March 2020. The beginning of a long era of global restrictions brought about by the rise of a new virus, one that people were then gradually becoming scared of. Nobody really knew how to respond to it, what exactly to do or how to behave, nobody fully realized the gravity of the situation. Most European countries started going into lockdown. Panic, worry and doubt ensued, even though it was widely believed that the world would reopen soon.
I’m a 21 year old Psychology student from Slovenia studying in the Netherlands. It was Thursday night when we got the news of universities closing, leaving students confused and indecisive about how to proceed. The next day forecasts of borders closing followed. No one was able to tell us if we would make it back to Slovenia through three countries without being held in one. An almost apocalypse-like chaos emerged. Some friends and I hastily packed our bags in a few hours and spent the whole night driving back home, hoping our journey would pass without disruptions. I didn’t even have the time to fully comprehend what was going on, but I was nonetheless (so very naively) convinced that the global uncertainty won’t last more than a week or two and that I will return to my dynamic student life in the Netherlands shortly. Little did I know I’d still be home a year later, studying from the comfort of my own bed and falling into a routine I’ve been trying to avoid my whole life.
Needless to say, lifestyles have changed. Slowed down. Events and activities that were once taken for granted now almost seem like a utopian dream. It feels like going to concerts, festivals, parties and theatres is a privilege of a whole other lifetime. Hanging out with large groups of people has become a concept, a mere wish. While we once longed for a peaceful moment amidst an ever-moving crowd, we are now craving the lively energy of others. The conscious acknowledgement of being alone is one of the most salient aspects of our everyday lives during the lockdown, making us realize how important human contact and the vibrancy of socializing are. Showing us how essential the freedom to do what you want to do is. Reminding us of the immense role art plays in our lives by helping us momentarily escape the bleak reality of covid-19 through music, literature and visual features. While the pandemic gave us the time to catch up on movies, albums, books and photographs we always wanted to enjoy, it took away the possibility of genuine in-person admiration of paintings and sculptures, which are now accessible only through the screen.
There’s a lot that I miss regarding exposure to visual arts. The anticipation that accompanies you when you step through the gallery’s door, the mesmerization of getting lost in the artworks, the experience of being surrounded by people without being aware of them. The snap back to reality when your thoughts return from their wanderings and you become conscious of your environment due to an interesting observation arising from the otherwise subtle sounds of others talking everywhere around you. The sheer excitement when you notice a piece by your favourite artist and the feeling of pure joy when you discover the works of those unknown to you.
That’s what I long for. The intimate and peaceful gallery visits during which you are intensely immersed in the artpieces. The richness and fullness of the works you get to admire in their entirety. The lovely calmness that infuses you and the tranquil state of mind you enter.
However, it is crucial to realize that art is not equivalent to or contingent on galleries and physical exhibitions. While the pandemic took some experiences from us, it also forced us to actively search for new perspectives and modes of art. It gave us an opportunity to broaden our horizons and get acquainted with different mediums through which art can be expressed, mainly the cyberspace. Due to countless technological advantages and a digital revolution, plenty of artists had already shifted their main expressive environment to digital spaces before covid-19. Many more are doing so now, with museums and galleries joining by providing visual tours. The general public interest in contemporary artists presenting their work online is growing during lockdown. People, including myself, are seeking new artforms, the kinds that wouldn’t awaken the feeling of a truncated viewing experience due to only seeing the creations on the internet. My search for new content has led me to several incredible artists, some of which I will briefly present. Their works mainly fall under minimalistic contemporary surrealism, which is already evident in the defined geometrical, yet soft (in lightning and colour) 3D images designed by Massimo Colonna, Christophe Barneau and Alexis Christodoulou, who focus on surrealist landscapes and architecture, soothing and disturbing us by arousing a sense of endlessness infused with calculated perfection. Digital illustrator Daniel Aristizábal integrates aspects of eccentricity and a wide array of colours into his art, which he calls social surrealism. Evan Lawrence‘s work is based on symbolism and oddity, building a bridge between the conscious and subconscious mind. In her vivid pieces, Camille Walala plays with colours and shapes, somewhat resembling pop art. In contrast, Yar‘s aesthetic is primarily one of darkness and illusion, which is reflected in his collages that may provoke uneasiness. Abdo Hassan creates psychedelic visuals filled with surrealist concepts, colour and precision, which transport us to another world. The tones Sammy Slabbinck uses in his collages are more muted; he blurres the lines of time and combines vintage with contemporary by placing old advertising material into a modern context.
All of the pieces made by the aforementioned artists are different and highly intriguing, offering a quality palette of distinct styles, which is further enhanced by numerous other creators.
In addition to surfing the net, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to enjoy local street art, with artists like Banksy and Invader possibly motivating us to take a walk in quest of their works. And, ultimately, the world is filled with beautiful architecture and picturesque nature, which can be viewed as art in themselves.
Not everything is as black and white as it may seem at first glance. Although the authenticity of seeing artworks live is hard to replicate online, exploring the internet or the streets in search of aesthetic fulfillment is more than promising. Besides, the lockdown won’t last forever. The works of Magritte, Dalí, Monet and countless others will stay in galleries, awaiting our visits. Concerts, theatres, in-person exhibitions and events will, one day, no longer be a thing of the past. Life will again become full of thrilling activities and possibilities.
I mostly feel curious and eager for the restrictions to ease. I can’t say I’m too positive, but I do believe things will slowly start getting better.