Published  16/04/2020

The impact of Covid-19 on artists, part 4: artistic responses to the coronavirus and the prescient zeitgeist

The impact of Covid-19 on artists, part 4: artistic responses to the coronavirus and the prescient zeitgeist

In the fourth instalment of this five-part essay, comprising conversations with artists around the world, we look at the work artists have made in response to the coronavirus, and the prescient zeitgeist

Part 1: The effect of cancellations of exhibitions and fairs
Part 2: Self-isolation, moving online and financial implications
Part 3: Building communities and finding inner resilience


Unsurprisingly, a lot of art is already beginning to be produced in direct response to the coronavirus. Anita Glesta (b1958, New York) began working on a new film piece, Corona Butterfly, even before New York City – or the rest of the world – was in its current state. In her work, the virus is depicted as an insect or bug that enters and flies through organs in the human body.

Anita Glesta, Corona Butterfly, 2020. © the artist.

“The butterfly isn’t beautiful or ugly,” she says, “but it is clearly a presence foreign to the body. It ends its journey in the lungs. I hope that with the juxtaposition of the beauty of the musical passage from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 5 Opus 23 and the lightness of the flight of the butterfly, despite the gravity of its meaning, this work illuminates the paradoxical experience of our shared humanity during this quite terrifying time of crisis.”
In a different vein, the artist and author Douglas Park (b1972, Guildford, UK) penned the following “written artwork”:


At any, some or the place and time or other during eternity or thereabouts. Quarantined, hiding-away and unknown-about top-secrecy. Genetics laboratories, where operating under house-arrest conditions, unsolvable-mystery powers and special-agents proceed; creators, who plot, develop and breed homegrown formulas. Their ultimate supreme achievement. Injury, disease, wounding, infection and symptoms. Medicine, treatment, healing, cure and health. Altogether, force joined, hybrid. Superstrain, invincible, omnipotence. Ready, freedom, breakout, loose, widespread, enforcement. Only minus flesh & blood target, prey, host and patient. Deficit made up for by mutating and evolution, until orificial, limbed and bodily lifeforms; complete with will, charisma, ability and action. Next, they multiply into team, cast, crew, crowd scenes, mob rule and populace. Just infinite emptiness surrounds them; absolutely no physical habitat, checkable address or fixed abode, whatsoever. More help and improvement needed and possible: geology, terrain and water expanse manufacture; property development and real estate farming and harvest; ambiance, climate and weather supply, services and regime; etc, etc, etc. Mutual irresistibly reinforced magnetic attractiveness enables every single premises, neighbourhood and landmass to dislodge, uproot and eject, forcible launch, projectile take and lift off. All-aboard are full occupant, personnel and passerby inmate membership, household contents freight cargo load and entire animal & plant species & genera. Maximum-speed ahead. Before imminent yet still preventable collision, heavy-duty industrial strength brakes slam so strong and loud enough that impact and noise turns solid. But too late! Inevitable eclipse against each other; crashlanding; shipwrecked; then pileup; multi-storey, high-rise, skyscraper and mountainous. No hands rescued or escaping off-deck. Anyway, safety was long-since abolished, illegal and extinct. Although salvage never claimed or looting possible. Opposing chemicals overreact. Detonated volcano erupts. However, always-dormant fever, plague, epidemic and wellness survive onwards. Whilst hardcore, rubble, organic soft tissue and biological cells self-divide down below very last atom. Fatalities, soon recycled, brought straight back from death, newborn again. Ectoplasmokestack. Poltergeistormcloud. Rain, snow, thunder and electrocution. Grand-rapids cascade air-raid bombing drop attack. Tidal wave deluge inferno. Subsequently, fireworks garden, blossoming flower live stage show act, stars ventriloquist flamethrowers main-attraction. Astral-constellation carnival. Festive solar-system. Celebratory cosmos. Rawness Pleasure Severe + Purity Joy Immortal = Bless Miracle & Salvation Celestial …
© Douglas Park, 2020

Susie Hamilton, sketch from Metamorphoses series, 2020. Acrylic and pencil on paper, 29 x 21 cm. © the artist.

Susie Hamilton (b1950, London), whose work frequently draws on poetry, is working, not directly on a response to the coronavirus, but is producing a large sketchbook of drawings and text relating to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, focusing her thoughts on (often) unpleasant events in another era and in the realm of myth.

Gill Nicholas COVID-19, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 100 cm. © the artist.

Gill Nicholas (b1972, Bury, UK) has produced a painting specifically entitled Covid-19. As for Glesta, she says: “The initial idea was how beautiful the virus is, in direct opposition with the devastating harm it can do. I wanted the shape of the virus to play a main part in the painting. The middle section, with empty shelves, unravelling toilet roll, empty tissue boxes and hand sanitiser are there to show the ensuing chaos that has been brought to our lives by the arrival of the virus. The toilet rolls are unravelling to show how society is unravelling as the disease progresses.”

Perdita Sinclair, Wave Tower, 2020. Oil on canvas, 165 x 80 cm. © the artist.

There seems, too, to have been something in the zeitgeist for quite a while. Perdita Sinclair (b1978, Surrey, UK) has been working on quantum physics – and, in particular, Schrödinger’s equation – for the past few years, looking at the representation of multiple states of being at once. She says of the current situation: “Art feels irrelevant but incredibly poignant all at once.”

Aleksandra Karpowicz. October! Collective, still from Obsolete, 2020. © the artist.

Aleksandra Karpowicz (b1984, Warsaw) recently took part in a live performance, Obsolete, as part of October! Collective, at Bargehouse, London. The piece explores the transcendence of our biological forms, with our flesh being upgraded into a post-human state – like robots with consciousness.

Marcelle Hanselaar. Nobody is innocent anymore, 2013. Etching, collage, mixed media, 50 x 40 cm, paper 70 x 56 cm. © the artist.

Marcelle Hanselaar (b1945, Rotterdam) says: “I have often made dystopian images about crowd behaviour or living in a lawless state and I see and experience some of those things now. It is quietly unsettling.”

Click on the pictures below to enlarge

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