The art of being alone

By Rhonda Dredge

Artists are spending a lot more time by themselves as Victoria’s State of Emergency continues.

Some art students have deferred their studies during the lockdown period.

Others are continuing their work but with a strong digital presence.

Many have reverted to the kind of introverted practices that were once a feature of the past.

Michael Mccafferty, an Honours student at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), listens to lectures while he’s working in his dispatch job.

“I’m listening to my lectures and sitting in on tutes while packing boxes at work,” he said. “It’s very efficient and very draining.”

Group critical sessions are done by Zoom and he’s surprised how well the system has worked.

“I thought you would absolutely need to be in the room but I was wrong,” he said. “I think that our cohort is pretty on the ball and maybe they are used to seeing images on the net so they respond and contribute pretty meaningfully actually.”

He said that he felt sorry for teachers. “Personally, I’m just sticking my head in the sand and bulldozing through. If I were to dwell I wouldn’t get anything done.”

The online approach is being promoted by major arts funders such as Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), the City of Melbourne and Australian Book Review (ABR).

The City of Melbourne awarded $727,000 in COVID-19 quick response arts grants to 226 artists last month and has another $1 million to allocate.

The grants are to help artists shift their work online or develop it during the lockdown period.

Applications closed at the end of April for $8000 grants from ACCA for innovative, big idea digital proposals to be assisted by curators under its new digital commissions program ACCA Open.

And a podcast of poetry and critical reviews is being released each Wednesday by ABR through Google.

Editor Peter Rose said last week’s podcast More Poetry for Troubled Times, read by 16 local poets, was for us as we “hunker down and live more privately”.

The poems deal with such issues as quarantine, death, landscape, bombings, the Blitz in London, the terror of everyday objects and being more attuned to elements of the natural world.

Perhaps the most moving was The Simple Truth by Philip Levine about a man who bought some red potatoes, walked and listened to the birds.

The woman who sold him the potatoes was wearing a pink-spangled sweater.

“Some things you know all your life,” she said. “They must be laid on the table. They must stand for themselves.” •

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