“My garden’s boundaries are the horizon”. Derek Jarman was talking of the beach at Dungeness surrounding Prospect Cottage, a fisherman’s hut he bought in 1986 and transformed into a personal sanctuary and space for art. (Art Quarterly, Spring 2020). He was referring to the absence of boundaries or walls or fences – his garden merging with the wider landscape without the explicitly defined parameters of private property.
Now my garden’s boundaries are my only current horizon but in a very different way.
The future seems bleak and uncertain. The whole world has very suddenly altered but time has somehow slowed down and the future is hazy. Artists everywhere are wondering how to respond, how to keep going, how to help make the world a better place. This state isn’t settled: some days we feel like we are shrinking and mute, immobilised and hopeless; then we rise up, finding new energy and sparks of inspiration and start brimming and flexing, buzzing with possibilities.
Memes on social media tell us that Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Macbeth whilst in quarantine; Newton developed calculus and theories around gravity; Giovanni Boccaccio wrote The Decameron during the Black Death outbreak in 1349. We contrast ourselves, hilariously, with tales of how we are binge-watching Schitt’s Creek and having Pot Noodles with prosecco for breakfast.
Adapting to social distancing, self-isolation and impending lockdown is time-consuming. Anxiety burns a lot of mental bandwidth and we should not throw accusations of inadequacy about our personal creative output into that mix. We need to put on our own metaphorical oxygen masks before helping others with theirs. Practise patience and serenity. Deploy the quiet power of magical thinking. Nurture the creative seedlings and help them to grow as the Spring sunshine slants into our safe places.
Last night on a Zoom video call with a group of fellow Raindogs (Tom Waits fans), a friend in Indianapolis thanked me for my art: “What you see and show us helps the rest of us.” Good to hear and easy to forget, especially when other things are overwhelming our senses. Let’s hope we can use this time to find peace and healing through our art and our human connections. Andrà tutto bene.
Strategies for making work in quarantine
- Explore themes and metaphors specific to the situation: inside/outside; shared and contested public spaces; isolation/separation; community engagement and global connections; our new sense of time.
- Be More Magpie – forage and salvage; find beauty everywhere.
- Let the immediate micro-environment be an inspiration – make the familiar strange.
- Buddy up – engage and connect: let collaboration be an inspiration and a comfort.
- Review the archive – old images can be reconfigured, combined, deconstructed, transformed, repurposed, reimagined.
- Look for micro-lifts everywhere, all day: birdsong, a podcast, choral music, pictures of paintings, apple and cheese, a hot shower, nettle tea.
- Use the extra time to master new skills – increase confidence with Photoshop, revisit those tricky philosophy texts, practise making gnocchi from scratch.
- Make the constraints part of the work – create a message in a bottle that will resonate with the outside world.
- Be kind and patient, to self and other.