Time to rethink
Alexander Polzin explains how the current crisis offers the arts world – and society – the opportunity to get back to the essentials – if it chooses to take it
For someone who considers themselves mainly a sculptor and painter, the best place is the studio. Everything outside is a distraction, so this crisis takes me back to my roots. It’s ideal for concentrated work in the studio. With a second look, all the busyness and the things we think are necessary are really not so important. I’m here with my materials and things I’ve not had time to finish because of my stage projects, which are all on hold. I’ve been brought back and I’m enjoying it.
Everyone has to follow their own instincts, though. If you feel the urge to express your feelings in art, you should, but that’s more easily said than done. I see many people who are dealing with major fears and concerns now, and I can’t say, ‘Buy a canvas and paint away your fears.’
By coincidence, I’m working on two things that relate to our current situation. I’m trying to finish a sculpture of The Fates – the three women in Greek mythology who are responsible for the little thread of life – and I’m working on a painting series about lighthouses. Both ideas are relevant now, but I was always interested in them and the crisis gives me the reinforcement and energy to finish them.
‘I see so many interesting positive directions at the moment – if we choose to take them’
The crisis has the potential to help us look at what we’ve done wrong over the last couple of decades and rethink how we are as a society. I see so many interesting positive directions at the moment – if we choose to take them. However, I’m sceptical that we will take the opportunities that are being offered on a golden platter.
For example, we could question our business and go back to the essentials. Artists might stop flying between continents the whole time, thinking they need to in order to stay in work. For many, the most difficult thing in their lives is the coordination of their flight plan to play in three different continents in a short period of time. Is it a good idea to fly from Europe to Japan for three days to give a concert? Is it good for either the player or the environment? A local player from the region could take the concert and then there could be festivals where people from abroad could stay for a longer period, with more exchange of ideas.
‘I believe that live performance will survive – theatre didn’t die when cinema was invented – but these events will surely have an impact’
There has been an outpouring of music online. I’m curious about the impact this presence will have, and what kind of urge we will have to go to live performances again. Will that desire remain or are the possibilities of online experience creating a new genre, pushing live performance into a different corner? I believe that live performance will survive – theatre didn’t die when cinema was invented – but these events will surely have an impact and promoters will want to explore this kind of audience when the crisis is over.
I’m old school, though – I still need tactile experience. If you look at art on a flat screen it’s only an impotent version of the original. Even the modern technology of 3D glasses wouldn’t give you the same impact on your different senses. I doubt that those qualities can be replaced by online forms.
‘All the energy artists cannot give on stage is going directly into social media and it is very creative and interesting’
At the moment artists are even busier on social media because they have no other ways to communicate their art forms, so all the energy they cannot give on stage is going directly into social media and it is very creative and interesting. But normally, all the time we spend marketing on social media gives us less focus on doing what we should be creating. We are getting busier with things that take us away from the essentials, and we’ve become slaves to these communication tools. We are being trained to invent things that are eye-catching and can be described in three words, because no one will read more than that. This is very dangerous and sad because the complexity of life takes more than three words to describe. I think the crisis could also be a chance for everyone to ask, ‘Is this a good way to achieve what we actually want?’
The crisis could push us to the find these essentials. When people lose a parent or someone close for the first time, it’s an intense experience that normally brings them to question everything: ‘This is my first experience of life ending – what is really necessary and what do I want with this life?’ This could be a similar experience. And for me that is by definition close to what we do as artists, because making art should not be superficial or fashionable – it should raise questions about what really matters.
The Art of Being Human, with sets by Alexander Polzin and choreography by Sommer Ulrickson, was supposed to have been performed at Berlin's Boulez Saal in March, but was postponed due to Coronavirus. It will be rescheduled there in 2021.