Departure Lounge Luton
East England

For any artist with direct public interaction at the core of their creative activity, lockdown and beyond has been a particularly challenging time. Many a ‘good to go’ funded project, built on a foundation of face to face dialogue had the pause button abruptly pressed. Whilst certain ‘process’ based artists cracked on with an accidental time gift, those dwelling in the dialogic world experienced a strange hiatus in their modus operandi and were left pondering how best to regroup.

Adaptation has always been the key to survival, and failure to recognise this has killed off many an artist’s career. But few of us outside the scientific sector were clued into how sudden a system shock was lurking round the corner. This is a tale of how one artist Idit Elia Nathan adapted and ‘grasped the nettle’ with an impressive speculative spirit, entering hitherto uncharted waters.

Originally conceived as a face to face project, Idit planned to turn up in public spaces with a model of a house to prompt public dialogue, exploring the notion of home and what it meant to those she encountered in Luton. This would then generate outcomes for the gallery space. So far so good till Covid19 reared its ugly face. Faced with lockdown and the prohibition of physical encounter, she quickly managed to evolve three fresh strands of ‘remotely’ engaged work. Converting this public domain and ‘in gallery’ show into a gallery window project, a digitally viewed/engaged platform and telephonic interface.

The first of these utilises the shop window space of the closed gallery. Featuring two web cams and a monitor, various and changing hand written messages were placed on a chair in her living space at home in Cambridge to be shared online and via an out facing screen in the shop window in Luton. Typically open ended and expansive in their nature, phrases like ‘Freedom to disrupt’ or ‘Watching stars collide’ and ‘Let’s not forget the bigger picture’ reaching out in a small, subtle, yet poignant way to the passing world amidst these strangest of times. Also shown on the Departure Lounge website, side by side an outfacing web cam shared images of Bute Street, Luton and random passers-by, the image updating every 10 seconds.

The second piece ‘Phone Home’ comprised two elements. A hanging mobile, made up from discarded picture phone cards viewable from the street, which serve as a playfully curious reminder of the ever changing world of communication technology. And a Freephone 0800 number, which you could call and listen to any of four recorded short stories relating to the notion of home, spoken by Idit herself, Andy Kingston, Ali Smith and Sarah Wood. Radio 4 in flavour, there was something comforting about being read to, albeit down the phone, something that takes you right back to being a child. The story as read by Idit, weaves a charming set of overheard neighbour conversations, eavesdropped by the involved narrator. You could also leave a recording of your own story. Again fragmentary in nature they offer a glimpse into other worlds whilst resisting closure of meaning. The very act of phoning home, for me, always felt disarming. A call motivated by a mix of guilt, duty and yearning. This piece pertinently touches on the exacerbated, recent need to reach out and communicate with friends and family but also the emptiness felt during many a zoom call during lockdown.

The final work offered, is ‘Blind spot Drawings’ where the artist devised a series of online prompts which were posted. Nine drawings were then made, inspired by responses to the prompts. The original drawn images were then concealed with scribble lines as a strategy to encourage the viewer to look harder and longer to unravel. This notion of what we see, what is hidden, and what is there to be found if we choose to look, is again timely when it comes to how we experienced the world under lockdown. Titles like ‘Horded Objects Route’, ‘Toy Truck at Bottom of Stairs’ and ‘Ducks by Back Door’ emphasise the oft banality of everyday items, when considered against the ‘bigger picture’ as referenced in the aforementioned web cam work. Available to view online and download and colour in, this body of work had interactivity at its core.

When ‘viewing’ an art project based on a process of ‘remotely’ harvested dialogue, and fragmented distribution, it is arguably pointless to attempt to form a holistic ‘aesthetic’ overview, particularly due to the technologically compartmentalised nature of the three composite strands. That said, the very nature of the everyday life and home itself has undergone a radical sense of disruption, creating an overarching semantic logic to this body of work which holds it together. It is important to note, for many, whether as economic migrants, refugees or people living on the streets (all a part of Luton’s demographic tapestry), ‘fragmented’ or ‘compartmentalised’ was already very much a living norm, indeed the artist refers to this in an informative youtube discussion.

Looking on remotely, I am wholly impressed through her speculative adaptation and re-configuration, she has chosen to reform and redefine her parameters and take on a whole new bag of tricks to make this happen. As the saying goes ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and this project exemplifies this spirit.

This writing was Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artists Information Company and Arts Council England. It is the fourth in a series of five ‘reviews’ on shows cancelled, postponed or impacted by Covid 19