We’re living in a time of odd juxtapositions. We’re disconnected from our physical lives while we remain constantly connected to each other virtually. We hoard toilet paper yet remain disastrously wasteful. We covet time, but bemoan boredom.
Before Covid-19, we longed for the quiet solitude that comes with less crowded streets, remote working, and quality time with our loved ones. Just two months ago, these freedoms almost felt unattainable as the realities of our jobs, bills, and the frenzy of our over-scheduled lives conspire to keep us busy– just busy enough to distract us from ourselves.
Now that many of us have been forced to slow down, we quickly learned that those once longed for freedoms come at a cost, and our collective response to the Coronavirus has exposed fragilities within our most sacred institutions and deep within ourselves.
So it’s in this context that the art created during this peculiar time is important. Those who have been able to create are undoubtedly working through complicated emotions that have surfaced in response to the Coronavirus. On any given day I toggle between the guilt of being mentally drained to write, and the guilt of writing and shifting my focus away from news, death toll statistics, and expressing gratitude and empathy for first responders.
I recently caught an early glimpse of Lorna Simpson’s latest work online at Hauser & Wirth in a virtual show titled Give Me Some Moments, and I feel the weight of these emotional burdens expressed in her collaged subjects.
One piece features an image of a Black woman from a vintage wig advertisement where her perfectly coiffed hair is replaced by a map of Greek constellations first discovered by Ptolemy. Of Ptolemy’s mapped constellations, Simpson highlights Lyra, Draco, and Corona Borealis. In astronomy and Greek mythology they each represent “the harp”, “the dragon” and the “northern crown” respectively. Simpson retains the caption of the found image of the model which reads, “Styled at Wig City, Inc.- New York City” and is used in the title of the work, “Lyra night sky, styled in NYC”, 2020.
The collage is one of three the artist recently created while on quarantine; with this in mind, Simpson invites timely interpretations of the work. The wig model’s royal blue coif could be viewed as a crown or a looming cloud. Both suggest that the wearer bears the physical and emotional burdens of these unprecedented times. When viewed digitally, the piece invites the viewer into a form of slow looking that’s augmented by the immediacy of their own additional research, and for me this has become a positive byproduct of consuming art online.
In this recent body of work, Simpson returns to her signature mixed media collages that combine archived images from Ebony and Jet magazines with textbook pages, architectural drawings and other vintage ephemera, that are recontextualized into visual commentaries on identity, femininity, and transformation.
Simpson’s collages speak to the radical ways that the first four months of the year have changed us, and as we continue to define our “new normal” while slowly emerging from this global pandemic, one work titled “Construction”, 2020 can be viewed as a testament to this process. In the piece, a woman’s elevated profile appears among clouds in the sky as she’s supported by a solid pillar of concrete that reveals the undergirding of exposed rebar. A ladder subtly lifts the woman’s chin into an almost contrived, stoic pose.
“Construction” aptly captures how I feel in this current moment as I try to figure out this new normal, knowing there’s nothing “normal” about any of this.
It’s an odd juxtaposition.
Give Me Some Moments is on view at Hauser & Wirth on May 2, 2020.