pandemic art

Fraying Around the Edges

Fighting the hockogrokles: Amid the storms of pandemic and racial reckoning, Friderike Heuer's photo montages sail into the new reality

“When […] I first dabbled in this Art, the old Distemper call’d Melancholy, was exchang’d for the Vapours, and afterwards for the Hypp, and at last took up to the now current Appellation of the Spleen, which it still retains, tho’ a learned Doctor of the West, in a little Tract he hath written, divides the Spleen and Vapours, not only into the Hypp, the Hyppos, and the Hyppocons; but subdivides these Divisions into the Markambles, the Moon-palls, the Strong-Fives, and the Hockogrokles.”

–Physician Nicholas Robinson, 1732

***

FREE ME OF THE HOCKOGROKLES. … Isn’t that what we all wish when the sadness hits again, no matter how justified the emotion is in response to external events?

I came across these inventive nomenclatures for depression when reading up on a 17th and 18th century English woman poet, Anne Finch, who took the topic of melancholy, solidly in male hands at the time, and ran with it. Wrong word. She didn’t run with it. She inspected it, talked to it, turned it inside out, related it to science, and, in the end, seemingly threw up her hands in resignation and surrender.

I had dug out her poem on melancholy, among other reasons, to reaffirm the notion that artists across history resort to creative action when grappling with hard times. Clearly, I was wishing for company in my own attempts to integrate current events, and the feelings they incite, into my artistic practice, with the latest results shown in today’s photomontages.

“Ardelia to Melancholy”

At last, my old inveterate foe,
No opposition shalt thou know.
Since I by struggling, can obtain
Nothing, but encrease of pain,
I will att last, no more do soe,
Tho’ I confesse, I have apply’d
Sweet mirth, and musick, and have try’d
A thousand other arts beside,
To drive thee from my darken’d breast,
Thou, who hast banish’d all my rest. 
But, though sometimes, a short repreive they gave,
Unable they, and far too weak, to save;
All arts to quell, did but augment thy force,
As rivers check’d, break with a wilder course.

Freindship, I to my heart have laid,
Freindship, th’ applauded sov’rain aid,
And thought that charm so strong wou’d prove,
As to compell thee, to remove; 
And to myself, I boasting said,
Now I a conqu’rer sure shall be,
The end of all my conflicts, see,
And noble tryumph, wait on me;
My dusky, sullen foe, will sure
N’er this united charge endure.
But leaning on this reed, ev’n whilst I spoke
It peirc’d my hand, and into peices broke.
Still, some new object, or new int’rest came
And loos’d the bonds, and quite disolv’d the claim. 

These failing, I invok’d a Muse,
And Poetry wou’d often use,
To guard me from thy Tyrant pow’r;
And to oppose thee ev’ry hour
New troops of fancy’s, did I chuse.
Alas! in vain, for all agree
To yeild me Captive up to thee,
And heav’n, alone, can sett me free. 
Thou, through my life, wilt with me goe,
And make ye passage, sad, and slow.  
All, that cou’d ere thy ill gott rule, invade,
Their uselesse arms, before thy feet have laid;
The Fort is thine, now ruin’d, all within,
Whilst by decays without, thy Conquest too, is seen.

 – From: Anne Finch, The Poems of Anne Countess of Winchilsea. Ed. Myra Reynolds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1903. 15-16.

***

Friderike Heuer, from her current series of photo montages “Setting Sail.” Each image is 20 x15 inches, printed with archival ink jet print on German Etching Paper, and the images shade from lighter to darker as the series grows.

FINCH HAD HER SHARE OF DIFFICULTIES in her lifetime, including a predisposition for depression, perhaps even bipolar disease. She was exposed to political storms that threw her and her husband from comfortable positions in monarchic circles into an unsecured existence when they distanced themselves from the ascendance of William and Mary after the revolution of 1688 deposed King James.

Continues…

Patrick Collier: Not another pretty picture

The artist, quarantining at home, sings the blues about art and the fire outside

The last art review I wrote for ArtsWatch was about an exhibit I saw the day before I went on lockdown. In that essay I wrote about the difference seeing art in person makes, as opposed to seeing its digital representation, as there were subtleties I would have missed had I just seen the work online. And if one holds to the rule that art needs to be seen in situ in order to be properly reviewed, I don’t foresee getting much art writing done for quite a while, given the risk factors for myself plus the mounting drive to make genocide by default the national coronavirus policy.  

Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear (1989)

Not that there is a dearth of art online worthy of review. Not that there wasn’t an overabundance on social media before the pandemic, and in the last two months it has increased exponentially. As a response to the stay at home orders and closing of brick and mortar venues, artists are doing virtual studio visits or posting mini-retrospectives. Galleries do video tours of their exhibits, and museums are opening up their collections to view on their websites. Dance ensembles, chorales, and other musicians of all sorts are performing remotely, all gathered together in frames on Zoom. Indicative of various needs that may or not be obvious, and may or may not be met, I find it both a bit tragic and heartening (although I have to work at any positives that come out of this crisis) at the same time. 

Continues…

Living in a world of upside down

ArtsWatch Weekly: The pandemic is the puzzle. Adaptability is the key. Unlocking the cultural world's path to the future is the challenge.

SUDDENLY EVERYTHING’S TOPSY TURVY, and it’s seeming more and more like a mistake to think that things are going to get back to “normal” even after the health threat has ended, whenever that might happen. In the cultural world, the economic effect of the coronavirus shutdown is going to be hard on everyone and catastrophic for some. And by “everyone” I mean not just arts groups themselves but also the artists and staffers who’ve made their livings working for them, and the funders who keep them going, and the audiences who may understandably be reluctant to flock back to theaters and concert halls and museums as if social distancing were just some crazy blip that’s done and gone. Some groups, even if they do everything “right,” aren’t going to survive.
 
Barry Johnson, ArtsWatch’s executive editor, has started writing a column he calls “Starting Over,” which is about exactly those issues. How do we start over? How do we reinvent? What do we return to, and what do we move beyond? In his most recent “Starting Over,” Masks and democracy, he talks about some of the political failures that have made things worse in the United States than they needed to be, and reports on his conversation with the veteran arts consultant George Thorn, who suggests that the sort of creative, step-by-step problem-solving artists engage in every day might be a model for the society as a whole. In an earlier column, Point to point, Johnson talked with Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s Cynthia Fuhrman about practical adaptability. 

******


Friderike Heuer, “The Strikers,” montage, from her series “Fluchtgedanken,” 2020. In her visual essay “Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape,” Heuer writes about manipulating images of paintings by the mid-20th century painter George Tooker, and how her adaptation of his work is a response to such disturbing issues of the Covid-19 crisis as the return of eugenics to public discussion and practice: “Took us what, only 75 years to get around to it again? What are expendable lives? The old? The diseased? The incarcerated? The poor?”

******

ADAPTABILITY IS GOING TO BE CRUCIAL, and in a lot of cases, also not sufficient. Because the situation will be different for everyone, which means that while there may be smart overall strategies, they’ll have to be adapted to specific situations. And the ground keeps shifting.

Continues…