Art in the Time of Pandemic | The impact of Covid-19 among the works of Arte Laguna Prize finalists

In the first months of 2020, the world was hit by the biggest health emergency since the Second World War and new habits and words became part of people’s everyday life. Therefore, while the Coronavirus was spreading and everyone’s life had unavoidably to be rearranged, art was reacting, in its own way, to the crisis. Art is, after all, one of the most suitable means of expression to represent a period as unexpected and shocking as the one marked by the spread of Covid-19. Inevitably, even among the finalists of the 16th and 17th Arte Laguna Prize editions, it is possible to identify some artistic productions that are intimately linked to the experience of the pandemic. This relationship is also emphasised by Luca Beatrice, the author of the critical text accompanying the exhibition, who evokes “those dramatic months that conditioned – some claim forever – creative work and artistic expression”. According to the author, among the 240 pieces of art created during the pandemic and post-pandemic period, “it is already possible to trace at least two trendlines: one more diaristic and solitary, one of a newfound optimism”. The curator Mohamed Benhadj, member of the jury for the 16th edition, highlights how, after that period of forced isolation, many artworks have put the human figure back at the centre, “from figurative to abstract expressions” because ” relationships have regained meaningfulness in our lives”.

It is on the first line of research, the one most closely linked to the reflexive sphere and focused on the traumas and renunciations following the spread of the virus, that the exploration of a large group of artists has developed. Theirs is the task to express collective feelings through different artistic forms.

There are those who, like Jens Hesse, turn to painting; his Man, pondering (2021) embodies the feelings of loneliness and bewilderment that everyone has experienced, at least once, during the lockdown. Or Michele Giustolisi who, in a powerful piece such as his painting Il gusto del bacio (2022), evokes the enforced distancing experienced during those months, the enforced downsizing of human interactions, the negative connotation associated with an intimate gesture such as a kiss, a potential vehicle of infection. However, to this interpretation, the author juxtaposes another meaning, this time full of hope and a desire for rebirth, that same need for freedom and recovery that guided the post-pandemic period.

To many, home confinement was an opportunity for a self-analysis exercise, setting off on a journey of self-discovery – or rediscovery – as an alternative to the concrete possibility of travelling. The pages of Raphaëlle Martin‘s diary, which were next scanned, printed and reassembled to compose the collage 80 Pages07/03/2020 – 29/04/2020 (2022), recall the need to write and deconstruct one’s own self in a historical moment that has inevitably led to an inner withdrawal. From the diary, a complex individuality emerges, bringing to the surface questions, memories and thoughts never investigated before.

In the intimate and protected space of their homes, there are those who rediscover the importance of little things, observing with a renewed glance what they previously took for granted. In Terrarium (2022), Diana Rad celebrates this rediscovery, depicting a kind of self-sufficient home ecosystem in which the two protagonists can find a dimension of balance without any intrusion from outside. With Inseparabili – Gianco et Poncho (2021), also Alessandro De Marinis offers an image of great intimacy, evocative of those days of shared isolation, with the bedroom serving as a nest in which finding shelter from the threats of the outside world and cultivate love. On the other hand, Jacopo Dimastrogiovanni highlights another possibility offered by the quarantine: taking the time to focus on one’s passions, in this case cinema. In the absence of social contact, watching films becames an outlet and a source of inspiration for the artist. His canvas I can’t believe you changed again! (2021) is in fact a direct reference to Luca Guadagnino’s film Call me by your name (2017), rediscovered in the months of the health emergency.

The designer Precious Seronga stands out for her tribute to one of the symbols of the years between 2020 and 2022. Her creation, entitled African and Proud (2020), ties in with the African tradition of jewellery by commissioning a mask made of coloured beads to women from a Maasai tribe in Tanzania. Masks are also at the centre of Tobia Zambotti’s work Couch-19, An iceberg-shaped modular pouf made with single-use masks collected from the streets (2021): the protective devices that have long been compulsory in public spaces, as they cannot be recycled, they are picked up and disinfected by the designer, forming the upholstery of a sofa that, due to its chromatic shades, also resembles an iceberg. The choice of this natural element is not accidental, as it is a symbol of the ongoing global warming. Through its creation, in fact, Zambotti also wants to emphasise the environmental challenges and, in particular, the pollution caused by the dispersion of disposable masks. Other works, created during this crucial period, carry with them a sense of alienation and isolation. It is the case for Solitary Bliss (2021), a painting by Maithili Rajput marked by empty and silent streets perceived by the artist with a certain fascination. Or the basketball player in Sinecittà 04 (2020) by the ZEROSCENA collective, part of a photographic series highlighting solitary characters surrounded by a melancholic atmosphere. Or, again, artist Miranda Pissarides who, in her sculpture Sad Little Sister (SLS) (2023), wants to express the dissolution of hopes and the sensation of total collapse linked to the uncertainty of the pandemic years.

On the other hand, the post-pandemic is at the heart of another group of artists’ works. Among them there is Brigitta Kocsis, whose in Techboyz_6 (2022) captures that indelible moment linked to the first human contacts and interactions after months of separation. However, the artwork also emphasises another theme: the damage caused by the pandemic crisis with reference also to the job opportunities hindered by that situation. In the artist’s vision, all this will result in a generation destined to suffer the socio-economic consequences of the crisis for a long time.

It is precisely to the new generation that Henrique Montanari‘s interactive mural, Max and Rosa (2021), created in São Paulo for the city’s 467th anniversary, is dedicated. The faces of the artist’s two children peek cheerfully out from a curtain at the world rising up following the mandatory stop. But despite the children’s smiles, the artist-father has still a question: “What it is going to be for this new generation at the end of the pandemic?” It is the task of art to accompany also this new stage in the history of humanity.

List of the artists, artworks and images:

Jens Esse https://artelaguna.world/paintings/man-pondering/

Michele Giustolisi https://artelaguna.world/paintings/il-gusto-del-bacio/

Raphaëlle Martin https://artelaguna.world/paintings/80-pages-07-03-2020-29-04-2020/

Diana Rad https://artelaguna.world/graphics/terrarium/

Alessandro De Marinis https://artelaguna.world/photograph/inseparabili-giango-et-poncho.67945/

Jacopo Dimastrogiovanni https://artelaguna.world/paintings/i-can-t-believe-you-changed-it-again/

Precious Seronga https://artelaguna.world/design/african-and-proud/

Tobia Zambotti https://artelaguna.world/design/couch-19-an-iceberg-shaped-modular-pouf-/

Maithili Rajput https://artelaguna.world/paintings/solitary-bliss.62664/

ZEROSCENA https://artelaguna.world/photograph/sinecitta-04/

Miranda Pissarides https://artelaguna.world/sculpture/sad-little-sister/

Brigitta Kocsis https://artelaguna.world/paintings/techboyz-6/

Henrique Montanari https://artelaguna.world/artist/henrique-montanari/

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