When I am writing this article, we are currently in the post-pandemic time in Germany. Like post-modernist does not mean modernist is already over, post-digital aesthetics does not mean digital productions disappeared; post-pandemic life doesn’t mean “life after the pandemic”.
In the middle of March 2020, people were believing the pandemic would be an affair which would neither last long nor bring long-term change in our life. Matthias Horx has even predicted we will have football matches again in summer. And now we are in the summer. After a period of relaxing in restrictions, the “good old days” still did not come back, and we started to worry about another drastic increasing number of cases. No matter WHO refused to call the spike in infection number in Korea “a second wave”, the kind of “second wave” indeed arrived in countries like Israel and China. Not as we thought in winter 2020, but now. We will coexist with the virus, no one knows how long it will end. Even the “end” will come, more irreversible changes will still happen before it.
Rather than understanding the topic as “the life when Covid-19 is gone”, I would like to interpret it as “ the life after Covid-19 became part of it”. As an artist, I, as well as many of my fellow artists were influenced since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. From March almost all our conversations are about our future. “Can artist exist as an occupation?” It was only a question we often heard from our families and acquaintances, but now we must think it over again.
Is artist an occupation? Apparently it is not a working position. But when you tried to work at a position and do art in your spare time, you may find your time and energy are not enough to realise your artistic ideas. So you adjusted your strategy, let all other works you do support you doing art. At that moment you became an artist. If artist is an occupation, it takes 7/24 to work. Being an artist is a lifestyle.
But among our platforms to meet the audience there is now only the internet left. Without the physical presence, there is no real concert, theatre, or exhibition. Of course, no income for artists. When the crisis came, art became one of the most disposable parts. Not only the politicians but also many ordinary people are supporting this idea. A survey by The Sunday Times showed that their readers in Singapore regarded artists as the least essential occupation during the pandemic.
I do not want to defend artists by saying “without art people would be too boring to stay at home”. People can stay at home and cook, bake, do handcraft and gardening… Artists may also not be too happy to exist only for helping people to kill time. Besides, the dead artists already left numerous heritage, from a perspective of mass entertainment, contemporary artists are indeed not essential. So should we just stop creating art?
What I talk with people less is that as a Chinese I have already been hit by Covid-19 in January. My travel was canceled, many of my Chinese colleagues are either stuck in China or could not go there. Today my mother even realised that we may not see each other in at least two years.
And it is not just for Chinese but immigrants of all origins: international projects became almost impossible, local job chances are decreasing. Some couples are considering to get married sooner to solve the visa and financial problems. But these who are not in the same country for the moment, do not even know when they can meet again. As singles, we must be separated from family for unknown time period and solve all problems ourselves.
Being an artist is a lifestyle.
Being an immigrant is a lifestyle.
Being single is a lifestyle.
Not like the venerable groups like people of color, disables, people with mental illness, LGBTQ+… This lifestyle other than the “mainstream” is my choice.
But actually, everyone has a “non-mainstream” part in their life. Are you a freelancer? Are you in a long-distance relationship? Do you travel to another city to work? Are you unwilling to have a fixed partner? Do you spend old age alone or in a nursing home? If what is “alternative” should be abandoned, we will all be violated by the idea of sacrificing a little group to protect the whole community.
At any time, artists as a minority would find the problems of society and reveal them directly or indirectly through their creation. And in this crisis today, the existence of artists is reminding us, there are still other possibilities of life. These possibilities become the motivation that we do not die from a “mainstream” life. We are now having a castrated life where only “essential” things are allowed. But it is not because this lifestyle is reasonable. It is because we know after surviving this, the exciting life will be back. The “good old days” may not come again, but we must believe, the lifestyle we choose will be realised and maintained with other methods.
We can rebuild the theatres and improve the ventilation; new technologies could enable open space to have high-quality sound and light system just like in closed space; in train and aircraft we could give passengers more personal space; the public toilets could be installed with automatic disinfection system…
Some politicians’ and folks’ arrogance and ignorance have led to the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19. But security does not mean giving up the individual will and freedom. To polarise things is always simpler, but actions should be taken to adjust the society to the pandemic without losing its value. As the slogan at the beginning of the pandemic said: leave no one behind. Let me add to it: leave no one unessential.