Perspectives is a series of features that looks to document how the creative industry has been affected by the ongoing pandemic.
Frances Disley – Visual Artist
Please tell us a little bit about your profession and how many years have you been practicing professionally.
I’m a visual artist based in Liverpool and I work from The Royal Standard Studios. My work spans lots of different media within the role of visual art including painting, video, choreography, horticulture and sculpture and often involves some form of collaboration.
I’ve probably been making work for 20 years, but have been more visible in the last six. I’m far from professional but have been fortunate enough to have been invited to exhibit at and work with some great organisations and individuals recently. Last year I was lead artist for an exhibition at Humber Street Gallery in Hull called Cucumber Fell in the Sand looking at food and its production and collaborating with some amazing artists. I also was commissioned to work with the community in Sefton within their libraries in 2018 and produced a video and workout in collaboration with techno producer MT Hall and dance artist Maria Malone, which has now become part of the Arts Council Collection. I also produced an installation performance work, Tripleflex, which was part of LEAP dance festival from MDI, and I am working on an ongoing project with Fallen Angels Dance Company at the Turnpike Gallery Leigh. I also have just launched my solo exhibition at Bluecoat which of course is a really big deal for me and has had to (quite rightly) be closed due to the ongoing situation with Covid-19.
To what extent has your work been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus?
To begin, I’d like to say that in the grand scheme of things there’s more important stuff afoot than my work as a visual artist and even writing about this initially made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I mentioned my solo exhibition at Bluecoat, which has had to be temporarily closed after only being open to the public for six days, with the hope that it will re-open at some point; the Bluecoat are really supportive of that. They have also been working hard to share content throughout this period. Just to mention as well, the exhibition is centred around the idea of making galleries spaces more comfortable and addressing the ambient factors that contribute to gallery spaces sometimes making people feel anxious. I mention this as it feels quite timely to be considering anxiety and how to address this. I also had incorporated lots of opportunities for collective experience and the coming to together of people with games and classes and lots of opportunities to touch and feel, which only amplifies what has been taken away at the moment.
I was also supposed to be presenting a new live work with a dance group, which has had to be postponed, but we are thinking of ways to keep communicating and coming together via other channels than the physical. And we are very much planning how to make it happen and adapt. I think it’s important to use this time to consider how people can connect and communicate and how large parts of the community are often excluded and cannot access spaces. As artists and institutions, we should always be looking at ways to make what we do more accessible. I think this is a bit of a kick up the arse for a lot of the arts to consider how to do this.
Financially, obviously this time will be uncertain for me as I don’t know what lies ahead. Working partly as a freelancer it’s going to be tricky, but there will be lots of people in the same boat as me. It’s really early days within all of this. I have a two-year-old and five-year-old, so my time has, and will, change as normally my eldest would be in school and my two-year-old was just about to start nursery. Although, saying that, I have learnt to produce a lot of work from home to fit around the kids and I am quite used to working in that way. It feels more harmonious than constantly feeling guilty about not getting to my studio (which is currently closed).
If you work has been postponed or cancelled, are you hopeful for rescheduled dates? Do you have any capacity to work from home during the intervening period?
Bluecoat have been really positive about re-opening; the show is a brand new commission for them, so it’s the first time the work has been shown. It’d be a real shame if it couldn’t. Also, the performance work I mentioned will still happen at some point and I’m supposed to be on a residency in the summer which will also have to be postponed, but I will still be developing research for that in the meantime. I know that it’s really tricky for organisations as they still want things to happen, just later on – what that does to planning, I don’t know. Like I mentioned, I’m interested in reflecting on and trying to develop work that can actually have a use at the moment, as anything that doesn’t help at the moment seems a conceit for me. I’d love to offer something to relieve, support or distract people as a way to somehow contribute positively to the situation. I think artists and creatives could do that – we just need to be really thoughtful about how to approach new ways of working and really think through whether what you’re doing can do that or whether it’s an exercise in ego, which no-one needs right now. Collaboration is also so important to my work and I think I’d like to expand on how that sentiment could bring people together through this period of isolation, but also think about the digital divide and not assume that everyone has access to technology. So, yes, I am hoping to work from home and adapt to what seems like less time.
What has been your overriding emotion(s) since the industry went into lockdown?
It’s still such early days with all this, so my emotional response has been that there’s initially more important things afoot than worrying about exhibitions. At some point, I hope that creatives will be able to actually help and contribute positively to this crisis and really consider what their offer is and how it can position itself in a useful way. I’m a big advocate for healing through community and collaboration (if that’s not too crass a statement to make right now), but it’s too early to be talking about healing as we’re in the centre of truly horrific time. I feel kind of confused and useless at points, as I’m sure lots of people are finding. I just need to make sure that I’m making use of myself in any way that I can.
Do you think there are enough support structures in place for artists, creatives and other freelancers in the industry and would you like to see any changes once the lockdown is over?
Being a freelancer is generally precarious. There’s a lack of stability for creatives, and we often keep circling back round to the stupid notion that being a creative is a luxury and that we should be grateful when things that we do are funded, which is a toxic way of thinking. I believe creatives have an important role in society; lots of people have stable jobs that form the infrastructure around artists but the artists themselves (partly due to the nature of them working with multiple partners) never really get that stability. I have worked with lots of super supportive, amazing organisations and people over the last few years that have really cared about my practice and myself, which has been so good for me. I’ve had so much positive encouragement – and still am receiving it – from lots of these people. Everyone that I was due to work with is in conversation with me and have offered ways for me to continue working, which I’m really grateful for.
As I keep saying, it’s early days in all this and it’s nice to see some organisations offering support for artists to continue their practice at home. I know lots of organisations are in precarious positions at the moment, and everyone is at risk, so I understand that it’s tricky for everyone. As I mentioned earlier, I would like us to think about how we reach people that are always or often on ‘lockdown’, and not forget what restriction feels like.