Quarantine restrictions have pressed hard on European artists, a highly mobile lot used to working and exhibiting across national borders, according to a Lithuanian curator Neringa Stoškutė. The new normal will make them more conscious of their immediate environment, she says.
A project manager at Kaunas Biennial, Stuškutė works with MagiC Carpets which unites 15 organisations across Europe, and sends artists to work abroad.
Sixteen artist residencies were planned for 2020 alone, before the coronavirus lockdown put the plans on halt. Now, the current restrictions are teaching artists to find new ways of being in touch with their peers, their audiences and art in general, says Stoškutė.
In the following interview by Kaunas Biennial, Stoškutė discusses the impact of the coronavirus crisis on artists.
You communicate with [MagiC Carpets] project partners in other European countries. What is the prevailing mood?
Throughout Europe, the situation is similar. When the state of emergency and quarantine were announced in March and the movement of people was restricted, a lot of activities in the cultural sector were suspended. But no one has succumbed to panic and, several weeks later, the mood is rather optimistic and positive.
Everyone understands the gravity of the situation and most European countries are doing everything to reduce the impact of the virus on the cultural sector and people working in it.
However, we are a creative lot and I think that we will find solutions – proper online tools and channels to reach the audience, offer cultural content and activities accessible at home.
How do curators and artists adapt to the situation?
I have spoken many times and encouraged partner organisations and curators to maintain close ties. First, we need to make sure that all organisations participating in the project as well as their curators and artists continue to develop their creative ideas for various projects.
Before this state of emergency was announced, artists were supposed to go to partner countries and work with local artists, creating with them new works of art in public spaces. Since we cannot do it now, we ask our partners to look for ways of remote cooperation and communication.
For example, a partner organisation from Folkestone, UK, plans to start a postcard exchange programme with an artist from Ireland so she can familiarise herself with the local history and context. Latitudo from Rome, Italy, strives to involve as many local artists as possible in order to voice a fairytale book for children that their project is based on. Another partner organisation openspace.innsbruck plans to move some of its project, which is related to a book about 55 imaginary cities, into the virtual space.
One of the goals of MagiC Carpets is to use art to approach certain problems in local communities. Can you share any examples about an artist making an influence on a community or its members?
I think that success lies not in results, but the process itself, and so each residence is successful in its own way. The indicators to measure our success are qualitative rather than the quantitative. Sometimes it is difficult for an artist from abroad to establish a close connection with the community, so the greater impact can be on the local artists, because artists find common language easier.
But in most cases, I can say that local communities welcome artists with open hearts. Even though they speak in different tongues, the language of art unites everyone and can be understood by everyone.
During the 12th Kaunas Biennial, I was in charge of a tour for former factory employees from Šančiai, a suburb of Kaunas. It was a community that worked with the Serbian artist Sonja Jo. When we approached Sonja’s work in the exhibition – it was based on the stories of the community about the changes in the 1990s – they immediately told me that they understood it all and I didn’t have to explain anything: “It’s our history! Lithuania emerges from the ruins of the Soviet Union into the new tomorrow!”
At that moment, I understood that the greatest impact of this project was not on us, cultural operators, curators, artists, and art organisations, but local communities that get to see what art can do in a completely new light, what stories it can tell and, most importantly, that these stories are their stories.
The contemporary art world is built on mobility: artists and their projects are not subjected to national borders, they travel and work in different countries, and their works are exhibited globally. How do you think the international art scene will change after this crisis?
In the current situation, I think we all understand that the most important thing is not travelling and journeys per se, but rather close connections among people. It is naive to think that we are getting back to the same place where we were before this all happened.
It is likely that a lot of things will change, including the models and consumption habits of culture and art. It is very hard to predict the future, but I think that we will focus more on our immediate environment, pay more attention to solving local problems of art and culture, start working more locally, focus more on local audiences. And maybe it will result in more consciousness when we think about international projects and partners.
This period was conductive for bringing culture and art online. Organisations are looking for new ways to introduce their content online. I think that this trend will continue in the near future.
Would you agree that lockdowns have shown us the wider importance of culture: books, films and music help people survive this hard period? How have your own habits of consuming culture changed?
I have to admit that this period is very difficult for me. Sitting at home without going out is quite a challenge. I am very communicative and extrovert, so communication with people gives me energy and ideas.
During this period, I miss visiting museums, theatre and cinema, and mostly direct communication with colleagues, partners and artists. However, various remote and virtual measures help. Even though the operations in MagiC Carpets and other projects of Kaunas Biennial did not stop, I’ve dedicated most of my free time to books.
I agree that culture is immensely important. Culture gives basis for our life. I think that culture is not only books, films and music, but also what they nurture in us: creativity, spirituality and openness. We “consume” culture not because it helps us survive this difficult period, but because it fills us with new knowledge, shows different ways of seeing the world, inspires us to improve ourselves and move forward.