AS lockdown got underway, with an understandable focus on physical wellbeing, attention also turned to emotional and psychological impact. Quite suddenly, routines were forced to change, ‘real’ social contact was only with those in our households, and trips out became limited in number and purpose, requiring a whole new etiquette. Not least was the prospect of contracting the virus, and the uncertainty about how ill one might be. The numbers of daily deaths rose and we saw the reality inside hospital wards on our TV screens – scary stuff. Furthermore, you could now place yourself on a continuum of risk depending on your colour, gender, age, existing health conditions, body weight, socio-economic status, and job title, a potentially divisive activity.
We are suffering with ‘allostatic load’, the accumulation of physiological and psychological adaptations to new circumstances, according to Emily Baron Cadloff. Our bodies are producing extra stress hormones, and our brains are working overtime. My explanation to myself is that I have insufficient previous relevant experience to navigate all of this new territory confidently; hence some very weird and alien ‘feelings’ when it all becomes too much. I do what I support my clients to do: resist the temptation to bat those feelings away or distract myself. Instead – go with them and try to be curious, not an easy job in the middle of the night.
At work in IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) in the NHS we wondered how our role might change, and certainly the impact of life under lockdown has featured for our clients. Extra resources have been developed, and there are nationwide helplines for those who need to talk. There is some access happening, but the worry is that people are having to ‘get on with it’, ‘it’ becomes the norm; and that it will take some future pause to realise the extent of ‘it’, that processing will be tough, and there may be a surge of PTSD, nowhere more likely perhaps than with frontline staff.
The 40 000 deaths (or nearly 60 000, depending on how you are counting) come with an even larger number of bereavements. Dying, death and grieving have taken on new and often heart breaking forms. There is diminished company for the dying, anger as well as sadness about premature deaths that may have been avoided by an earlier lockdown, and shorter funerals with minimal attendance and no hugs. A common plan is to think ahead to a memorial ‘when this is all over’, but how is grieving going on in the meantime? And there’s another bother for the brain – when/if will it all be over, and what will that look like?
My previous life involved a variety of regular encounters, some incidental, others planned across the week, what Baron Cadloff regards as ‘cues to my brain that I’m OK, and part of a larger social network’. Instead, we have the sameness of the ubiquitous Zoom, or greater isolation, a potential increase in vulnerability or social anxiety. Alternatively, cooped-up overexposure to toxic relationships is in danger of creating more psychological overload for families. Another blog’s-worth is required for the specific impact on children and young people.
Finally, do find some compassion for yourself if you haven’t read all those books, taken up painting and done the daily exercise – after all, you’ve been far too busy.
Some resources: https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/
MY intention this week was to write about the current state and potential future of the art world after the Covid-19 outbreak. To talk about art right now feels untimely and distasteful given this weekend’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests sparked initially by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minnesota on 25 May. However, it is more timely than ever to talk about how within the arts we respond to the injustices going on around us that we un/consciously perpetuate; how do we want to imagine our ‘new normal’?
As a white person working in galleries this is uncomfortable for me to think about because it challenges my perceived ideas of an art world that keeps me in a job (and furlough) and forms a comfortable structure around me and my peers. Right now, it’s important for us white able-bodied arts workers to feel uncomfortable and to challenge a structure which is overwhelmingly western-centric, male-centric, racist and ableist.
How can galleries, social media platforms and other physical spaces outside the gallery be reformed and also used to promote social and political reform, especially during the pandemic?
On Tuesday, many people across the world posted a black square to their Instagram feeds in digital protest for BLM, #blackouttuesday. Personally, I believe this action to be, although strong visually, potentially performative and silent rather than actively educating our peer networks. Many arts institutions posted the black square which led to the essential question: ‘well, what are you going to do to support black artists?’ Even the Zabludowicz Collection had the audacity to post a black square, when their entire institution is funded by supplying weapons to Israel, literally fuelling racism and state violence; a perfect example of artwashing. The organisation also deleted comments posted by protestors, not surprising either when Poju Zabludowicz personally donates to the Conservative Party.
To hold these institutions accountable, Layemi Ikomi, Aye Ikomi and Eibhlin Jones have compiled a public spreadsheet of London galleries and museums that have shown their support (or lack of) for the BLM protests and pledged financial support. Film programmers Grace Barber-Plentie and Myriam Mouflih have compiled a similar list to hold film distributors and exhibitors to account in the UK. This week, the regularly challenging arts criticism website, The White Pube, instead of writing their normal review, have declared, ‘we want to make a commitment to support black artists, writers and other arts professionals where our support would be helpful’. The arts and arts funding in the UK is inextricably connected to slavery, violence and inequality, so promises must be made, especially now.
As I write this I’m listening to a weekend-long broadcast curated by Taaliah, an artist and DJ associated with BLM on Clyde Built Radio, an online radio station based in Glasgow.The broadcast featured music by local DJs, clips of lectures and stories by Angela Davies, Munroe Bergdorf, Julianna Huxtable, Afua Hirsch and leader of Glasgow’s African Arts Centre, Chief Amu. The programme was an alternative BLM protest, a chance to educate, to amplify black voices and donate to BLM from the safety of our homes, away from the danger of contracting the virus. Not Going Back to Normal is a current campaign by Scotland-based writers Harry Josephine Giles and Sasha Saben Callaghan, launched during the pandemic. Funded by Creative Scotland and Engage, the project asks for (paid) contributions to form a new disabled artists manifesto in response to failure of the current arts landscape in Scotland continuously to serve disabled artists.
The website states, ‘Normal was already no use to us, and we were never normal’. The project invites participants to wonder whether the arts can ever be inclusive for disabled people when society is not.
We should protest wherever and however we can. Many chose to protest physically this weekend because for them, the dangers of racism and Covid-19 are inseparable (see the recent medical report addressing the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on BAME people, albeit ignoring the socio-political reasons behind the statistics). The statue of slave trader Edward Colston was rightly toppled in Bristol. Cochrane Street in Glasgow, named after the 18th century tobacco lord, was graffitied with the new name Sheku Bayoh Street, after the man murdered in police custody in Fife in 2015 whose family have received no justice. Waterstones has been called on to donate sales of books by its black authors over the weekend to BLM. We can protest in many ways through creativity and in creativity but it is important that our protest has longevity, that we make a commitment to ending racism and educating ourselves and those in our networks.
Also, BLM petitions, funds and resources here:
IN February I had three activities lined up:
our house was already rented out for six weeks over the summer holidays, and we expected the gaps would be filled in;
I had six weddings booked over the same period (I officiate at weddings at a local chateau); and
I was due to go and inspect schools in Nepal for a week in May.
By the end of March, the Nepal trip had been cancelled and so had the house bookings. As I write this, one wedding has moved to October, one has cancelled, and the remainder are waiting to see what happens.
Looking at the house bookings, since the French government has loosened the travel restrictions, we have had a number of French families and groups book the house (about five weeks’ worth currently). This reflects the government’s move to encourage French families to take holidays within the country. They have not gone as far as the Polish government, for instance, which has given out financial incentives to people to holiday in their home country, but the message in France has been to encourage people to stay within the country and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities here for rest and relaxation. With beaches now open and restaurants and bars being able to serve food and drink (with a one metre distancing rule and clear instructions about table service) the local tourist industry can operate, partially, and hopefully survive.
The wedding situation is much less clear as all of the couples and their families are UK-based. Will borders be open or not for what might be classed as non-essential travel? The bizarre introduction of a 14-day quarantine by the UK government has made things even more complicated – families don’t know whether to book their travel or not and don’t know whether they will have to fulfil quarantine rules or not on their return home. I say bizarre as so many of the rules in the UK at present seem to be not rules as we know them but sort of ‘indicators to follow if you feel like it’ – thank goodness most people are sensible and follow the rules and resist driving to Barnard Castle.
Over the past nine years I have travelled to southern Africa, South America, Nepal and various bits of Europe inspecting international examination centres for Cambridge Assessment. What will be the future of international exams now, or even exams in general, now we have had a summer without them? Students have graduated and will pass on to universities (though what are they going to look like in September?) without having sat or passed exams – perhaps this already suspect way of assessing students will change?
And what about international air travel? When will we feel safe to travel inside that oversized sardine tin again, breathing each other’s air for hours at a time? Will countries that have reduced the effects of Covid welcome guests from countries where it is still rampant (the UK, for example) and will we want to visit countries where the virus is still active in the population?
All three of the above are income streams which the virus has affected. None is our sole income, all are significant; but what of the future?
PS Nora (part 5 post) is fit and well. Or as well as we can expect, given her age. Our fears about her imminent departure were unfounded and she is walking, eating and sleeping (mainly the last) as normal.
I HAD expected that lockdown might provide us with blessed relief from pollution, litter, noise – and professional sport. That was naïve. The airwaves and newspaper pages remained saturated with the clichéd thoughts of players, endless speculation about the completion of leagues and resumption of ‘normality’, and truckloads of utter trivia.
Sebastian Coe, head of global athletics, recently spoke of ‘frustration’ that ‘top events’ had no firm dates for resumption and said that athletics might act unilaterally and without approval. His attitude was deplorable; but also self-defeating because national health authorities make the decisions he appears to want to arrogate to himself and they are backed by legislation. But he demonstrates a blatant example of sports hubris fuelled by popular adulation and millions of dollars. And it is the last factor that is behind the agitation for leagues and competitions to resume as soon as possible: big money deals.
Here in KwaZulu-Natal it was not until 8 May that the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) accepted there would be no race this year between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Given that it has been blindingly obvious for months that a (perhaps the) main cause of viral infection is human proximity and density, clearly the CMA has been living on another, apparently Covid-19-free, planet. The very essence of the ultra-marathon is mass: the numbers of runners, the packed nature of the start, the race culture of group running, and the exuberant involvement and sociability of spectators (see the photograph above near the end of the 2019 race in Pietermaritzburg). Some of the classic moments of this gruelling race involve runners physically assisting others, particularly at the finish. There’s a very high chance that there will be no race in 2021, the centenary year, either.
One problem according to the CMA was that T-shirts had been printed and goody bags prepared. Sponsors had already coughed up funds, so yet again it all comes back to money. But it goes beyond financing to issues of entitlement and continued refusal to recognise that professional sport is simply a business. Indeed, many critics persuasively argue that it is just another arm of global capital.
Lockdown has cut a swathe of destruction across economies and societies. Many businesses will disappear without trace and hundreds of thousands of people will never work again in the formal sector. Why should professional sport think it is owed any favours; any more than, say, theatres, opera houses or concert halls? Commodified sport produces nothing of lasting value, material or intellectual.
But perhaps the virus and its lockdown will produce a positive outcome. Vast sums of money are locked up in sport courtesy of sponsorship and broadcast rights. In some sports people who have minimal skills beyond dealing with a ball earn enormous salaries and perks. Teams fly endlessly around the world impressing a gigantic carbon footprint. We are told the world will never be the same again. If so, maybe a great deal of this will end and international sport will be cut down to more appropriate dimensions and influence.
Contributions from Sheffield by Penny Merrett, Glasgow by Caitlin Merrett King, Sallèles d’Aude by Jonathan Merrett and Pietermaritzburg by Christopher Merrett.