Art critic Alexandra Hall reflects on how Covid-19 has been keeping us cultured...
Yayoi Kusama's online viewing room
"It’s a privileged position of one who doesn’t recognise the invisible barriers that places like art galleries, theatres and museums often have. To enjoy culture itself is an indulgence taken for granted, but sometimes these kinds of institutions can feel overwhelming. We can tell ourselves that we’re not ‘theatregoers’, ‘art experts’, enough of a ‘knowledge buff’ or people 'that do this sort of thing'.
During a global pandemic crisis clusterfuck, the things that we like to go out and do in our spare time, we can’t. There's the surreal homesickness for the cities we’re in and a sick-of home-ness for the spaces where we are. Perhaps we’re tired of the fact that the most fascinating bit of culture in our homes is the forgotten yoghurt in the fridge.
There’s a digitised cultural frontier which has completely done away with the dusty presuppositions we might feel towards certain aspects of culture. Its disorientating and empowering. We can virtually transport ourselves to enjoy what we’ve found curious, but just never had the means, be it time or money, to do so. Cultural institutions have opened their doors, digitally, to offer to us some of the most prestigious collections and revered performances from around the world.
Without sounding like a cheesy 90s Microsoft ad, we can now feel the power of the internet at our fingertips. Why not listen to this podcast, discover a new artist, watch that play everyone talks about? Why not make some focaccia and lie on the floor after eating half of it? Those cultural milestones that constantly get referred to but somehow you missed, you can make your own. We can become obsessed, follow our noses down the rabbit hole of someone’s career, and come out the other side with a brain full of newness. The novelty of going to the theatre, a treat every couple of months, can become part of your weekly routine. If we’re not free to roam outside, at least our imaginations are free to roam inside, and there’s no shortage of inspiration online.
Before lockdown there was an ensnaring inaccessibility with certain aspects of culture. Take away those barriers from what is essentially just looking at new things, and what do we have? Just looking at new things. Within this new normal we find ourselves in, there’s no pressure for us to enjoy something just because we’ve dedicated time and money to it. You're not trapped in an expensive restaurant, nodding mutely at the idea of a £18 starter. Cultural institutions have shifted to compete in the brutal online attention economy. You are Emperor Nero, watching a virtual art tour and the trusted but tired Netflix fight each other in the browser tabs, to win your attention. Only the strong survive. Either its exciting in itself, or you’re excited by it. Enthused from the outset or intrigued by the idea. Boredom is not an option.
It’s not ideal, though. Some things are slow burners and reward you for the more time you invest into it (hello, Breaking Bad). You might’ve recalled yourself getting dragged to an obscure exhibition and wound up being fascinated. There’s things that we will lose if we only give ourselves seconds to be excited by it. Online we’re inundated with ads, messages, emails, invitations. I can’t be the only one that’s fantasised about throwing my laptop in a lake.
What we’re seeing now is an test space, perhaps an insight into the future of culture online. Art Basel Hong Kong offered digital viewing rooms for the festival in March, VIP tickets still sold for the private previews. World-class DJ’s are live-streaming from their own homes. I created an avatar and went to a virtual arcade, chatted to other avatars and played strange video games with them. Secret Cinema are hosting their wondrous themed nights over zoom. If it can be put online, you can bet that it will be. There hasn’t been a better time to discover what people will be receptive to remotely, when we have absolutely no other choice.
We’ve always had the tools to transfer parts of entertainment culture online, and now we’re seeing it in motion. Its important to know that we are still passionate about the things that we enjoyed before this pandemic. Bringing parts of our old lives back into our homes so that they’re less of a memory does wonders for our well-being.
However there’s some things that just cannot be translated online. The ineffable peace of an art gallery, the mingling smells of books and coffee in a bookshop, the alluring eccentricity of museum gift shops. Meeting your friend for a wander whilst inhaling the stillness of museum air. All are irreplaceable.
Hopefully this pandemic reshuffles what we value as a society. Our healthcare and essential workers who are holding up our country, alongside the people who's creativity brings joy, intrigue and excitement into our lives. Providing the light that we can see at the end of the tunnel is no easy feat, and in these difficult times this is a beacon of hope we can hold on to."
We hope we kept you entertained (and sane) during lockdown with our various online offerings, and we’d like to know what you thought! Tell us what you liked and what we could improve #checkinwithus and let us know on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Let’s stay connected.
We are delighted to have finally have a dedicated online space that represents who we are as a gallery. Now our customers can experience our carefully tailored digital space. But there is no replacement for seeing artwork in the airy light-filled curated gallery space, designed to let the artwork shine.
We know the art industry can thrive on making people feel a bit out of place. Our space at Enter gallery aims to make people feel comfortable, it’s in our name! We want to welcome everyone to have a wander, view and buy art.
Enter Gallery has now re-opened! Read more
For all of those back out on the streets, breathe in that sweet freedom and check out our street art tours of Brighton, Brick Lane and Manchester.
Follow our eventbrite page to be automatically notified of our upcoming online Kids Clubs.