June 19, 2020
We do this dance don’t we? The rhythms of our daily lives unfold in much the same way each day; fluctuations in tea drinking, work load and chore. Then BAM, KAPOW and AIIEEE, COVID-19 strikes and even the greatest superheroes amongst our modern day icons, are laid low and left vulnerable. With our worlds collapsing before our eyes we are left incredulous at how fragile our lives truly are and our points of reference for recovery from life’s usual hiccoughs disintegrate at an alarming rate. We are left with only ourselves, rootling around trying to find a way through the undergrowth of our own existence.
During these existential infusions of insanity, the tendency of our collective memory when the present fails us, is to look back and gain succour from the wisdom of the past: life-tested methods of survival. I looked back to a quote I came across recently by Viktor Emil Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Three of his lectures were published in a book called ‘Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything’. In it, he states, ‘Everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there is… each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.’
Action then… and not mere words, gave me positive forward motion…
The Scottish Artists Union is the representative voice for visual and applied artists in Scotland and one of the largest arts membership organisations in the country. I am proud to say that I am a member and so armed with this profound thought from Frankl and with access to the union via online means, I decided to brave the world of Zoom. No, not another Batman reference but an online platform for the Scottish Artists Union; utilising the internet to support their members. The ‘meet-ups’ happen each Thursday morning at the palatable hour of 10 am. They have become one of the highlights of my week. I have gone from being one of the ‘terrified’, using every method within my grasp to avoid being seen in a video chat forum, to gliding through ‘thumbs up’ exchanges with the best of them.
A mix of relaxed chat, peer review sessions and a training platform for the curious, these meet-ups provide solace and hope in the topsy-turvy world that is lockdown. With funding streams and income suddenly disappearing, creatives being asked to add to their ever increasing load: free exchange of passion, experience and knowledge for ‘even more exposure during these troubled times’, support and training becomes an essential prerequisite to survival.
In terms of training thus far, there has been free instruction on how to host workshops online with Tripod Training. They work with grassroots collectives, campaigning groups, co-operatives, community groups and charities to help them become more effective and sustainable. Tripod also offer training, meeting facilitation and conflict mediation amongst other things, and having attended their session, I can also attest that they are thoroughly nice people.
Additionally, we have had Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Arts at Creative Scotland, join our meet-ups. Amanda listened to member concerns, dispelled some of the myths and mysteries around funding applications and gave us information about changes to the Open Fund.
Copyright Law for Artists was the first online webinar provided by Scottish Artists Union and it offered ‘insight into the understanding of copyright law and its applications for creators’. Yes, I know, not the most exciting topic, but this subject is significant to any professional artist or craft maker, whether they are selling original work or dealing with reproduction rights.
The webinar was hosted by Kirsten Body, Highlands & Islands Learning Organiser and delivered by Philip Hannay, Managing Director of Cloch Solicitors. The aim was to unravell the ‘ever evolving and often confusing legal issues involved in the business of being an artist who makes and sells original artworks’, online or otherwise. Orlando Lloyd, a freelance designer and lecturer, also discussed practical issues to protect images and Gordon Dickson, Finance and Project’s Manager discussed the work being done to look at contracts for artists. All in all, a complex subject was made accessible and links were provided to offer further assistance beyond the session.
Of course the Scottish Artists Union offer many services and I cannot stress highly enough, the benefits of having a membership with them: artist’s insurance, training, legal advice to name but a few. With lockdown and all that is COVID-19 however, a sense of community is one of most valuable aspects of being a member. It turns out that the ‘representative voice’ that I mentioned earlier is also good at providing a platform for listening too. A good number of us pop up on each other’s screens, strangers now in distance only, and we all listen to each other. We share our stories, offer small tokens of support and advice for surviving battles large and small and generally appreciate other human contact.
So, my parting words are this: some of us will survive lockdown by reading, some us by using humour, some of us will work on that project that we didn’t ever have time to get to and some of us by simply sitting in a corner, rocking in quiet contemplation. I will get through this lockdown because one day I decided to be brave and reach out for my laptop to join a meeting online.
Lar MacGregor is based in the Highlands and graduated from the Contemporary Art & Contextualised Practice BA(hons) at Inverness College UHI in 2018. She is currently a member of the artists studio collective Caladar Arts and regularly facilitates workshops for WEA. Lar has a participatory practice focussed on walking with people, to create a range of work from photography and sculpture to writing. Her writing has been featured in the 'Art North' magazine, the 'Critical Moss, Art Beyond the Metropolitan Bubble' publication as well as in Walking Art/Walking Aesthetic - Interartive, a platform for contemporary art and thought. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Lar's work has been presented online as part of the 'Landscape of Place' exhibition at An Talla Solais, Ullapool and 'Splendid Isolation' at Inverness Museum & Art Gallery.
You can see more of her work here: https://larmacgregor.com
Image: 'Leaf Litter' (detail), Lar MacGregor, copper, 2020 (photo credit: courtesy of the artist)