COVID-19 Crisis Blog: Art in a Time of Pandemic Jogging in Lipstick
1 April 2020 - As we navigate a national and global public health crisis with the spread of Covid-19 Coronavirus, we hear from our research and policy fellows, and members of our research community in a new weekly blog which reflects on these new societal challenges. In this week's blog, Rita Duffy, Belfast-based artist and currrent Artist in Residence at the Trinity Long Room Hub shares a selection of her latest works in response to the pandemic and some survival mechanisms.
Rita Duffy, Artist in Residence at the Trinity Long Room Hub
It is indeed the strangest of times. I had been working as a visiting fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub in Dublin, provoking and disrupting the 'southern comfort' zone, back when borders and Brexit all seemed very important. Then, wham, from beyond our wildest sci-fi imaginings came the virus!
I wander through the computer looking at news reports and press photographs; interviews seemed too jarring and voices on Twitter said the same things over and over. My phone is pinging with images and effort-filled humour that occasionally hold me in wonderment at human ingenuity.
I take time to settle my early morning thoughts, just looking out the bedroom window and the cherry tree in full glorious splendour, a tangle of branches and all the small pink blossoms waiting to burst forth. The Dublin sky seems bluer and the day ahead more plausible after my short visual meditation.
Back to the computer, avoiding the fear-filled news reports, I find myself on Ebay. A ‘Jigsaw’ dress with an oriental print hangs on the back of a stranger's door. It's beautiful. A summer frock that I imagine wearing, walking the beach on a warm July afternoon, not a care in the world. I buy it, and then recognise the cherry blossom print on cream silk as a manifestation of the tree outside my bedroom window. My purchase of a pre-owned garment is an act of hope.
Most of the time, I’ve been working away here trying to make sense of the new normal. Drawing my way through the fear and uncertainty, anchored firmly to the drawing board. It's all I can really do to make sense of what I am living through, waiting for the big waves to hit. Home baking is improving; we make food and deliver home made pizza wrapped in tinfoil to the doorsteps of neighbours. The nourishment of friends is essential. My sons have been digging in dark Fermanagh soil, they have sown a multitude of crops. I am reassured no one will starve and proud of their industry and practicality.
I’ve taken to jogging on a daily basis. I put on lipstick before I go out, I’m not a natural runner but I must survive. I am advised it's good for my mental health to exercise. I go out and turn left on a route that takes me down to the Memorial Park. This park contains an extensive monument to the dead of the First World War; designed by Lutyens, it is a well ordered quiet place. I pace myself and try to forget my feet as I struggle round the circular garden. I pretend it's my grandfather’s pocket watch and he is watching me from his grave in the Somme. I stop for breath and observe the magnificent beauty of a magnolia tree about to bloom, a granite orb is held effortlessly amidst its branches, countering the image in my head of our planet, stone heavy with fear. Enjoying every excuse to stop, i’ve begun to take note of the discarded plastic gloves I see on the ground. They form a silent sign language spelling out some collective message. The peeled off plastic holds a memory of hands, cauterised social encounters with fingers inverted pale and accusing. Strangers pass me at a ‘safe’ recommended distance. Some people wear masks, cautious and untrusting. I can’t read facial expressions hidden behind the breathing muzzle, we are all of us capable of biting.
Rita Duffy is artist in residence at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Institute for spring 2020. Born in Belfast, she is one of Northern Ireland's groundbreaking artists who began her work concentrating primarily on the figurative/narrative tradition. Her art is often autobiographical, including themes and images of Irish identity, history and politics. Rita Duffy’s work has grown and evolved but remains intensely personal with overtones of the surreal. Homage is paid to the language of magic realism and always there is exquisite crafting of materials. She has initiated several major collaborative art projects and was made an Honorary Member of the R.S.U.A. for her developmental work within the built environment. She is an associate at the Goldsmiths College, London and is currently working on an artistic exchange with Argentina and N. Ireland, looking at the role art has in post-conflict societies. She was elected to Aosdana in 2017. Read about Rita's Raft Project at the Trinity Long Room Hub here.
To read last week's blog by policy fellow Mary Doyle, click here.