I am sitting in a trailer-tent in the garden, rain battering off the roof, plastic windows billowing, waiting for a break in the storm to run for a coffee refill. Instantly this puts me in the privileged box of lockdown artist ergonomics; I have access to outdoor space, my art practice accommodates a love of folding vehicles that can be re-used as office space in a time of global pandemic, and, although staring at a bed in this tiny cabin, I am not working in my bedroom. Thus the collation of lockdown statistics continues; nobody has been here before so nobody can imagine what it will be like and everyone is obsessively assessing both their situation and that of their family, street or peers.
With some of the holy lockdown grail but not all, I am faring ok. It’s not been my most productive time, in fact not particularly creative at all; zero jigsaws and a very low art-podcast consumption rate at a time when I would have just completed a substantial new commission for Glasgow International, and be working on another for Folkestone Triennial.
In saying that, I have kept seven shielding dependents spread across the central belt loosely in touch with the outside world, stepped in where Asda failed to deliver, and can connect anyone over 80 to Zoom via a kitchen window. None of these are skills I wish to use again, and at a very personal level therein lies my greatest fear: that they expect it to continue. I fear that the essential care structures that ended so abruptly for people in my family three months ago – shopping deliveries, home helps, adult day care, Thursday afternoon karaoke, taxis, haircuts, nail cuts and grass cuts – will never come back and that that will be the tin lid on what was an art and academic career for which I have worked extremely hard.
And as we slowly move out of lockdown, I think that should be a fear widely held. Not that all of you will have to provide haircuts and karaoke to adults with learning difficulties, but that the expectations of what artists need – that they force time for amid many other demands – will never go back. That kids will expect home cooking and table tennis every day and that schools can stay part-time, that public services won’t need stepped up as everyone has managed magnificently without them, that kitchens or leaky trailers are perfectly good workspaces, that everyone can shop local and cycle everywhere and that nobody actually needs to earn proper fees because we can all exist on small stuff sold online. And I fear it particularly for women who work in the arts, who juggle many things and do not need more expectations placed on them.
I also fear a future that is digital, online, distant and by invitation only, without wine in plastic cups, chance encounters, train journeys and dancing. The art world can be a hard place but also a brilliant one, and it has been the opportunity to travel, engage with, make work with, exhibit with and eat with artists and thinkers from a wide range of backgrounds that has been my lifeblood through thick and thin.
And so I hope that the sharp sense of loss we have all felt for group activity and shared cultural experience will force us outside when all this is over, to look hard at art and think about it, participate in it and value those who make it, and that the structures that enable us to do that will return stronger than ever.
Jacqueline Donachie is an award-winning Glasgow-based artist whose work encompasses sculpture, installations, photographs, films, drawings and performance.
This article is part of a series from the Fleming Collection in discussion with the Scottish art scene to find out how the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has impacted programmes and practices, and how it might reshape the art scene in the future. For more, read words from Vivian Ross-Smith, Scottish Sculpture Workship, Hanna Tuulikki, Kate Gray on Collective and Tina Fiske on CAMPLE LINE.