Same same but different

Kadiatou Diallo

So far, from here, the “new normal” looks awfully familiar. Or does it?

As soon as Obi announces it is reopening, an entire city embarks on a pilgrimage to reassert their right to buy. That’s addiction for you. Everything seems to be going rather well during rehab, but as soon we return to our usual habitat, all our good intentions fly out the window and we are back to normal.

Meanwhile, slowly fading from our collective consciousness, the majority of the world's population continues to struggle to survive, to breathe, at or below the poverty line (wherever that is exactly—is it still $2 a day?), just like before “the crisis,” or perhaps even more. And yes, this is the case in Europe, the USA, and in Geneva, too.

For a brief moment we—humans, animals, and plants alike—were able to breathe again, climate recovery on steroids, and all it took was a few weeks of abstinence.
Ha, who says it can’t be done? Arundhati Roy points to a portal leading to a new world—if we choose to walk through it. Do we? What are we hoping for on the other side?

New has long been pregnant with the promise of “better.” Innovation. Progress, future, more. Preferably at a bargain price. Only giving up or giving away in exchange for an upgrade. That’s privilege for you, right? But some of us got to know a whole new kind of privilege too, for instance the freedom of “I don’t have to” (do, buy, meet…). Deep breath.

Things do look different in the sudden absence of what’s familiar. This invisible species has come along and aims floodlights at our gaps. Like a catalyst, COVID-19 renders visible what is so fundamentally wrong with the normal we have become so accustomed to. “Suddenly” (once again?) defying “protective measures,” masked masses assemble in the streets, dethroning racist colonial monuments and reminding us of “what matters,” not just now, as an ephemeral post-pandemic trend, but as a lifelong commitment, please. When were care and essential services last considered top priorities? Now it’s about others, for others. Relationships. Now that is essential. Wow.

OK, but this is meant to be about art. Where and how does that fit in? Like everything else, art—whether the commercial or the “alternative” scene—is subject to the dependencies of the market and its regulations (funding, producing, mediating, distributing, selling, etc.). It might—and perhaps even must— therefore (also) undergo a certain forced reflection. The Black Artists and Cultural Workers in Switzerland recently posed some nudging questions. So, how art can be created (and survive) in times of social distancing (which should really be referred to more accurately as physical distancing, right?) and in view of the anticipated COVID-related economic crisis (among its first victims is undoubtedly the already relatively under-resourced arts and culture sector) is certainly a pertinent question but not the only relevant one.

One answer: There is always the online shop, of course, also for art (for those who can still afford it). The digital data network is zooming, excuse me, booming. #borders, #Greta, #f*privacy. Available anytime, anywhere. Globally. Except that people are squarely cropped at the waist or are cut off from the internet entirely. The cost factor: sensory deprivation and simultaneous overload. To name but two. Question: Are tangible collaboration, exchange, cooperation, and embodiment a thing of the past? At what cost?

Perhaps we flip the image and view art less (fully doesn’t seem feasible just yet) as a market product and more as an essential societal service (once again), even and especially where there is no (inter)net. Art as care. The cost factor? Perhaps strategic refusal. Perhaps individual sacrifice. Perhaps revising history. Perhaps more with and for others. Perhaps creative solutions. Perhaps relevance. Perhaps an upgrade.

Text contribution for A Roland for an Oliver 2020