner.
Eben Haines, visual artist and founder of Shelter in Place Gallery
The pandemic has changed my approach in a number of ways, including a reimagining of how I build and display work. When the city locked down, my studio shrunk from a large shared space to a desk in my apartment, which meant I was no longer able to make work on the same scale. What initially began as a way to play with maquettes of large-scale installations that I knew would never get made, quickly turned into a 1:12 scale, 500 square inch gallery space called Shelter in Place Gallery. I was intent on showing artists who were in the same situation as myself: adrift and unmotivated, suddenly unemployed, and with unlimited time available but a lack of resources and space. People were intrigued by the strange little project, and we were inundated with submissions almost immediately.
Seeing the phenomenal work coming in every week, as well as the growing community around the project, was incredibly inspiring. It gave me the motivation I needed to map out my own ambitious installation, where I could finally begin to make the monumental works I’ve always dreamed of, but could never build without a huge studio and a team and heavy machinery. Eventually I was able to channel this motivation back into my regular sized work, with a renewed understanding of how I build objects.
How have health issues impacted your art?
How do you deal with stress and burn-out as an artist?
How do you approach art-making during times of emotional distress?
Adrienne Boris is a stage director and producer. La voix humaine, which she directed, is airing on Helios Opera’s YouTube page (thru 9/25).
Eben Haines (Drawing & Printmaking Fellow ’18) is a visual artist. His Shelter in Place Gallery, which is supported by a Transformative Public Art grant from the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, is a Special Project in the AREA CODE Art Fair.
Cat Mazza is a visual artist whose combination of craft and digital media explores the overlaps between textiles, technology and labor. Recent exhibitions include the deCordova Sculpture Park + Museum this summer and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Her work Pandemic Views is a Special Project in the AREA CODE Art Fair.
Lisa Olivieri (Film & Video Finalist ’09) is a documentary filmmaker. Her film Blindsided received the Jury Award for Best Documentary from qFLIX/Philadelphia. Her film-in-progress Recovery City recently received a pre-production grant from the LEF Foundation Moving Image Fund.
Jennifer Tseng (Poetry Fellow ’20) is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. Her most recent poetry collection, Not so dear Jenny, was published by Bateau Press.
Richard Limber says
For the first few months of our chief executives deadly plague management, l was so stupefied by our nations degradation that l felt no desire to produce the figurative based work that was normally a reflexive, integrated, part of my life.
Instead, like many others, l spent my time creating a very elaborate garden, which includes a 20 foot high gate, topped with a metal manakin, two
wind spun vent caps, and a cobalt colored fish fountain——all junk from my yard..
Then George Floyd was murdered.
A big slap in our face.——-, which propelled me to return to the exploration of the human form, in this case paintings of a young and an old John Lewis, George Floyd, and now Jacob Blake.
All this work is meant to be viewed anywhere, including the street, where it has become a small, lively gesture towards racial reckoning, not another commodified piece of sophisticated, forgettable, art, which seems to be the general preference of the MCC.
We can do so much better…
Stay creative, specially during these challenging times. World needs senstive people like you.
Kevin Driscoll says
Agreed! All of our performances were cancelled or postponed indefinitely. As featured in the Boston Sunday Globe, we have been entertaining and educating children VIRTUALLY since March. You are also invited to join our Weekly Wacky Wednesday free facebook LIVE 10:00 AM and/or 2:00 PM shows at facebook.com/driscollproductions
Charlotte Meehan says
Thank you for this invitation to read and comment on life as an artist during this pandemic. Actually, I had been working towards the premiere of Everyday Life and Other Odds and Ends, a theatre/dance piece dealing with progressing Parkinson’s disease in family life, the horror/beauty of the outside world, and a metaphysical journey into the human condition. My husband (with late stage Parkinson’s disease complications) was hospitalized in mid-February, COVID hit, he was transferred to rehab, then to a nursing home, two days later on March 12th we were no longer allowed to visit him, and on May 7th he died. Likely with COVID, according to his doctor, yet his test had come back negative. I am crawling out of the shock and trauma and just resuming work again. I will finish the piece, put it on, and dedicate it to him with love. Steven Henry Bell, December 29, 1952 – May 7, 2020.