I wonder what you see when you look at the first image: butterfly ghosts perhaps, disappearing into the night. This picture was made by two adults with a disability whom I work with (‘artmakers’); Nat painted the background and Lucy printed the butterflies. The second image is by Amy, also an artmaker.
This last two weeks have been hard for me. I have been informed that the delightful arts and crafts centre where I work teaching art to adults with a disability is being closed for the foreseeable future and I am being made redundant. Needless to say, my job was so much more than a job – it was a vocation, and the people I worked with were my community: both staff and users. Over the years I have often complained about the centre for a variety of reasons not worth going into here: but there is a truth in the line from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi: ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone’.
XR are currently running a campaign called ‘No Going Back’. The idea is to remind us that, although there have been some very negative effects of the pandemic, we have also been given an opportunity to take stock, observe our lifestyles, and their effect both on our own health and the health of the planet. Many of us have realised that we don’t need to go abroad or even to the coast to enjoy ourselves, we have rediscovered our locality, we have slowed down and felt better as a result, we have found hobbies – as Grayson Perry’s Art Club demonstrates very well, we have realised that we can work from home, that we can live off one shop a week, we can make food from scratch, and from what we happen to have in the cupboard at the time. There has been less waste, less consumption, less pollution.
And yet: This week we opened the shops and huge queues formed. Have we not learned? Are we so desperate to get our fix, to sign ourselves up to capitalism again? Apparently we are doing our patriotic duty by buying things we have managed to live without for 3 months. I know that businesses need to survive, I know jobs are at stake – believe me, I know all about jobs being at stake: it is complex. But actually in lockdown local businesses mainly thrived because they were local. And most people didn’t go barefoot or naked: they had clothes and shoes. The whole system is geared to a throwaway culture.
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, when they are expelled from Eden, Eve mourns the lost opportunity to tend the soil “ O flowers, / That never will in other climate grow../ which I bred up with tender hand/From the first opening bud, and gave ye names,/ Who now shall rear ye to the sun, or water.” As another Joni Mitchell lyric says “we’ve gotta get ourselves back to the garden”. Let us remember what we have tended in lockdown, to treasure it, to learn from it and not to go back to how we were before. Just like butterflies that rely on wild flowers, love and beauty need gentle attention in order to survive.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What might be disappearing as lockdown eases?
- Are there some elements of lockdown you will miss?
- What might fly away if you do not feed it?
- What would you like to tend?
You will need paper, paint or food dye, scissors, pen or pencil
- fold your paper in half
- draw and cut outline as in diagram
- open out your paper again
- place dots of paint/dye on one half and refold
- press all over with your hands
- open to reveal the butterfly