Love Letter to the Art World
Plain text version below
Dear art, exhibitions, galleries, aesthetic experiences that make me dizzy and warm and different, and just the whole art world and galaxy too,
I miss you… a little bit. I miss you, I think! It has taken me a long time to admit it. And I hate that I am the one admitting it first! You haven’t come knocking on my door to say it — to say that you miss me. But I guess it is easy to forget about someone who lives in the dark.
I used to fly around the world to spend time with art. Planes, trains, a full schedule of exhibitions. My job was an art critic and rascal, writing about everything I saw. Yeah, I wanted to taste it all and I wanted to test my taste. Baby trying a lemon for the first time. I thought if I could expose myself to all these new ideas and environments, I would understand myself better (who I am, what I like and dislike, how I sit in relation to the world, and how I might change and grow). I was right. Art did that to me, and I am sure it does it to others too. Yeah, I saw more boring exhibitions than ones I loved, but I loved the chase. A dirty mirror to reflect upon, sometimes a magic lake. I haven’t had that feeling in a while. I haven’t been to a gallery in a year and a half and I won’t be going back to one anytime soon — I can’t leave the house.
I got the big one and unfortunately it became Long Covid. I’m writing to you in my 10th month and this is the state of me now. Fatigue means I cannot do anything or go anywhere, and the chronic pain in my legs gets worse when I try. I have postural tachycardia syndrome and my hair is falling out. Breathless and slow when I speak. The fatigue has also pushed me into a fixed nocturnal routine — delayed sleep phase disorder — as though I am now allergic to the sun, as though I am now lunar-powered. I have more energy and clarity at night. I am writing this at 6.30am. I usually get into bed at 8. It is drastic. And I say all of this to explain why I have had to abandon you, the art world. But I also explain it because I want to ask why have you abandoned me?
Publicly funded art is for the public, right? I thought so. Except I have shape-shifted into a kind of public that is sidelined, unpublicised. I know that some accommodations are made (sometimes) for sick and disabled visitors who are able to make it to galleries. Subtitles, step-free access, induction loops, benches, autism-friendly hours, easy to read information, signage, toilets, lifts and so on. I know staff who have been given training on greeting visitors with dementia as well, for example. But I can’t even get to the gallery, so how does any of that public funding for art reach me? It doesn’t. We are ships in the night and my ship has broken down. I am only new to this. There are millions of people housebound because of sickness and disability. And yes, I know every art organisation had a go at doing online exhibitions over the pandemic, but every single one of them was a lifeless mess so I cannot count them. I stay in my house, alive at night like an animal. Lonely, in pain, always tired. And I think okay, maybe art is not for everyone. Maybe I got that wrong.
It disappoints me that the art world, an industry that should be explicitly creative in its operations, has nothing already in place for people like me. I might have expected too much. When I realised this was who I was now, how great would it have been if I had been able to press a button, flick a switch, or send one email that opted me in to a service for art at home. I want an art delivery service, a free subscription, something imaginative and weird. I want something to arrive at my door once a month (where I can select an evening time, and the delivery person knows to wait for my slow walk to the door). I want to be given a treasure box of things I’ll find boring and things that will make me feel new. I don’t want a straight up handout of what is currently on in a gallery, no. I want a package where display and feel and depth are all considered — where the aesthetic experience of the exhibition itself is captured like a fairy in a bottle and released in my home when I open the treasure box under a bright full moon.
I want this for myself but I also want it for all of us who cannot leave our houses because the world hurts. I wrote ‘treasure box’ to make light of this, to be poetic, but it is so dark. Living inside forever, living in pain, leaving the other public behind for a weak, eternal night — these are things I worry will break me. Doctors don’t know what to do with me, I am waiting to hear back from a disability payment assessment that has a 5 month turnaround. What’s left? Culture. Culture while I wait to see what happens. But the culture I worked for, the art world I supported, has left me behind. I don’t know. I gave you so much of myself, I just think I am owed something in return. I think I deserve to still feel a part of this ‘public.’ I still exist.
We’re in a long distance relationship now and you have stopped picking up my calls. I’ll delete your number and see what else is out there. If you read this, leave me a message if you care. I’ll get back to you when the stars align.
It’s 8am now. Goodnight.
*This text was commissioned by the Young Artists' Society, Oslo, Norway for a conference they were doing but I'm sharing it here because why not. I also love Norway and I miss it a lot.