Art in the time of Covid 19. On my social media feeds I began seeing artists immediately reacting to the situation. Images of social distancing, of being alone, or just the opposite, complete with hashtags began popping up. And I'm beginning to see playwrights at the beginning stages of plays, with the "Time of the Coronavirus" as the setting. I guess I'm not really a documentarian. I do know my first reaction was that I suddenly felt that achievement wasn't something I wanted to focus on, so the 5:00 email I got one Friday that I wasn't accepted into the first round of a major award barely registered. What the hell would I do with the money, anyway, if no more than 10 people could congregate to see my play? Oh, and if your response is that this will all get better and we'll go back to normalcy sooner than we think, I'll just roll my eyes. A highly infectious, highly contagious virus with no vaccine available in the foreseeable future (read a year or more) and this is here to stay long after a vaccine is found.
More than ever, I'm turning my gaze inward, examining the micro world. Despite every bone in my body telling me differently, this world is extraordinarily beautiful, charming the pants off me on a daily basis. But, the one of the many things the coronavirus has made imminently noticeable is that death is all around us, it is clearly a viable choice of Nature for all us.
I don't know; this is a start:
I was raised in an apartment made up of four very small rooms. My sister and I shared the cramped bedroom in the back, and my parents slept in the dining room. It was embarrassing when any of my friends came over. They wouldn’t say anything; they ignored my family life, but I could tell they noticed and they judged. They couldn’t help it. It wasn’t their fault. That’s just how they…we…are raised.
We were simply guilty of the crime of being poor. And there are ramifications to that.
Also, while growing up in that tiny apartment, my father and sister both had serious mental issues that were left untreated. It felt like every day of my life I would scream in my thoughts, Can’t you be FUCKING NORMAL for ONE FUCKING DAY? They couldn’t, but I didn’t understand that, at the time.
I haven’t had these feelings in a long time, but now this is what my country feels like. All of this is so very familiar. Can’t you be FUCKING NORMAL for ONE FUCKING DAY?
I'm embarking on a new project, exploring my family and my history to try to understand what is happening in the United States. I've lived around insanity, and all of this is so familiar.
And I am so...afraid. An artist friend and I have been talking about the fear and all of the reasons for it at the very beginning of a project to put pen to paper or, in my case, pictures and ink and paint and God knows what else I decide to throw up on a board. I'm not crazy about delving into my past. I'm one who believes there's nothing better than a good suppressed memory. I'm not anxious to relive any of my childhood. And there's an immense fear of failure. I'm working with materials I haven't worked with in forty years. I mean, the chances of anything worth showing is minimal. But you know what? It's kind of fun. I am so inept that it's all I can do is have fun. I've been working with pastels a bit, and all I think is the same thing I think when I'm hanging out a car door shooting a series for Riding Shotgun: Don't think, just shoot. (Or in this case, it's, Don't think, just draw.) And I remember the idea that I had when I was in art school, that I never was interested in replicating anything, but instead just focus on what's inside me: my own work and my own presentation, about putting my own mark on something. So I look at these pastels and think to myself, well, you still know color. And your work is strong, it may not be pretty, but it sure does demands attention. And that's where I am today. Oh yeah, the coronavirus? I hope I don't die before I finished this project.
John Greiner-Ferris is a fine arts photographer and writer in the Boston area.