Our Graduate Artist In Residence Janet shares how a national pandemic and lockdown restrictions have affected her practice, and her life, over the past few months…
“I’ve been finding my blog incredibly hard to write because I have no plans.
I always had plans before the pandemic. My own plans. And now I find I am pushed this way and then that by various restrictions caused by pandemic planning, or worry, or by others being unable to do the certain things they always did. Not least of these is my child’s school needing to somehow find double the amount of teachers and materialise double the classroom space at the same time as every other school in time for the next school year, leaving the majority of school children and their parents with the need to home-school for at least part of the week. Everyone is under the same yoke, I know I am not special in this regard. I find though that this lack of being able to create plans leaves me unable to make work and I realise something which was hitherto an unknown criteria, that for me to make art work is to have a grasp on the future as a stable entity. I needed to know that in three months’ time things would roughly be as they are now and I could develop ideas and maintain momentum, aiming for that secure moment in the future. So much changed so quickly – and don’t get me wrong, I like quite a lot of the changes – the clear skies, the quiet, the drop in air pollution, the chance to reconnect with family, the board games, the weekly online family pub quiz, the lack of pressure to go out and socialise and the feeling that I’m missing out on events, but it certainly hasn’t been all good.
I find it impossible to make work as I had been doing in my studio space at Eaton House. For me, as for most of us, my space contracted and time became elongated and stretched thin over all the things in the house. Some of this stretched time and compressed space is wonderful; I remember daily to put out food for the birds and enjoyed watching them come and eat it, but I am frequently at a loss over how to help my lonely only child thrive when she misses her school friends so much. I’m also stuck in that female trap of caring for family (not that the father figures aren’t doing their bit, they are) and needing to complete paying design work to my usual standard, and art; well there is no time for it and it does not sustain us. I suppose I always knew it was an indulgence – proper top of the pyramid stuff. Not that I feel I have nothing to offer the wider world via it, and not that it doesn’t satisfy an inner craving to communicate and to dwell on how the world hangs together, but this time of trauma and financial unrest has shown that it; making and sharing art, does not offer an awful lot back to the artist, even though there has been an incredible and laudable support effort within local, regional and national artistic communities. It won’t feed my family and there is nothing I can do that will make it so. I’m incredibly sad about this. So, to save my disappointment I’ve just ignored all those ideas that were critically engaged in making and stored them under mental dust sheets. I’ve also detached from critical reading and critical social media as I find it too frustrating to spectate and not engage. And no, it’s not something I can dip in and out of from all my family concerns; I can’t do it by halves, art demands and deserves more of me than that.
Uncritical making however, has been such a boon and I am so thankful for the piles of materials, paints and fabrics that I’ve hoarded over the years and all the crafting knowledge I learned and so my sewing machine has never been busier. In the early weeks I plumbed in to a national effort to make things for NHS and other key workers and now I’m making alterations to our own clothing, mending and recycling a huge pile of clothes. You see, the difference I think I perceive here is that making is materially useful and a salve on my conscience, on my need to make a difference. You may disagree with me here and I’ll accept that, but I find fine art to be emotionally/philosophically useful and I don’t yet have the requisite distance from this traumatic time in order to process my thoughts into that kind of making. However, I am pleased that I got to spend a couple of years at the top of my pyramid of needs, I am a better person for it, and I will someday restore myself there, but these days are no longer those days. The upshot of all this is that I’m hoping to get released from my graduate residency with hopes for a firm plan of restoration to do the final three months and show my work when there is a settling of routine, which is reliant on the school freeing up some of my time, so maybe in the autumn, but maybe not until next year. We already have similar plans in place, but the tentativeness of these is doing me no good, I need them to be firmed up. ArtSpace Coventry have been wonderfully supportive towards me, and are still being so, but I can’t repay this in effort currently and I’d like them to be free to help another artist or artists who can.”