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Art in the time of COVID-19: Finding ways to 'render the invisible visible' – News@UofT

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With much of the world locked down due to COVID-19, art and creativity has burst into living spaces through platforms like Zoom, livestreams and over social media – a development that does not surprise the University of Toronto’s John Paul Ricco, who says social upheavals and health crises has historically inspired artists.

“I do think this speaks generally to the value of art in all of its various forms, and that it is probably our principal and most developed way of being attuned to the world,” says Ricco, a professor in the department of visual studies at U of T Mississauga.

“It is a way to try to register, record and re-shape our perceptions and to really take stock. But also, I think art plays an incredibly important role in a moment when people are looking around and are really interested in art and humanities – and writing again – because when the world feels like it’s imploding, art and aesthetics are there to save you.”

Ricco, who has been on faculty at U of T Mississauga since 2006, is an art historian and queer theorist whose research closely examines the relationship between art and ethics.

Ricco’s 2014 book The Decision Between Us: Art and Ethics in the Time of Scenes argues that scenes of intimacy are spaces of sharing, but that they are also spaces of separation, which has a particular resonance in the current climate.

He says the present situation is a time to ask how we can find ways of connecting while in solitude – space that allows the social to happen, but also the capacity for people to figure out how to deal with being physically separated from others.

Read John Paul Ricco’s contribution in Tilting, a publication by the Blackwood Gallery at U of T Mississauga 

Ricco points to past health crises that have led to exploring similar concepts in art, particularly the AIDS outbreak when he was an undergraduate student at New York University. That health epidemic in the 1990s influenced his path throughout his graduate studies and he became involved in AIDS activism, exploring ways in which contemporary artists were contending with the situation.

For example, Ricco curated a contemporary art exhibition in Chicago in 1996 titled Disappeared that brought together artists contemplating the question of representation in relationship to AIDS. There was the “disappearance” of the people who died from the disease, as well as the loss of aesthetics that resulted from not being able to fully represent AIDS in a visual form.

He also points to a past exhibit by artist Félix González-Torres that challenged the prohibitions on physical contact to avoid the spread of the disease.

When it comes to the current COVID-19 crisis, there is once again a warning to avoid physical proximity and it is also difficult to put a shape to the invisible virus. However, Ricco feels this is part of the challenge for visual artists: rendering the invisible visible.

He suggests we are all taking part in the process by our inadvertent choreography of physical distancing in our homes and out on errands or on walks.

“I think one of the most interesting things that art can help us contend with is exactly those things that cannot be seen and what we do with that difficulty or that problem,” says Ricco.

“We can imagine art being made in the midst and in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis that takes up this prohibition of physical proximity – touching and contact – and uses that as the way to explore what it means to be in physical proximity, to have contact and how art can be a kind of stage that enables people to engage with that. I think one of the things that has happened in the midst of this is that there is a whole new awareness of ourselves in the world and with others.”

Listen to an interview with John Paul Ricco on the View to the U podcast

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New Westminster teacher stunned by children's pandemic art – The Record (New Westminster)

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Sara Fox, 62, teaches grade 3-4 in a small public school at Connaught Elementary School New Westminster.

On March 13, Fox’s 23 students hustled out the classroom door to start their two-week spring break. 

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On March 17, Fox received an e-mail from the Superintendent of Schools announcing an “indefinite suspension of all in-class instruction for BC’s K-12 learners” due to the spread of COVID-19.

Until further notice, the curriculum would be delivered via remote learning, using “web-based technology”.

In BC, the curriculum for elementary schoolchildren includes science, social studies, math, language arts, and fine arts.

In Fox’s school, the fine arts teacher was working full time educating the children of essential workers – so Fox had a choice: kill the art program or teach it herself.

“I can’t even draw a stick figure,” admitted Fox, “I flat-out panicked”.

After Googling “How to teach art when you can’t do it” Fox came on the idea of asking the children the recreate a famous painting using their stuffies, dolls, pets or Lego.

“To get things going, I dressed up a raccoon puppet like the Mona Lisa,” explains Fox. “At least I knew my effort wouldn’t intimidate them.  It was pathetic. I had a sinking feeling the project would fall flat. I had already mentally written them a note saying, ‘Let’s not worry about art’”.

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An hour later, the first slide appeared. Angelica (9) took the American painting American Gothic and renamed it, “Stuffy Gothic 2020”.  The somber pitchfork replaced with a jaunty dining-room utensil.

“’Stuffie Gothic’ make me laugh,” admitted Fox. “Angelica told me she’d used an iPad to create the background.  I was relieved to have received a single entry. None of the online challenges are mandatory. I didn’t expect to receive another entry.”

Thirty minutes later, Fox’s laptop beeped.

A second student had submitted art.

“Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge features seven boozy dogs scrutinising their cards – a grandfather clock looming in the background.

Fox’s student Kai (8) had reimagined the work with mini-yogurts substituting for whiskey glasses.  Like a pro set decorator, he positioned a dining room clock artfully in the corner of the frame.

“In the painting, there’s poker chips in the middle of the table,” explained Kai during a video conference, “We don’t have a poker chips, so I used potato chips”.

“Is that clever?” asks Fox with naked excitement, “I think it is.”

Soon a third entry arrived.

In Afarin Sajedi’s original painting “Red Offer” – a stoic woman with blush on her cheeks is penetrated superficially by a fork.  Fox’s student Rowan (9) recreated the effect with her Mother’s make-up and scotch tape.

“At this point I starting to realise these young people had gifts that I wasn’t aware of,” confesses Fox.

Then a fourth entry came in.

And a fifth.

And a sixth.

And a seventh.

new west art
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“By the time I received ‘Doll with Watering Can’ I saw the children’s art – not as evidence of a hidden talent – but as natural extensions of who they are,” stated Fox.

“Sevilla is a grade four student who is meticulous in all her work. In math and science, she has a great eye for detail, no matter what she’s doing.”

Fox mused that Sevilla must have hunted for a curved pathway. Dressed her doll in a billowing blue frock with a matching ribbon. The doll looks simultaneously hesitant and receptive – just like Renoir’s girl.

“I don’t create art, because I’m 100% sure I’m bad at it,” stated Fox, “But if I’m doing my job right, my students won’t carry those negative thoughts.  I always tell them they can do anything. I guess they believed me!”

On Monday, June 1st, all K-5 BC teachers will return half-time to the classroom.  Fox anticipates 40% of her students will return to the classroom.

She will continue to teach the other students on line. 

About the author: Guy Bennett is a financial writer who lives in Vancouver, BC.  His sister Sara Fox, is the subject of this article.

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Around Town Monday June 1 Badlands Art Centre – Calgary Herald

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Article content continued

It is still hoped that Badlands Amphitheatre late summer and fall events will continue as scheduled, including the Tom Cochrane and Red Rider concert, the Roots, Blues & Barbecue event and LightFest: Fireworks in the Badlands.

Adding 5,000 square feet to the Badlands Amphitheatre will certainly enhance its reputation as a premiere outdoor live theatre, concert and event venue.

*****

Some of us remember when the International Hotel on 4th Avenue S.W. opened 50 years ago as our first all-suite hotel.  An impressive 35 storeys, it sported a popular lobby bar and well patronized lower level restaurant. I remember when it was a favourite of film crews who needed to relax in kitchen-equipped space after long days on set. Now owned by Minto Group, the property has been converted into premium long and short-term rental apartments, still with the former hotel’s amenities of rooftop terrace, fitness centre and indoor pool, as well as downtown parking.

*****

Dale Taylor, who has served as executive director at the Centre for Newcomers and as an associate director for Mennonite Central Committee Canada, has been appointed as interim executive director of MCC Alberta for an 18-month term.

*****

David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at info@davidparker.ca.

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Queen's students use art to cure quarantine blues – Queen's Journal

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Although quarantine measures have many students feeling trapped, some Queen’s students are staving off feelings of anxiety or boredom by turning to art as a form of self-therapy.  

The Journal spoke to Claire Parsons, a third-year politics student, Erin Marcia, a Bachelor of Education student, and Nick Brown, a fourth-year geological engineering student about the role of art in their lives during the age of social distancing. 

When the winter semester went remote in March, Parsons returned to her home in Toronto lamenting the loss of her reliable daily routine, which she considers important to her mental health. 

“Without [a routine], it’s hard to not get restless and overwhelmed,” Parsons said. “When I can take an hour out of my day to paint something or write a story, I can dive intothe process…it takes your mind off it all.” 

Along with painting and creative writing, Parsons is also a trained singer, a craft which she describes as a “physical release.” 

For Parsons, the arts have been integral to coping with the uncertainty of living through a pandemic because she “can take all those restless, scared, and nervous feelings and channel them into something beautiful.” 

While the COVID-19 crisis is less than ideal, and many people like Parsons are feeling anxious, Erin Marcia, a digital artist, is grateful that the quarantine has afforded her extra time to experiment with different styles.  

Marcia told The Journal that before the crisis, she struggled to find the motivation to create for her own enjoyment. Instead, she would often produce artwork to give away as gifts. But now that she has so much extra time on her hands, she’s using it to broaden her array of digital design skills. 

“I have been exploring different styles that are outside of my comfort zone, such as vintage lettering and portraits,” Marcia said. “I find myself working hard to practice these new styles and techniques which I wouldn’t have had time to do before.”

Marcia is pleased that she’s making the most of a bad situation by strengthening her abilities. 

“My art has been motivating me, challenging me, and making me happy to see improvements in new styles. I’m grateful for the amount I’ve been able to create, learn, and practice during quarantine.”

For Nick Brown, the greatest challenge that social distancing measures have brought him is boredom, but he says that making art goes a long way to prevent him from feeling like he’s stagnating.

“While being stuck in quarantine, I have turned to using a few forms of art to help pass the time. I draw, write poetry and songs, and play a few instruments,” Brown said. 

“Drawing and playing instruments are what I use to stop myself from getting too bored as I don’t need to think while doing it and it is quite fun.” 

As with Parsons’ singing, Brown said his art provides a much-needed release during the international health crisis. 

“For writing poetry and songs, I’ve found that they act as a way for me to let my inner thoughts out of my head and to help just vent all my life problems. It definitely works for me.”

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