SCREENING THE ARTS: VIEWING ART IN THE AGE OF COVID-19
By Maha Alsharif
Isaac Cordal, Still from “Shelter”, 2020 © Isaac Cordal. Full video: click here
Online presence for artists and organizations has long been common practice. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, art projects and events were instantly available. From virtual interactive museum tours on Google Art Project, viewing the latest displays at art fairs world wide on Artsy, discovering up-and-coming artists on Saatchi Art, monitoring the art market on Art Tactic, keeping up with the latest news on Hyperallergic, and last but not least, all the visual headlines you do not know you need on instagram. However online content was complimentary to activations that take place in the physical world, and now that the experience is limited to screens and speakers, professionals and spaces find a need to translate, document and preserve value differently in order to sustain art and culture a necessary economic and social sector despite a global pandemic.
With several platforms that make days at home not only tolerable, but enjoyable and rewarding, healthy self-isolators are guarantied entertainment. The arts however are known to offer interactive entertainment whereby the experience includes belonging to a seemingly open community that like social interactions, does not feel quite right just online. Forced to adapt, major events were postponed and art organizations swiftly transitioned their programming online with means to attract existing and new audiences and engage them as if they were present. The unprecedented situation questions the validity of the established network and how the industry would survive culturally and economically in the digital realm.
By observing the art world’s immediate response, the positive outlook shows a rise in transparency and accessibility, where one is able to fully view current exhibitions and attend speaker events internationally in real time. It allows easier more accurate data collection on visitors and their engagement as well as better opportunities for documentation and archiving. There is also increased public support, in which governments, public institutions, and individuals openly address the issues, and look for solutions from within their communities. In turn, it has strengthened the bond within local art communities.
The problem on the other hand lies in the loss of physical spaces, which require layers of collaboration and curated eventful pageantry to showcase and promote art and culture. At a time full of uncertainty, the art world is far down the list of concerns, however art itself maintains a high status as an inspired cultural and educational measure to get through distress. It is perhaps time to rethink the support system and skills needed for the art world to operate economically and to identify neglected gaps through new projects. Current events also signal a shift in production and presentation processes that will bring forward new challenges for organizations and possibly lead the way for new operations.
Though it is soon to tell what concrete changes will take place in the art world, the dramatic impact of the pandemic is expected to resolve gradually. As international events are on hold until travel is safe again, art organizations are integrating more with public online platforms, making the art world more transparent and accessible. And along with artists, they are reflecting on the crisis and its impact through art forms and by developing the capacity to present and consume art and culture. In the process, it is essential to reconnect with local communities and to reciprocate support by representing unique personal and collective experiences of the moment.