Covid has been a challenge for every last one of us. Many of my friends had severe cases; the lack of good news, the fear of the unknown, restrictions and bans made society at large feel quite subdued.
It was the time for reflection and productive work since I was spending most of my time at my workshop. Isolation can be quite useful for an artist. Having lost opportunities to travel, I gained more time for self-improvement.
The delay of two whole years of Sculpture by the Sea has been quite tough because I really miss Australia and cannot wait to return to the best place on earth! On a more serious note, as soon as some restrictions were lifted in Europe and America, I resumed active work. Despite Covid, two of my sculptures had been installed in public parks in the US (Niwot, Colorado, in 2020, and Orlando, Florida, in 2021).
My country is now fighting against Russia’s full-scale invasion, which began on February 24, 2022. Any challenges caused by the pandemic have long become old news. For the last couple of months. I have been dedicating every free moment to helping my relatives and friends, fundraising for the army and for the Ukrainians affected by the war. I joined the Front Art Volunteer Group, uniting the artists who donate to charities and military units, organize humanitarian shipments, etc.
Every Ukrainian is now battling Russian aggression, which targets the entire civilized world. Therefore, it is very important to stand united for our shared victory! The good always wins.
New South Wales
Travel restrictions had a massive impact on my life as I was unable to travel to Europe for project commitments, and all my other work opportunities were directly impacted by the local travel restrictions. Life became very quiet … time for bush walking and cycling connecting back into the local bush.
The isolation at times has been extremely difficult but offered quiet time to focus on new research areas, plus learning and exploring new virtual skills and video techniques etc to expand my installation practice.
During the first few weeks of Covid in 2020, five of my international artist friends decided to meet virtually through weekly meetings researching and exploring concepts and ideas. We are all great travellers with our work and found it hard to be trapped and isolated. Our meetings were very supportive and offered a focus to each week. We formed Zest Artist Collective (ZAC) during 2020 and created our first collaborative exhibition in the Netherlands in late 2020, followed by Andorra 2021, Senegal, Spain and Italy in 2022. Through ZAC, we developed methods of working together without all of us all needing to travel which has been wonderful.
Life in the studio was normal for me as I am always living and working alone. The only issue were certain materials were harder to obtain and the opportunity to sell work was limited.
Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi was the main exhibition that didn’t happen for me.
The delay in the first Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi exhibition was frustrating as the unknown was never clear. The second cancellation was the hardest call as we were never sure if this was the ending of a great exhibition! Storage was my concern as work and completed crates had to be placed in the studio and outside during that time. Also, the two year delay meant that the expenses that I invested in the work were on hold.
I guess the delay meant that time was appreciated in the studio, being able to concentrate on new works without any timeline pressure was welcomed.
In the beginning of the lockdowns, our community of Nauiyu Daly River closed completely for nearly six months to outside visitors.
As local people we were still able to go into the surrounding bush and go fishing and hunting. We were however restricted in walking around to other people’s houses in the community.
I was able to continue my artwork each day and continued collecting merrepen plants for weaving and also digging up roots for boiling to make the dye colours.
It was a scary time for us local people because a lot of news said we, as indigenous people, would get very sick if we caught Covid. Many people felt fear. In the end we were all OK and even though we were scared of the vaccine we all got vaccinated as soon as it was available to us.
Sitting in Cape Town my inconsequential life was catapulted into limbo from midnight on 26 March 2020. I was not allowed to walk the dog (I don’t have a dog); I was not allowed to walk on the beach or surf
(I don’t surf); I was not allowed to jog more than 500 metres from my place of residence (I have not been known to jog, anywhere); attending movie screenings or concerts was no longer permitted (unless I arrived with a tape measure and crowd meter to ascertain occupancy levels). Most curiously, I was not allowed to shop for non-essential items of clothing. Thankfully, and due to these measures, I was spared Covid, but my health and general level of fitness for this another-day-in-paradise-life was shattered.
Stuck in the studio, not able to procure art materials, or understand the myriad twists and turns in various Netflix series, I arose each morning before 7am and banged out a daily blog that I called ‘The Two Michaels — Lockdown, 27 March–16 April 2020’. This gave me immense fun and I published each edition, on Facebook, by 8am each day. There were 21 issues, one a day for each day of the first lockdown. Freed from my addiction to buying new clothes and the odd bottle of medicinal wine, I also set about casting six new bronzes based on weaponized dung beetles. Here I was inspired by the Chōjū giga, a set of
I3th-century picture scrolls, published in Impey & Fairley’s Treasures of Imperial Japan, 1995. These bronzes were exhibited at Circa Gallery in Cape Town in August 2020.
‘The Two Michaels’ was published in Art Africa in July 2020. Their episodic, fragmented and general weirdness had built up a fitful readership and the publishers drew misguided boldness from the fact that portions were written each day of South Africa’s first lockdown.
New South Wales
Like everyone, I experienced a mix of isolation, sadness and worry in the past few years. We were fortunate to have a secure income and somewhere to live, so it didn’t affect me the same way it might if I’d been in my 20s and working casual jobs. Without much distraction I worked a lot in my studio, but I didn’t know if it was ever going to see the light of day / was any good / an interesting direction.
I shared my studio for the first year of Covid with my partner, as he suddenly needed a home office. I would have to crawl under the sight-line of his zoom meetings and drag pieces of sculpture about in order to work. After 12 months of this I chucked a tanty and politely threw him and his zoom meetings out into another area of the house. As Virginia Woolf said, “a woman needs a room of her own”.
I had about five exhibitions cancelled or delayed. Sculpture is meant to be felt in your own space, in relation to your body. Seeing sculpture online doesn’t do it justice. I’d taken two years off previously to manage a meditation centre and 2020 was going to be the year I re-engaged with my art practice and started showing again. Yeah, well …
Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi and other exhibitions cumulatively being delayed at times could make me pretty despondent. To be truthful, at a certain point I could feel myself sliding into a depressive state, especially in the second winter. Artists generally spend a lot of time by themselves anyway, and now and then we want to come out and get a bit of a pat and a chat. I had to really be quite attentive to how I was thinking about things, and spend time outdoors, meditate, be very gentle with myself.
I made a lot (like a lot!!) of ice cream and tried flavours out on brave friends – goat’s cheese & sour cherry, pad thai, sweetcorn & caramel, lavender & blueberry. Blue cheese & pear was awful and we poured it down the sink.
I spent a lot of time in the garden and started making works based on observations there. I’m so delighted to be out in the world again that some new works are collaborative in nature: the coming together of different personalities and experiences to make art seems like a wonderfully rich and sacred space.
For most people across the globe, trying to manoeuvre in a completely unknown situation with home schooling, lockdowns, facemasks and testing has been a very strange experience. Luckily, in my situation, all my friends have been healthy and well, so I really can’t complain. However, I had four colleagues pass away due to Covid, two in India, one in Italy and one in UK.
The unknown of what will come next workwise, has been difficult, but life in the studio creatively has been very productive as it meant I could be a lot more expressive and experimental than before Covid, because no visitors were allowed, everything was cancelled, so I could just work on new ideas completely undisturbed.
I had five exhibitions planned in 2020, some big some small, but all of which I had already sent the work off to, so for all of them to be postponed has been a difficult financial burden to carry through till they were able to be on show. The smaller exhibitions were able to open around lockdown, but then there were other difficulties such as not having a private viewing or event to announce the exhibition. Not being able to install artworks because of gathering restrictions and works that were sold couldn’t be delivered, so clients did not receive what they had purchased and again payments were postponed.
Personally, the silver lining is that we learn, we adjust and we develop in new ways to overcome difficult situations, so developing new ways to do what I do has been a good challenge. A very big silver lining professionally was that I was invited to exhibit at The Venice Biennale, and able to produce and deliver the work in four months and open as planned in spring, just as the last restrictions were removed.
The sculpture, based on the Australian bushfires in 2020, will stand until the end of November 2022 and includes 33 large black columns and over 10,000 small handmade green bells. The sculpture titled ‘Momentum’ represents the resilience of nature.
The advent of Covid has made it impossible for me to travel abroad every year for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. Various related projects have been cancelled and postponed in Japan. During the first six months, I was pessimistic about the future. At the same time, we also received news of the death of a close friend at home and one abroad. We missed my mother, who in her mid-nineties, had passed her natural lifespan, but we couldn’t do enough for her traditional funeral.
In order to find light in my depressed feelings, I went around looking at nearly 50 of my sculptures that I have installed in the neighborhood over the past 50 years. This inspired me to hold a solo sculpture exhibition at the shrine inside Himeji Castle, a World Heritage site. At that time, I received a message from an authoritative doctor who was a friend of mine, saying, “Exposure to art has the effect of boosting the immune system of the mind. Art is necessary during the corona crisis.”
Over the next two years, I held five solo exhibitions in nearby public spaces. One of them was a 50-piece event, including 10 outdoor works, titled ‘50 Years of Sculpture’ at the Asago Art Park Museum. It was held concurrently with Sculpture Rocks in Sydney. I couldn’t make it to Sydney, but I was able to spread news of the two exhibitions to the world through social media.
On the other hand, in the workshop during this time, production activities progressed without stopping. What I learned is how the artist is involved in the maintenance of sculptures installed in public spaces in the past. Not only production, but also maintenance is an important job of an artist.
After Corona, I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony of the Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail in April and May of this year. Travelling to Australia for the first time in two and a half years rekindled hope for the future. I believe that the Bondi exhibition’s re-opening promises opportunities into the future for artists from Australia and abroad.