Today Pat cut my hair. I had no choice, as the barber who usually does the job closed up shop and went back to Poland, leaving me at the mercy of a non professional and a pair of dull scissors. These are the risks we take when there is no other choice. In all fairness, Pat did a pretty good job.
This pandemic has forced me to make changes that keep me from risk. I’m talking about the day to day risk of going out the door. The day to day of … “Be careful with that knife, you’ll cut yourself.” Now the risk is something invisible. Is it you? Or me?
I am balancing my life in ways that avoid human contact. The need to communicate has become paramount. I find myself repeating the phrase, “When this is all over.” I hope in the near future something will be reset and the time for risk taking will start again.
Time seems to have stopped and yet there seems to be more of it. The day drags itself out of bed with a whimper, shakes itself off and makes the coffee. I make the most of it. Time is currently on hold. Time has given me the time to re-examine what it means to risk.
As artists we create from what we experience. We can allow external information to inform us, or our personal history. In either case we process and synthesize these forces to make art. Much of this is risk, the risk of exposing that nerve.
Presently, Pat and I are in a state of lockdown. We seem to be talking a great deal about the past. I suppose it’s all about remembering what it was like when things were normal. As a result, this has led us both down the path of introspection and how we both feel about the normal day to day. If you can’t go out because of government restrictions, or if you are trying your best to be socially responsible and keep a low profile, then life finds itself under a microscope.
We are lucky to be living here in the West of Ireland. Our house is down an L road (local designated road). It’s a very narrow one-lane road. When you meet a car coming from the opposite direction, you find a place in the ditch to pull over. Or you might get behind someone who is having a conversation with someone on the side of the road, and you wait. There is a calm here that’s noticeable, you learn to take time. This pandemic has given us an opportunity to take that moment and look inward.
Pat came across her first communion dress in an old trunk in which she keeps extra bedding. It was wrapped in tissue and in a plastic bag. How it got there we don’t know, but it inspired her to do something with it. It seemed to be the epitome of introspection, that chance to look inward.
Ever since the lockdown began here in Ireland, all non-essential operations ceased. This included Pat not being able to travel to the Courthouse Studios in Dingle, where she has a studio residency. So she took the communion dress and laid it on the kitchen table, where it sat for a few days. It seemed to have its own life about it, a story to remember, a past life to recall, a past that seemed gentle and tenuous. On the inside of the collar, written in ink, was the number 12. It was this number that brought so many emotions back from the dead.
We talked a great deal about that number, what it meant and why the nuns put it there. It’s a complicated story. A story I can’t get into, because it’s outside of my personal remit. But the dress itself was enough for her to begin drawing. A yellowed communion dress and the number 12.
We begin to think and respond differently to the changes the virus has forced on us. It’s no surprise to any of us that galleries would close down, and it’s no surprise that the virtual world would come to the rescue. Galleries here began to host virtual exhibitions. They helped to keep the juices flowing, not only for the artist, but themselves as well. Hand in hand we found that this digital solidarity could keep the edge sharpened.
I rang an artist friend recently (Andrew Duggan) and asked how he was coping with this lockdown and was he doing any art. “The world has stopped spinning,” he said. He told me he was drawing a lot. In fact, he said the day before he had made 17 drawings! Andrew is multi-disciplinary as an artist, yet much of his work is with film. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe this lockdown has brought us all down to basic levels of working, or in some way to re-examine what we do.
Drawing is a basis of making art. It helps to form ideas and can act as a launch pad, a starting point, or an end unto itself. It does not matter what materials are used, or what surfaces are covered, drawing remains basic. This pandemic and subsequent lockdown has given new meaning to the word basic. We have settled down a bit, the world has slowed and skills we have honed don’t seem all that necessary. Maybe it’s just the basics we need right now.
So, Pat is making art that depicts her past. Painting yellowed forgotten dresses and trying to make sense of what it all means now. Andrew is drawing away, creating images he says are “redactive.” I like that word, “redactive.” Reducing something to its simplest form. Stripping away the very thing that was there all along. Bringing to the surface what was hiding in plain sight.
As for me … well, I’m still in lockdown and will be for sometime more. You see, one of the dogs and I collided at the garden gate the other day. He was going one way and me the other, wham! Over I went and onto the stones. My knee is twice the size it should be and I’m just getting used to the crutches, which I’ll be using for a while. But these are the day to day risks we all take. Some just work out better than others.
Keep Well, Keep Safe, Keep up the Struggle.
All the Best, From the West of Ireland
Tony and Pat Owen
Andrew Duggan is the recipient of The Arts Council COVID-19 response Award.
Here is the link to his submitted work: Flux 2020 (reconfigure) <https://youtu.be/7t7eKSq4h6s>
Three works by Pat Owen were selected by 126 Gallery Galway, and are included in a virtual exhibition (Instagram) #126BackingCreativity
Re: COVID-19 in Ireland
Ireland has done a good job of keeping many of us safe from the current pandemic. It went somewhat like this. In the early days, every household in the Republic received a booklet in the post. The booklet described the symptoms of COVID-19 and what and what not to do if you had them. The booklet gave hotline numbers and web addresses. It was laid out simply and in plain language, giving everyone a chance to be on the same page.
Pat and I went into lockdown on March 12. We stayed in our house, or on our property for over two months. We live rurally, so at least we could garden and keep the dogs exercised in our little field. Our neighbors, who work for the county, are considered front-line workers. They looked after us by collecting what we ordered online. We never went without. We have good neighbors!
The population in general has shown resolve in combating this thing. During the lockdown, people by and large followed the rules, only going out for food, or to jobs considered to be front line. Anyone with an underlying health problem, or over a ‘certain age’ was asked to “cocoon” (not going out at all). As a result, family, friends and neighbors looked in on those who couldn’t go out and saw to their needs. There were no protests from people demanding the malls re-open!
It’s tense being stuck for so long. Not being able to take a drive for pleasure, or mix it up with people at the pub. I play guitar and Irish bouzouki at music sessions. All that was denied us. The professional musicians (not me) who play regularly in the pubs got stipend money from the Government to tide them over, so at least they were recognized.
For the past five years Pat and I have curated art exhibitions for Feile na Bealtaine, Dingle (May Day Arts Festival). This festival is generously supported by Arts Councils and the like. As the lockdown here began to end, Pat and I received a small check from the Festival Committee, and a surprise it was! Because their monies were in place for this year, the Committee decided to pass on the funds to those artists who participated the previous year. Again … at least we as artists, are all recognized.
As of 9 June 2020, there have been 1679 deaths in the Republic of Ireland from COVID-19. The pandemic here has slowed. I hope, as I’m sure we all do, that it will disappear completely.