Creativity Under Constraint

Emerging from lockdown, many of us might find that our memories are hazy, the events of the last 20 months blending together as we moved from one room to the next, and back again. For many of us, 2020 is a year that’s hard to remember at all. Beyond human reception to trauma, there’s a tangible reason for this blurring as our brains stop taking notes of our surroundings. As British economist Tim Harford notes: “Our brains seem to record a new place with a particular vividness. Even when a moment has nothing to do with place and everything to do with intellectual or emotional novelty, place still registers. A month of repeating the same routine might seem endless, but will be barely a blip in the memory: the ‘diffs’ are not significant enough for the brain to bother with.” (Financial Times, August 2020).

Despite this sense of stagnation, creativity thrives in constraints. California Museum of Photography celebrates this notion with an online exhibition, Art in the Plague Year. In this expansive show, subtitled There is Another World, But it is in this One, 55 photographers explore how the future leaks into the present – how we can use art to find new pathways beyond the physical. Douglas McCulloh, Senior Curator, notes: “What will emerge from a year of tumultuous events? How do we cross into a new future? 2020 was a year of beauty, pain and strangeness. Coronavirus laid bare societal inequities, racial rifts and economic injustices. Artists, meanwhile, did what they always do: respond, create, guide us into the future.” Art in the Plague Year is a testament to photography as a record, and also as an act of recovery.

Ongoing | Online

Image Credits:
1. Bootsy Holler, Deadman Cove – 0811.1949 (2020), courtesy of the artist and Virginia Visual Arts, London
2. Photo by Kate Warren