Responding to these strange times we are all living through right now, I found myself manipulating clay into certain abstract forms which followed the shapes of the glancing movements of social distancing. We have all willingly moved out of the way of others or smiled gratefully when they have done the same for us, performing a sort of pavement/road dance of avoidance. It is a ritual we have grown used to.
Yet we find ourselves connected through these encounters because we all share the same social context more than ever, and we all have the same longing for it all to be over (even those who claim to like lockdown). We are nearly all following a new code of conduct which I hope will be difficult to disengage from once the crisis is over, and is already proving hard to adjust as lockdown is loosened. I would like us all to think about each other a bit more and be aware of what affects us all so that life can be more humane afterwards.
We are living in a temporary time, we are told, as an ecouragement to keep going and believing for normality. Yet there could be something precious about this transitory period of existence and the more highly valued gift of life for those of us fortunate to stay well or recover from the virus. There is a softness about this time worth hanging on to.
This makes me think of the work of a great Bulgarian artist who has just died – Christo. Not forgetting his lifelong creative partner and wife Jeanne-Claude who died in 2009. Their work was characterised by the sense of deliberate temporality – in their case a very long gestation and very brief existence as a completed work.
“Our works are temporary in order to endow the works of art with a feeling of urgency to be seen, and the love and tenderness brought by the fact that they will not last.”
The most extreme and exquisite creation of a temporary environment must surely be The Gates in Central Park, NYC. Starting as an idea in 1979, this project of 7,503 nylon and steel gates winding along a 23 mile section of Central Park’s avenues was finally realised in Feb 2005 – and was in situ for just 16 days! This is a highly condensed and crafted period of time which for those lucky enough to see the work must have endowed the 16 feet high dark saffron coloured flags with an even more inspiring grandeur. Perhaps the greatest elevation of humble orange nylon ever achieved!
Christo said of the work that he wanted a relation to the human scale, a response to the flow of people walking through the streets of New York. This connects to my idea in a very different place and time as well as scale of outcome. Yet the impulse might be similar – to respond positively to the flow of human bodies and minds in the flux of existence in the time we now find ourselves in.
Life has slowed down during lockdown, our bodies have slowed down by less travel and staying within smaller orbits and many cities are planning for more cycling and walking to continue after the pandemic is over. We are noticing more from street level and doing more analogue things at home like talking, baking, gardening and making toys, all because of new limits on time and space. This physical and mental deceleration can be continued into the next phase of society if enough people care enough about what we call quality of life.
For more insights into how the pandemic has changed our perception of time, see this interesting article in The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-how-the-pandemic-has-changed-our-perception-of-time-139240