As countries and cities go into lockdown across the world, and social distancing takes a few nauseating steps closer to the norm, it is easy to feel as though we as individuals are cut adrift, left to orbit our friends and family in digital space, unsure of people’s day to day actions and experiences.
Therefore, at this unprecedented time, we have reached out to a selection of our artists to ask simply: How are you? How are you feeling, what are you feeling, why are you feeling it? In times of societal crisis, we often look to creatives for guidance; while we rely on the scientists, doctors and engineers for practical responses, it is the artists, writers, philosophers and poets who cleanse the soul, who extend a reassuring hand through the page or canvas.
In the words of Alan Bennett: “the best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
And so, in the spirit of creative connection, of cathartic convalescence, here is Johsua Hagler’s thoughtful response to what is ordinarily considered the most mundane of questions: how are you?
“We’re pretty isolated out here now. We just had our wedding, just in time, you could say. It’s strange to say good-bye to everyone and sad to see our little town virtually shut down. You wonder when you’ll see them again, and in a few cases, whether you will. On top of it all, we have a little girl on the way, due July 13th. It’s just my wife Maja Ruznic and me here at home. We scarcely see a neighbor. It’s a lot to take in right now.”
“As for my work, I’m just now getting back into it after the wedding and other concerns. I have a lot of ideas about how it will affect things, but, of course, only time will tell. On one hand, I’ve always felt pretty isolated and excluded from the art world. In that sense, perhaps little changes. There’s a strange way though – health concerns for my loved ones notwithstanding – that I almost look forward to it. All things considered, we’re incredibly lucky that we have studios on our property, that we don’t have other jobs we’re depending on, and that, although we’re fairly isolated socially, the natural landscape around us is expansive and welcoming. I suspect that things which matter to me and to those I respect, in art, in thinking and making, might matter again in an art world that has become painfully decadent and superficial. I don’t foresee good things for most of our careers in the near future, but there’s a chance here to reset our values and priorities in what we make and see, what we ask from art, what we come to believe it’s really for, something beyond wealth and status. There are certain things I’m willing to sacrifice in order to make better work and to see better work being made. I don’t wish harm or loss to anyone, and I’m certainly aware and even afraid of what’s ahead, but I’m also eager for the situation to show us how to be better artists, all of us. It’s a right and a privilege to make use of a crisis to become a better person, and so it is art-wise.”
One piece of advice you have for young less established artists at this time.
“This situation is as unprecedented for me as for anyone. What do I know about making art in a pandemic when I’ve never done it before? I have no idea how bad it’s going to get, who I’m going to lose, how I’ll persevere, what it will be like with a family I’m trying to protect, what kind of help we’ll need, how we can help others, etc. I’m going to need a lot of advice myself!”
“But there are some things, I suppose, that maybe I do know. Above all, I know that in order to get anywhere as humans, let alone as artists, there is a leap to faith, as Kierkegaard would put it, that is absolutely necessary for any sense of authenticity in our relation to the world in any meaningful sense. This word “faith” is a bothersome word for some, and I can understand how that skepticism has taken shape. But I don’t mean the word in an exclusively religious sense. What I mean by faith is a simple acknowledgment of the limitations of reason and the kind of trust or instinct that can follow from this acknowledgment. In retrospect, our willfulness to disentangle from what we thought made us safe, does in fact leave a trace of purpose and recognition in it. But we can’t know that until we’re on the other side of the gulf, after we’ve already taken that leap. I’ve at least lived long enough now to witness that.”
“So with that, I suppose, my advice is to listen in a patient way. To listen for that inner voice to guide where you go, what you make, when to persist, when to let go. The stale conventions and pressures of the art world will no longer serve much use. So now is the time to do what you were embarrassed to do before under the debilitating gaze of outside judgment.That could lead to a road of experimentation without expectation of immediate reward. It could lead to putting things in the work you always wanted to but were afraid would be met with admonishment by an in-group. Imagine you wake up one morning and half the world is suddenly missing. Can we let go of our old and unproductive ways of thinking and interact, in good faith, with those remaining? Can we make something with an intention toward honoring what they and we have been through? If we can, that’s the work we’re going to need now, so that, too, I suppose, is my advice. To work with sincere intention toward a world that needs, and to recognize our own need in it.”
Thank you to Josh for putting voice to his introspection and kick-starting our How Are U initiative with real elan. Click here to view his works and scroll down for a video.