Artists in the Aftermath : The COVID-19 Crisis and Its Repercussions on Artists and Their Practice

Pauline Picot // PROTOCOL

The paper you are about to read does not pretend to have the scope nor the scientific rigor of a comprehensive survey. I do not claim to have reached any general conclusions regarding the matter that I am about to address ; rather, I attempted to probe a mix of thoughts and feelings from a specific moment in time. I shall reflect on the ways in which the lockdown that was implemented in France (from March 17th to May 11th) has affected artists in their practice, and how its aftermath continues to have repercussions on the way they perceive their art, both in the immediate present and in the long term. To that extent, I decided to interview artists and to ask them the same set of questions, in order to obtain and examine comparable and reliable material. Why four ? The number does not really matter. The parameters of this sample, however, do : I wanted to study a small, yet diverse panel of people, who would were used to working either indoors or outdoors, alone or in a group – criteria which would necessarily entail different ways to experience this global crisis.

SUBJECTS

Marijke Bedleem is an actor and stage director. She has recently taken a step back from producing plays (a very demanding activity), which allows her to participate more actively in the projects of other artists and to try new experimental forms. She is also a theater teacher and regularly conducts acting workshops with a wide range of students, among which are adult amateurs, children, teenagers, or foreign refugees.

Nathalie Man is known as « the streetpoet ». She has been writing poems and pasting them in the streets of big European cities since 2013. Her texts, both delicate and provocative, invite the passers-by to engage in a form of « textual cooperation », in line with the theory developed by semiotician Umberto Eco. Indeed, as a part of her creative process, Nathalie watches and photographs how her poems are transformed by people ; sometimes they are torn from the wall, but more often than not, people find ingenious and beautiful ways to complete them.

François Malingrëy is a painter, but he also makes sculptures and video art. His work mostly focuses on the depiction of human beings (who are often « modeled after his loved ones »), whom he paints in an ultrarealistic way but places in surrealistic and nightmarish environments. His work, at once concrete and dreamlike, is both unsettling and compelling.

Ronan Mancec is a playwright. According to him, the basis of his process lies in « listening to people ». Ronan is alert and porous to the reality that surrounds him ; he takes notes of what he sees and hears, and develops them later into characters and scenes. He is also very attached to the musicality of writing ; « its beat, its respiration ». His plays paradoxically emerge without much writing ; first he needs time for his projects to germinate, for his ideas to settle down, and for his texts to « write themselves inside of [him] ».

AXIOMS

IMPACT. The four subjects have had very diverse experiences of the lockdown period. COVID-19 has been personal for François, who was ill with coronavirus for a week (though not to the point of hospitalization), whereas it seems to have had a more gradual impact on Nathalie, who only progressively « started to feel anxious » as everybody around her « was so paranoid and depressed ».

REACTIONS. Relief, disappointment, resignation, self-protection : the lockdown began at the exact same time for everyone, but each person was not in the same place in his/her life and in the same position regarding the events that were happening on a global scale. Confronted with the general angst and disappointment of her fellow actors, Marijke had a hard time accepting that she was taking this announcement as « good news », both from a health standpoint and in the sense that « the now imposed necessity to stop would shake [people] up », allowing them to finally « experiment a general shutdown » of the « atrocious machine of capitalism ». Nathalie went on pasting her poems outdoors until policemen almost arrested her [listen to her testimony below], while Ronan withdrew in himself to avoid « being exposed to violence and to the expectations that went along with this particular moment ».

Listen to part of Nathalie’s testimony

STERILITY. All four artists seem to agree on one point : the lockdown period was not, and could not be a time for creation. Firstly, for practical reasons: as Nathalie’s creative process strongly depends on her ability to « move freely » and she was being physically forced to stay home, she could not express herself in the way she usually does. Meanwhile, as this unprecedented situation made Ronan more aware of the mundane burden of his everyday life, his writing could not benefit from this alleged free time. « Calm and solitude » do not necessarily imply creativity, also claims François, especially when you cannot feed off the regular human interactions that structure and enrich any creative process [listen to his testimony below].

Listen to part of François’ testimony

GERMINATION. Hope and doubts regarding the artistic community as a whole came bursting through Marijke’s restless mind during the period of the lockdown [listen to her testimony below]. On the contrary, François declares that although he feels that « these events have affected [him] somehow », he also feels that any shock, be it of the « aesthetic, intellectual or emotional kind », needs « time to sink into one’s art ». Ronan adopts a broader approach [listen to his testimony below] : as people have all experienced this crisis differently and as writing is, according to him, « an interface between [oneself] and the world », it might be that a very diverse literature will eventually emerge, « once shock has faded » and – as is usually the case with his own work – after a necessary « period of maturation ».

Listen to part of Marijke’s testimony
Listen to part of Ronan’s testimony

OUTBURSTS. Although such times still remain uncertain and, for some, frightening, the official end of the lockdown, which has allowed bodies to free themselves from their homes, has also, in the same movement, freed the artists’ energy to create. Marijke has got together with four other stage artists (actors, stage directors and stage designers) in order to question collectively the impact that this situation has had on them, to ponder « what kind of anger it has awoken » in them, and to consider whether « they have something to say » about all this. Ronan’s thoughts and intuitions are starting to translate into writing. Nathalie « [has] been writing a lot of poems » that we will soon see appear on the walls of our cities.


Cover Picture by Pauline Picot
Artwork made after a painting by François Malingrëy

Find out more about the artists’ work on :
http://www.cie-ariadne.fr/cie-ariadne/ (Marijke Bedleem)
https://www.instagram.com/francoismalingrey/ (François Malingrëy)
https://www.nathalieman.com (Nathalie Man)
https://www.ronanmancec.fr (Ronan Mancec)

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