by Christine Sloan Stoddard
Art-making is my coping mechanism. It is my routine and it is my religion. I continue with my practice during the pandemic because that is how I survive. It is how I connect with the mundane and the omnipotent. It is how I breathe and how I pray. Practically speaking, I have made modifications to my practice as it stood in early March 2020, but that is not so unusual. I am always making modifications. I adapt because resourcefulness allows me to keep creating. I scale up and back as I can or must due to my current life circumstances. Keeping the momentum going keeps my spirits up—and that keeps me alive. Periods of rest, while necessary, are not the same as stopping. More often than not, they are periods of thinking, dreaming, and researching. I value these things; they enable the making. Right now, I am using this homesteading era as a time to take action. I have good health and all I need materially speaking as I’m holed up. I might as well figure out how to tell the stories I want to tell and make the images I want to make. And then do it, as I have been and will continue to do as a writer and interdisciplinary artist.
The week before New York City’s shutdown, I was making 30”x30” watercolor paintings. Once the shutdown occurred, that size was no longer pragmatic. My art studio—which I can no longer access—welcomed that size; my home does not. I did not have the workspace or storage space in my Brooklyn apartment to sustain my 30”x30” output. So I rethought the size of my soon-to-be-made paintings. I shrank them down to 12”x9” so I could work at my kitchen table or in bed on a drawing board. Long days at home demanded flexibility. I didn’t want to glue myself to one spot in the apartment all day because it was the only one that could accommodate a 30”x30” piece of paper. Thus far, the adjusted size has suited my quarantine lifestyle. They are small but, in my view, mighty. A few of these paintings were recently featured in Terse Journal and Third Estate Art’s Quaranzine. I have even started printing the watercolor designs on face masks.
In the month before the shutdown, I was also shooting photo and video projects with others on location in Brooklyn. The Visible Poetry Project released one such film, Butterflies, toward the beginning of quarantine. Social distancing measures would not allow me to sustain my filmmaking practice as it stood. Now, all of my photo/video endeavors are done solo or through remote collaboration. Strangely, I had released my short film, Bottled, which is about one woman’s grief and isolation after the death of a loved one, as quarantine was just beginning. That was purely a coincidence. I could have made that film in quarantine because the production was so pared down. It was really just me. Musician Deniz Zeynep made the music entirely on her own and emailed me the file after we exchanged texts. The process for Bottled prepared me for what was to come. I have since resorted to solo shooting, acting in my own work, using stock footage, recording with my iPhone, and exchanging files with musicians and photographers to accomplish my filmmaking goals during quarantine. The first of these pieces, Artist in Quarantine, was written about in the Queens Chronicle. It features music by John Davis and additional photography by Deniz. John and I have made several music videos in the past month, but we haven’t met up once. Some favorites include May and Petey. Our video Spirituals features photography by Dmitriy Kosoy, who supplied all of his files over Google Drive.
The writing aspect of my practice has not changed since that was always a solitary activity without location-specific needs. Yet the publishing aspect of my writing has changed drastically because of quarantine. I was planning events for Her Plumage, Quail Bell Magazine’s new anthology, which I co-edited, and my new novelette, Naomi & The Reckoning. Now the events have been canceled or delayed. This is disappointing because anything I publish, I intend to have read. One of the ways to reach readers, even in the digital age, is through physical events. These events build community, too.
Creatively, that is what I miss most right now: in-person community. The emotional presence that comes from physical presence cannot be replicated online. We can still form connections in virtual spaces, but they’re different than the connections we form in physical spaces. I still think the virtual relationships are important; I just wish they weren’t the only ones we had right now (apart from those we have with people we live with.) I look forward to the day when we can return to in-person collaboration and celebration of creativity. Until then, I will keep creating, however I can.
Christine Sloan Stoddard is an author, artist, and the founder of Quail Bell Magazine. In addition to her aforementioned books, you can find her work in Ms. Magazine, Bustle, The Feminist Wire, Marie Claire, The Huffington Post, Yes! Magazine, Digital America, Native Peoples Magazine, and beyond. Her work has also appeared in the New York Transit Museum, the Queens Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Waveland Ground Zero Hurricane Museum, the Poe Museum, FiveMyles Gallery, The UnSpace Gallery, and elsewhere. Previously, she was the artist-in-residence at Annmarie Sculpture Garden-Smithsonian affiliate, the Brooklyn Public Library-Eastern Parkway Branch, Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, and other organizations.