In the Making: Studio Visits During the Lockdown

Who would have thought that digital would expand our reality instead of replacing it? This is one of the biggest challenges of our time and might be the silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis. The effects of this unprecedented state of emergency on social interactions will be felt long afterwards. We can already savour the burgeoning of online projects that are taking shape organically as we are coping with our jeopardized need to feel connected. Whether it is drinks with friends, family reunions, yoga classes, academic courses or the consumption of art and other cultural goods, people are not only moving their activity online, they are using digital platforms creatively to expand their experiences. This will provide the basis for a healthier digital transition, the kind we could only dream of, and that would prove script writers of Black Mirror to be astonishingly wrong. This transition transcends artificially created harmful needs for the benefits of the few, the vortex of the attention economy based on the worst egocentric human drives, and the replication of an unhealthy and materialistic economic system. It taps into what is one of the cleverest behavioral revolutions of our time: the experience economy. Now it is also about online experiences. It is an anthropological transition.

During a revolution two modes get activated: survival and life. The ones at the back of the wave are tossed about by the tumult created by the ones forming the froth of the wave’s roller. The latter live while the former survive. In the arts, this revolution has already been initiated by big institutions such as the Opera de Paris. The Opera de Paris’ la 3ème Scène produces short shows to be consumed exclusively online. For that reason, they are hybrid productions made of new media art and more traditional artistic disciplines such as dance, scenography, music and opera. These online shows are brand new experiences derived from the institution’s long-lasting mastering of the art discipline. They are motivated by innovation, not only by outreach expansion. Other more or less successful initiatives have been developed by cultural institutions through R&D. However, what we see now are smaller, more organic initiatives brought to life by the basic human need to connect through art.

I am an artist and an art producer. After my New York exhibition was cancelled last week, I could not go back to producing art (also because when the world freezes, artists lose their private imaginary island from where they usually observe the agitation of the world). And when I don’t produce art, I consume it. I am now on lockdown in the countryside with my sister, surrounded by hills, cows, goats and chickens. On the fourth day of confinement, as I was spending my sixth hour online, I opened the Instagram story of Furieuxboy (Lili Reynaud Deward), an artist I have been following for a long time. She was advertising her morning live interview with the KÖNIG Gallery. I clicked on the gallery’s profile and saw that they were hosting another interview the next day at 10am. Next day I woke up excited by the prospect of my digital meeting! I plugged into the gallery’s Instagram live stream. With hundreds of people watching, Claudia Comte was in her apartment in Switzerland commenting on the artworks and Johann König, the gallery owner, was pointing at them from his Berlin gallery on the top of the screen. Claudia showed us around. Luckily, her studio is in the garden of her house and we could have a look around. I left the meeting energized and inspired by this journey into the artist’s world.

A week later, my sister announced an exciting program for the night: “We are having a drama improv show at 8pm on Zoom, please be ready!” My sister regularly does drama improv with a troupe of actors. I was skeptical at first but then I thought: what else is there to do anyway? We plugged in Direct Impro. To my great surprise, I got completely fascinated by the intrigue. It was a huis clos and the actors cleverly used their background screen to indicate which scene they were involved in as they were taking place simultaneously. The improv was unfolding in front of our eyes as the screens were popping up and disappearing in a dynamic, almost rhythmical way. The expressions on the actors’ faces were accentuated by the close ups and by them facing the camera. Luckily, the actors were brilliant and provided one of my best drama improv experiences!

The next day, I went on one of my long walks through the hills, the only way I can process my thoughts during these weird times. I had a eureka moment remembering the project I developed three years ago for my MA dissertation. It was about finding ways to use digital platforms in order to create new art experiences, and not only to extend the artworld’s current status quo. I chose the studio visit as a revolutionary way to consume art. I happen to be part of the selected few who get to experience studio visits with artists because of my job and connections and I knew how transformative that experience could be. At the time, I tested my idea with the Vietnamese artist Din Q Lé in Saigon as I was travelling through the country. He kindly accepted my offer and invited me to his place, where he lives and works. I learnt more in two hours with him about the history of Vietnam than during my whole stay visiting museums. I learnt not only by reading “dry” texts on the walls and listening to more or less comprehensible narratives but by looking around me and questioning my host. In the living room I saw drawings of soldiers scattered all over a big dining table, archives piled up on some chairs, a gigantic picture on the wall woven with grass. As I was asking questions about what I was seeing, Din told me some stories of soldiers during the last Vietnam war as he was drawing them, he told me how weaving with grass was a traditional art in Vietnam and so much other information that was specific and embodied. Artists are narrators of their environment: they are expressions of places and people. Their studio is loaded with history and vision, with meaning and intention, with memories of experimentation and of authentic creative gestures.

With my job I am always close to artistic places of productions, whether it is dance, music, theatre, film or visual arts. I have my own studio in Paris, and I worked in different collective ones. However, I envision the studio visit as a complete cultural and spiritual experience worth developing best practices for. My vision is to open this uniquely enriching experience to a larger public of art consumers, to invite them behind the scenes. This seems to be a perfect time to start implementing this vision, one that would create new ways to consume art, one that would focus more on the process than on the artefact, one that would tap straight into the energizing creativity and situated knowledge of the artist, one that would be available to the many art lovers and not only to the few connected insiders.

In the Making: Studio Series is a project of online studio visits where I interview a selected artist. This will be the occasion to discuss what we usually don’t see in galleries and museums, works in progress and processes of art making. This will also be an opportunity for artists to speak about the projects that have been cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19 and to evoke the projects that will potentially replace them. As we go, we might even reflect on the roles of artists during a global crisis like this one. The means are simple — the experience will be live streamed on Instagram from this account:

I hope to have you on board to lead this digital revolution with us and figure out the best way to deliver what the artworld has to offer to our planet !

I am an artist and a cultural entrepreneur. I write about these two things when I don’t write poetry.

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