Conversations in art about ecological collapse and our place in the changing world

These days. These estranging days. These weirding, wilding days. These eerie, shifting, shiftless, empty, full days.

As the centrifuge of distraction and busyness and consumer comfort has slowed (though it’s now doing its best to rev up again), we’ve succumbed to gravity. Time has become particular, particulate. Some moments are long, while entire days evaporate. Some moments feel saturated with meaning, others are devoid of any at all. And we are starting to pay attention.

These are days for art. For its provocations, consolations, revelations, and connections.

The pandemic has lifted a scrim. We suddenly have access to realities, deeper and wider than we might previously have imagined, or acknowledged. (Because the scrim, the helpful opacity.) How long this clarity portal is open, and what we do with what we have seen — in a way that sticks — remains to be seen. I wonder if we’re finally learning some empathy.

These are days for art. Art worries the edges of the portal, keeps the portal open.

For this unrecognizable world, and for the one we are careening toward (though I try not to be dark), we will need new stories. Art tells new stories, invents new forms.

Back at the beginning, when the streets went quiet, I craved meaning. I wanted shape, resonance, a recognizable frame for this plot twist. 

I haven’t been able to identify one, not yet. Mostly I feel inarticulate. I can’t recall words for things. I stumble, I am dumb. And bewildered. Delirious, at moments. And I’m grateful for it. I welcome the shattering. I want it to last, a little longer, as long as it takes. No more normal. It was a shit normal.

Art keeps things weird, keeps us estranged from the usual orthodoxies. And in the dissembling, it points to where things connect. It points to how everything is a manifestation of every other thing it connects to. 

Art amplifies what we are seeing, as if learning for the first time: the intersection between racial justice and ecological justice; who loses when others accumulate; how a supply chain works; who really is looking after us; what might matter after all. Art traces lines between causes and effects, it highlights nuances and intricacies. 

Art shatters. It offers up the shards that result for us to consider, in a new frame, in a new order, a story told in a new, or new-to-us language.

What an enormous, confusing, sad, wonderful, awful, generous gift this pandemic might turn out to be. If we want it to be. If we can reassemble with purpose. 

I don’t anymore want meaning, no neat story, not yet. I hope first and most for a period of bewilderment and discomfort. And may it last as long as it takes, for what we are seeing to take hold.

The story I crave, that I dream of now, is not a story we would have been satisfied with before. It contains subplots of less, and of stillness, and of profound humility. It might not even be recognizable as a story. It is a story some have been telling for a while. It’s not really about us

If only we pay attention. If only we worry the edges, keep the world seeming both strange and open. Because this time is not just odd and difficult and worrisome; it’s critical.

Bethany Gibson

One thought on “These Days

  1. You beautifully articulated, the inarticulate. Your observations are astute and powerful of, and in, this fucked crazy time. Everything internally and externally has been shattered. Not a bad thing, but at times, so painful and heavy with grief ….and moments of beauty and joy.

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