#10 Mail art
This week, I opened an online exhibition of the Dutch Grafiekplatform: Contact in times of COVID-19. For this project, 128 graphic artists were paired. Each artist sent the beginning of a work to their peer and then completed the work mailed to them in return. Pandemic-proof, collaborative, and with often unexpected results, I love how this project tried to keep creativity and international collaboration alive in times of lockdown. You can see (and buy!) the 128 resulting artworks on the website. Congratulations!
The project made me think of work done years ago by Theis Vallø Madsen, which I learned about at the 2012 edition of Sharing is Caring. Thankfully, his talk is still online and maybe more relevant than ever. From the abstract of the 2012 conference:
“In the sixties a group of American avant-garde artists began experimenting with fluctuating, intertwining information. They built a decentralized, rhizomatic network where art and information circulated between artists outside the official institutions of art. The mail art network was an offspring of the Fluxus movement and was based on the same principles as we see in today’s digital culture: There is no autonomous work of art within the mail art network because every piece is part of an exchange between a sender and one or more receivers.”
A lot of my work, and likely a lot of your work, is based on creative collaboration—workshops, brainstorms, unstructured conversations at the fringes of a conference. COVID-19 has stressed what climate change should have made us realize earlier: attending all these events in person is unsustainable. And although Zoom is a good alternative for a lot of in-person meetings, I think and hope we can (re)discover other ways to collaborate globally. Such as mail or in-game meetings, which I haven’t tried but look forward to doing soon!
On that note, I enjoyed reading about different patterns in people’s response to being forced to work from home in this study by Eveline Rudolphy of the VU in Amsterdam. I’ve heard from many colleagues about how different responses to working from home create tensions in teams. Let’s hope that more awareness of different patterns can help everyone support each other more to keep doing the work we do.
All the contributions to Contact in times of COVID-19 before unpacking.
The Incluseum launched a new series this week of interviews with former museum professionals.
“We rarely have the opportunity to learn about museum work from those not currently working in them, so we wanted to highlight the stories of amazing people who have made the shift from museums to another field…and survived! And thrived!!”
The first interview is with Marcus Ramirez, who left the field after five years to work as a recruiter in the non-profit sector. According to Ramirez, he left the field because:
“I didn’t see a clear opportunity for growth. I had been in my same role for four years, and by year three I could feel myself start to plateau in terms of my growth and skills I was gaining. The growth I saw available to me was taking on more projects on top my already heavy workload while still receiving the same pay.”
But Ramirez doesn’t see his time in museums as lost time. Museum work has taught him invaluable skills which translate well to his new job:
“Especially in art museums, a lot of my work was around making relevancy and understanding out of things that on the surface may be abstract. Working in the museum, I learned how to adapt messaging to audiences, how to make thoughtful connections, and the power of centering storytelling, self-expression and dialogue. These are all things I still use in my work as a recruiter where communication is everything and I’m constantly talking with so many different audiences trying to build relevancy.”
There will be many conversations about the value and worth of the cultural sector in the years to come. These discussions will undoubtedly focus on culture’s role in improving people’s wellbeing and the creative economy. In these conversations, I hope that we will also look at the skills, knowledge, and values that cultural workers develop on the job and the value these have in other industries. There is considerable value in the process of organizing culture — storytelling, curation, research, education — that we take for granted as we typically only value the product — exhibitions, performances, events.
From that point of view, the voluntary brain drain that many organizations have inflicted upon themselves with mass layoffs is not just a bad business practice; it is actually bad for business.
Earlier this week, someone told me how a Dutch company that ordinarily arranges the tents at festivals and now has no business whatsoever, arranged for all of its employees to work elsewhere. Instead of building tents, they install solar panels, work as plumbers, or create bicycle paths.
Six months into the COVID-19 crisis (and somewhat longer into the pandemic), reports about its impact on our world and wellbeing start piling up.
The PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the NewClimate Institute assessed the impact of the COVID-19 measures on global carbon emissions. Their finding: this year, we just about reach the needed 7% in reductions to stay within 1.5 degrees of global warming. However, we need to continue this trend for another 10 years to avoid some of the worst impacts of global warming. Only a green recovery can help us do that. (A grey recovery may even increase CO2 emissions.)
In Foreign Affairs, Branko Milanovic shows how the world is becoming more equal, even when this trend is hurting the Western middle-class. “The COVID-19 pandemic has so far not disrupted these trends and in fact might lead to their intensification.” Fortunately for the pessimists, he ends with some gloomy alternatives to this hopeful news.
In addition to UNICEF’s work, which I mentioned a few newsletters ago, Jason DeParle writes about how while the virus doesn’t affect children as much as adults, it can still destroy their futures. “With hunger rising, classrooms closing and parental stress surging, the pandemic is a threat to low-income children of epochal proportions, one that could leave an entire generation bearing its scars.”
Also in the NYT, Basharat Peer describes what the lockdown meant for millions of people in India after seeing a photo of a young man cradling his dying lifelong friend. “The lockdown struck India’s poor like a hammer. An overwhelming majority of workers — more than 92 percent — lead precarious lives, getting paid after each day’s work, with no written contracts or job security, no paid leave or health care benefits. Most had left their villages to work in faraway cities. Living in Dickensian tenements, they would remit a significant share of their earnings to sustain their families back home.”
And while COVID-19 is distracting the world, The Sentinel Project shines a light on the plight of the Uyghur in China. “The Chinese government is currently implementing a campaign of persecution against the Uyghur minority group in the Xinjiang region using a disturbing system of mass surveillance, concentration camps, forced labour, and ideological “re-education” alongside other measures which appear to rise to the level of genocide.”
Amidst all this news, it was a documentary that brought me to tears. I finally watched Honeyland, the much-praised story of Europe’s last female wild beekeeper. The movie is so full of meaning that almost everything about it has already been written about at length. What spoke to me were the many glimpses of profound respect for nature and the flaws of humankind.
Thank you for reading this newsletter, subscribing, and replying. It means a lot to read your ideas and suggestions, and I’ve learned so much because of this already. Thanks a million.
Yesterday, I picked up the suit of our village’s mascot. Diemo is a blue duck, a reference to our municipal coat of arms. Like one of these social media schemes where you’d hand a handle over from one person to the next, I’ll have the suit for two weeks. I promise to send you a photo which you can use to blackmail me forever. Until then, take care, and see you soon!