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Art in the Plague Year – California Museum of Photography

The California Museum of Photography presents Art in the Plague Year, an online exhibition featuring 55 artists of different nationalities. The exhibition, based on an open call to artists from all over the world, attempts to analyse the reality of the pandemic through the attentive and sensitive lens of artistic production.

This pandemic, still with no foreseen end, will deeply affect the near future. The analytical side of this project wants to find courage for the troubled times ahead.

Art in the Plague Year also has important Portuguese contributions. Rita Sobreiro Souther, together with Douglas McCulloh and Nikolay Maslov, is responsible for the project’s curatorship and creation. On the other hand, the duo Sara & André, João Ferro Martins and Inês Oliveira e Silva are part of more than fifty artists who speculate about the future using different multimedia tools. Here is the pivotal question: what future?

The world is always in transformation, but some moments trigger changes with immediate and clear-cut effects. The COVID-19 pandemic will be one of those – after all, no one can imagine everyday life anymore without online exhibitions, classes, meetings or gatherings.

Faced with such a complex situation, the curators have defined sub-themes focused on more particular actions, associated with the physical human experience (body, encounters, nature) or more abstract dimensions (absence, presence, ritual, dystopia, justice).

The exhibition’s relevance is visible in the fragmented perspective on a year with definitive consequences, which are not “just” the health crisis caused by a virus. 2020 showed the failure of a widespread economic-political-social model. The pandemic can (and should) be understood as a stone that forced a voracious engine to slow down, unveiling issues that already existed before: the state of human relationships in an increasingly automated world; the job insecurity of a large part of the world’s population; the excessive working hours and the obligation to always be online; or the revived fight for social justice, highlighted by movements such as Black Lives Matter or more recently #stopasianhate. The various approaches to the exhibition range from personal ones recorded in a diaristic format or proposals for social alternatives.

In the video My mother’s titanium hip, Jill Miller focuses on the unusual and striking mourning process after the death of her mother, marked by virtual meetings. Julia Schlosser reflects an already commonplace practice: walking in circles in the area close to home. J. Schlosser, with her mobile phone, recorded small motifs that she encountered along her walks, referring to sensations inherent to the context, such as boredom or anxiety. Sara & André embraced a new challenge. Used to collaborative work, which requires the presence of other people, this time they see nature as a guest. The result is a page from a magazine they found and left outside, subject to the weather conditions that act as a creative agent. In it, a man leaves a devastating scene, where little remains except a massive cloud of smoke. Stephanie Syjuco, Jason Lazarus, and Siebren Versteeg organise a virtual protest based on their question “what if those who can’t protest in the streets could join those who can?”. This gave rise to a video collage with an endless protest in favour of the Black Lives Matter movement, compiling the contributions of all the participants.

The vast body of work can be seen here.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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