Studio  July 10, 2020  Rachel Ozerkevich

Contemporary Artists Reflect on the Global Lockdown

image courtesy of artist, ericpickersgill.com

Eric Pickersgill, Corbin Dreams of Outside, 2020.

Beyond restricting social interactions and physical mobility, global stay-at-home orders impacted the work of contemporary artists around the world in a number of ways. Postponed exhibitions, isolation, and limited access to materials, workspace, and audiences led to disrupted art and design practices, with individual ramifications varying depending on an artist’s location, ways of working, and subject matter.

Some artists have hung on to their conceptual frameworks from before the outbreak, seeing parallels between their theoretical approaches and current circumstances. Others have shifted their subject matter, topics of inquiry, and media in response to their new surroundings. Louis Watts, Lucía Cristerna Aragón, Eric Pickersgill, and Seth Parker are four artists who continue to adapt to new regulations and restrictions in individual ways. Despite differences in outlook and practice, their approaches to artmaking in 2020 show the resilience and adaptability of contemporary art and design around the world.

image courtesy of the artist, louiswatts.com

Louis Watts, Cissyfoot's Mountain Dues Boogie Woogie #4, 4/249: one drawing made each workday (no weekends/no holidays) of 2020.

Louis Watts is an American multimedia artist with an exhibition history spanning the U.S. His work explores repetition and the monotony of labor—themes that are reflected in highly intricate and almost obsessive detail and attention to minute mark-making. His pieces are often presented in immersive installations that envelop the viewer, revealing more of themselves the closer one gets to them. 

Though he had an April exhibition canceled, Watts has another show slated for 2021. He has continued to spend time in his studio, albeit less than prior to the outbreak. Yet he hasn’t let the current situation derail his work. Watts has pivoted his physical practice by focusing on developing software skills he hopes will help his career down the road. Instead of producing entirely new pieces, he has chosen to maintain a connection to his pre-lockdown work. His subject matter, he says, has remained fairly consistent; the artist says that it would be “conceptually irresponsible” of him to let “specific and acute psychic events take precedence over the longer one of conscious mortality.”

image courtesy of artist, lucia_aragon.com

Lucía Aragón, Line of Thought, Tenthaus Oslo, February 2020.

In Norway, Mexican-born artist Lucía Cristerna Aragón has adapted her studio practice due to situational changes and physical restrictions. Aragón's work spans printmaking, drawing, light installation, and site-specific painting and she has exhibited across Europe, the United States, and Mexico. Her work is immersive and tactile. She engages with political and cultural borders, exploring elements and myths—themes that appear to the viewer via shapeshifting, sometimes fantastical forms in different media. 

Unable to access her downtown Oslo studio, over the past few months, Aragón worked on copper plates for future prints while at home. Aragón was coming off a long period of non-stop work, so the sudden pause in mobility and access to her typical resources was jarring. She channeled feelings of restlessness and guilt into her practice, whose subject matter is heavily influenced by her personal experiences as a Mexican transplant in Nordic Europe. Now that she is back in her studio, she feels that she has regained some energy and momentum. Despite her disappointment with canceled exhibitions, she has noticed more engagement with her work on social media. She is participating in a current exhibition at the Norwegian National Museum (the Nasjonalmuseet), and is looking forward to shows scheduled for later in the year that remain unaffected. 

image courtesy of the artist, lucia_aragon.com

Lucía Aragón, The existence of the body, within circular ruins, Tenthaus Oslo, February 2020.

For North Carolina-based photographer Eric Pickersgill, the lockdown has altered his process dramatically while forcing him to reflect on the theoretical backbone of his work, which seems more relevant now than ever before. Pickersgill’s arresting photographs address the psychological isolation that stems from screen usage. Now that the majority of many people’s interactions have shifted from in-person to online, his exploration of interaction and attention forces viewers to consider how much more dramatically we may be losing touch with physical interpersonal connection.

image courtesy of artist, ericpickersgill.com

Eric Pickersgill, Angie and Me, from the series Removed, 2014.

Pickersgill has had international exhibitions around the world postponed. But like Aragón, he has noticed a steady stream of online engagement with his work over the past few months. While at home, he has shifted to photographing his family. Yet the realities of balancing family life with reduced mobility have put much of his normal routine on hold. As amenities begin to open up, the artist looks forward to producing works that involve subjects in real time and space, shifting from photography to more multi-sensory installation pieces.

Seth Parker is a multidisciplinary designer in Vancouver, BC. Social distancing measures and the severity of the global situation had a marked impact on how he approached his design work over the past months. As a way of reacting to the instability around him, Parker focused more on material projects informed by self-reflection and transformation using a portable Saori loom. He has been creating woven pieces that invoke the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi—an aesthetic approach to art-making that embraces imperfections.

image courtesy of artist, sethparker.ca

Seth Parker, Saori Weaving, 2020.

With restrictions in BC lifting, Parker is carrying the approaches explored via weaving back to his systems design practice. There is a distinct note of optimism in Parker’s observation that the corporations he works with are noticeably more interested in addressing systemic change in their businesses—a development that brings his foray into ideological and material transformation full-circle.

About the Author

Rachel Ozerkevich

Rachel Ozerkevich lives in Raleigh, NC and is a PhD student in Art History at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her doctoral research focuses on athletic subject matter in French painting and news media immediately before the First World War. 

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