Last year’s Venice Biennale May You Live in Interesting Times echoes today like a bitter spell which had been unwittingly casted upon the world, and in particular the art world as we knew it until now. COVID-19 global pandemic has changed almost everything about the way we interact, placing the experience-based visual arts sector at crossroads. There are currently abounding online discussions, live streaming, and Zoom conferences which question and address ways of imagining new forms of creation, production, distribution, and financing of the arts in regards to each locality and the world in general. The underlying question which seems to be on everyone’s lips now is How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?
This is the question curators Barbara Pollak and Anne Verhallen are asking through a project launched online; an independent, open-ended platform which seeks to act as a catalyst for free expression and exchange of ideas amidst uncertain and precarious circumstances of art making. This insightful initiative addresses possibilities of exhibition-making by gradually introducing past and new artworks of internationally renowned artists on the platform, mapping an inclusive, global plethora of names, among them Janet Biggs, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Dan Perjovschi, Michael Joo, or Arahmaiani, Aziz+Cucher, and many others. Each artist is presented through images of past or new works, videos, and text, under a curatorial framework which addresses issues like climate change, dystopian futures, and psychic melt-downs.
Some featured works which more specifically address these topics are Will Benedict’s series of six videos, All Bleeding Stops Eventually (2019), in which (digitalized) animals threatened by climate change deliver direct messages to humans. Some artists, such as Antoine d’Agata, are featured with new works, namely Covid-19, a series of photographs taken with a thermodynamic device to record the “theatre of shadows shaving the walls” in Paris, or Dan Perjovschi’s new series The Time of the Virus (2020), made in the same witty and humorous style of catchphrases and doodles. Works which are more subtly criticizing far-right politics and outrage we see through Deborah Kass’s selection of past works, or Beijing artist Zhao Zhao on the freedom of speech in China’s political past.
Art at Times Like This wishes to be more than a presentation of artworks opened to the public online, but to actively engage with its visitors to share subjective reflections on how the current crisis affects or inspires each of us as a collective, interconnected art world. As culture sustains many of us while staying at home, art seems to have and find its role during such times – at this point perhaps to inspire and offer imaginative possibilities both about experienced critical situations from the past which are slowly affecting our future, and about the immediate times like this which have abruptly altered our lives globally.