We all know how much the world has been affected by the pandemic since March 2020. Social habits, travel, and sanitary measures are just three areas that have changed drastically in that time, and it will take a while for these to return to normal.
In the art world, however, the changes haven’t been as well documented, even though the shock was just as severe for artists, writers, and museums.
Three new pieces of work are about to change that, offering perspectives from a bookstore owner, a musician, and a museum curator during lockdown.
All released in spring 2022, they’re part of an important seam of work emerging from the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Matt Tannenbaum launched a GoFundMe campaign shortly after lockdown, it was the culmination of an ongoing trend.
Even before the pandemic struck, his bookshop was affected by the dominance of online sellers. In the era where people shop online instead of walking to the shops, play on an online casino instead of visiting a real-life venue, and stream movies instead of going to the cinema, it’s hardly surprising that people choose to purchase books online, too.
Yet, not even Tannenbaum could have predicted what would happen next. The fundraising campaign doubled its target amount as sympathetic book lovers flooded the store with cash. Within just two days, the total had hit $120,000, meaning that the owner was out of debt for the first time in his career.
The reason was clear: the pandemic had brought home just how much independent bookstores meant to their local communities, or the ‘lifeblood’ as documentary creator Adam Zax put it. Far from doubling down on internet sellers, book buyers were showing support for those small book sellers that exist for the love of reading, not profit.
The documentary attempts to show the day-to-day life of the business, rather than just a series of talking heads. In it, viewers can see Tannenbaum talking to customers and reading pieces of literature out loud at random points during the day. Zax wanted to ‘capture the soul’ of the shop, which he started filming before the pandemic as part of a multi-year timeframe.
It means that the pandemic, and the subsequent cash windfall, comes along coincidentally, but ends up adding to a remarkably insightful piece of work.
Charli XCX – Alone Together
What effect did lockdown have on the mind of a musician? Charli XCX’s fourth album, Alone Together, attempts to provide an answer. Produced in just 40 days, the record is a fascinating glimpse into how the singer and her partner dealt with an enforced period of cohabitation.
At the start of the lockdown, Charli revealed how she was going to ‘open up’ the process of making a record to an online audience: she promised to share demos, get real-time feedback, and even crowdsource lyrics with fans during production.
The whole process was captured on video, which became the basis for an accompanying documentary for the album. Both pieces of work share the same name: a description of how, even though everyone involved was isolated, they collaborated to form a record. They were ‘alone together’.
The record is an interesting experiment, and proof that musicians can create entire pieces of work online now, hooking up whole studios to the web and producing music in real-time.
The Guardian called it ‘a very modern, fusional kind of digital fandom’ and compared it to anime hit show Belle, which depicts a lonely teenager becoming famous in a virtual world of online fans and digital concerts.
If Charli XCX’s work tells us one thing about the pandemic, it’s that the old way of making music has given way to the digital era.
The Museum: A Short History of Crisis and Resilience
The idea of a book about how museums have dealt with crises in the past came to author Samuel Redman before COVID-19 struck. So it was a coincidence when the biggest health emergency of the last 100 years happened just as he was getting into his stride.
The pandemic goes alongside past crises, such as the Great Depression and the Second World War, in Redman’s investigation into how these institutions adapted to sudden change but have remained committed to core values over the course of centuries.
According to Redman, though, some events had different effects to others. The Depression, for example, changed the fiscal nature of museums, while the 1970s art strike failed to have a lasting impact.
The book also has one eye on the future, asking what kinds of crises could affect the world, and whether museums will remain such a crucial part of human life.
If the institutions continue to show the same resilience, then there’s a good chance they’ll be here for centuries to come, according to Redman.
Through these three pieces of pandemic art, we can see a common paradox: that is, despite the unprecedented pace of change, many things continue to remain the same.
On one hand, buying books, recording music, and viewing exhibitions have all taken on a digital veneer: we can now do all three things online, something that was impossible just a few years ago.
Yet at the same time, the desire to create, consume and remember is as strong as ever, which suggests that the creative side of human nature can handle anything that’s thrown at it – including a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.