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‘It’s like our future has gone’: visual artists facing existential threat post Covid-19 | Art and design


Australian artist Abdul Abdullah was in New York City showing new works at the famed Armory Show, held this year on Pier 94, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

The first case in New York was identified on 1 March. The Armory Show opened four days later. “People were already elbow-touching instead of hugging, but over the course of that week, it all got serious,” Abdullah told Guardian Australia.

“I flew to Los Angeles to see some friends but by then, things were getting scary. All the galleries were closed, the shops were emptying … I went to Venice Beach and it was deserted, completely eerie.”

Abdullah had planned to fly to Germany for an exhibition in Berlin but by 17 March, the Australian government was advising all citizens to return home on the first available flight.

The Australian visual art and craft sector has been rocked by the Covid-19 shutdown. Gone are the crowded, sparkling wine-fuelled openings that bring potential buyers and the art curious to commercial galleries. Gone, too, is the tourist trade that supports regional galleries and their artists.

And for many, the dropping of a few hundred dollars – or several thousands – on an artwork at a time of economic contraction and rising job insecurity suddenly seems less of a priority.

Abdullah considers himself “very fortunate” to have had a show and sold work before the art fairs got caught up in the shutdowns.

“I’ve got many friends who have lost all their work and who are completely unsupported in their art practice because they’ve lost their part-time gigs and they can’t access jobkeeper. They’ve really been struck down by this,” he said.

The hit won’t just be financial. “It takes away a lot of professional opportunities and you’re not meeting other artists face-to-face. It’s really important to have those conversations and connect.”

Back and working in Sydney, Abdullah put Guardian Australia in touch with his friend David Collins, a photographic and video artist. Since the shutdown, Collins has lost two commercial photography gigs that helped support his art practice.

Australian artist Abdul Abdullah in the studio in 2019

Abdul Abdullah considers himself ‘very fortunate’ to have had a show and sold work before the art fairs shut down. Photograph: David Charles Collins, courtesy the artist

“One of them was a job shooting fashion images but the company decided not to utilise jobkeeper and fire their casual staff, requesting we re-apply for jobs at the packing warehouse if we wanted to be looked after,” Collins said. “It’s been messy.”

Like the majority of visual artists, Collins is not eligible for government support. At this point, there is nothing in the recently announced $250m arts support package for individual artists to get back on their feet or develop new business models.

Collins is getting by on jobseeker, spending his time in isolation maintaining a strong work routine. “All this has set back projects that were years in the making but I found the best thing to deal with the uncertainty is to work from 8am to 5pm every day on my practice. Then I’m not so at sea, mentally.”

Cuts to casual teaching staff in the tertiary education sector have also had a profound effect on many artists.

Sarah Rodigari, a text-based and performance artist, told Guardian Australia all her projects have been postponed or cancelled, and that her casual teaching hours have been cut in the move to online study.

Sarah Rodigari in her studio at Parramatta Artists’ Studios.

Sarah Rodigari in her studio at Parramatta Artists’ Studios. Photograph: Andrew Vincent

“The biggest impact has been a loss of future,” Rodigari said. “Without government support for the visual arts or the higher education sector, there are very limited opportunities in 2021. It’s like our future has gone.

“The irony is I teach art. It’s very hard to Zoom with a class of aspiring artists and writers, and teach cultural leadership and architecture and advocacy. How can we imagine a future at a time when all these avenues are closing down?”

It’s too soon to know when things will pick up again. Everything depends on the wider art economy: from commercial, regional and state galleries that purchase work to craft and design organisations that facilitate commissions to public art agencies and private collectors. All are feeling the pinch and the recession is deepening.

But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom in the sector. Adelaide’s JamFactory represents more than 250 independent artists working in glass, jewellery, ceramics and furniture, and according to Brian Parkes, its CEO, many of the artisans it represents are “doing OK”.

“The public have been making quarantine purchases,” Parkes said. “Our online sales have increased fivefold. We’re getting messages from people wanting to purchase something to support the artists. It is altruistic.”

Australian glass, for example, is selling well in Europe. “You’d think they wouldn’t be buying or selling anything at all, but people with means and time online are filling gaps in their collection or seeing things they would otherwise not have seen. Some are making significant acquisitions.”

The glass studio at Adelaide’s JamFactory.

The glass studio at Adelaide’s JamFactory. Photograph: Andre Castellucci

But many artists – particularly those in ceramics – are seeing knock-on effects from the broader economic downturn. “Those who derive a lot of their income from teaching and workshops have had that income dry up at the same time as commissioned work from the hospitality sector has disappeared,” Parkes said. “The mess the restaurant industry finds itself in at the moment means that all of those projects have been put on hold or abandoned completely.”

For Abdullah, the shutdown has had some positives. “A whole lot of organisations are creating content for online and in some ways, I’ve found myself busier than ever. I’m not making the same kind of income, but I’m certainly busy. And when you’re an artist, you’ve basically spent your life working in isolation, so on that level, it’s been OK.”

Collins and Rodigari see some green shoots, too.

Collins has been inspired by how quickly the art world has moved online and particularly into the Instagram space. “I thought people really needed to see art in the flesh to experience it and to feel excited about it, but now I can see how engaging it can be online.”

Rodigari sees the crisis as a moment to reset priorities.

“Artists are resilient but maybe instead of constantly adapting and saying yes and working for free, or doing multiple jobs beyond the contracted agreement, we should ask, ‘how can we work differently?’

“It’s a time to think about what it might mean to do less, or to have less support. How would my practice change? Could I go offline sometimes and avoid digital fatigue? For me, I am craving things to do with my body and I’m trying not to feel the mad panic.”


Sahred From Source link Arts

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