I planned to spend 1 month in the UK, arriving in early March 2020, to host an art project, The Body Room, in London. As the COVID-19 situation has unfolded, I stayed and it has been almost 5 months now. As I get ready to return to Valencia in a few days time, I thought I’d make a tally of all the new and unexpected ways I’ve engaged in art during the lockdown. In a rough chronological order, it goes like this .. read along and see how many you recognise too!
001 Cancelling an art show/residency due to COVID-19
We opened The Body Room on the 10th of March 2020, the UK debut for this social art project. We were kindly hosted by The New Earth Art School in an amazing space in the middle of Peckham. It was supposed to be a 2 week residency, and we were fully booked with guests keen to experience an hour in The Body Room.
During our first week we found ways to make The Body Room as COVID safe as possible. Given it is an inherently private, one-woman-in-a-space-alone experience, it’s almost the embodiment of social distancing, with added paint! And in addition to this we bought industrial quantities of disinfectant, gloves, soap etc. Between guests we wiped down every single marker pen, paintbrush and surface etc. Yes, even sticks of chalk and charcoal – things I never imagined to do! But it was utterly worth it to know that we were providing a safe environment for each and everyone of our guests.
As we reached the weekend of the 15th of March, anxiety levels in the UK were rising. Lots of things were closing and Spain, where myself and Emma Shapiro, my project co-creator normally live, announced it was soon to be closing its borders. We realised that we had been lucky to have such a positive and successful first week of guest appointments. We didn’t want to put any guests at risk or push our luck, so sadly we cancelled the second week of our residency.
002 Monthly artists meetings move online
I’m part of a wonderful collective of female artists based in Valencia, Spain. We tend to meet once a month to discuss a topic. In normal times, this is in a café or bar, with a glass of wine in hand. As the world entered lockdown, it was wonderful to meet on screen. To share an artist’s work related to the month’s theme. To feel that this community had strength and endurance even in the most unsociable times.
Our first lockdown topic was ‘nostalgia’, our second was ‘windows’ , our third was ‘masks’. You can read more about our collective Colonia Roma over on our website and we’ve even started to keep an archive of our meetings.
003 Assisted artist Tina McCallan with her online Re-Creations
Tina McCallan has been creating wonderful re-creations of old masters’ works with the public for a number of years. She takes a famous painting and divides it into small squares and invites members of the public to paint a square each. Until the lockdown, she’d always conducted these in person, in galleries or festivals. I helped her navigate and bring to life not one, but two ‘Isolation Recreations’.
The first was Lady with a Unicorn, by Raphael and the second was El Oido by Miguel March, hosted in collaboration with the Museo de Bellas Artes in Valencia. Across the two re-creations, over 200 people took part and we had some really wonderful feedback. The vast majority of participants had no previous artistic experience, yet through this project were able to engage and connect with the world of art, at such a difficult time.
004 Helped artist Tanya Heidrich get her Newsletter Running
Tanya Heidrich, otherwise known as @Stillonoir on instagram is an amazing surface pattern designer. She specialises in the world of black and white pattern and has a pretty hefty following on Instagram. As the world was going into lockdown, she realised making her patterns available as colouring sheets to her fans was a positive thing she could offer to those struggling with lockdown.
My previous career involved a hefty amount of e-commerce, email and general online experience, so I was thrilled to be able to help Tanya figure out how to get started in this world. You can sign up for her snazzy newsletter here
005 Walks in the nearby countryside
Barely saw anybody in 3D besides by parents and the neighbours. Started going on walks in the countryside. Figuring out the paths and trying not to get losts Would make tiny drawings in my pocket-sized sketchbook. Mostly walking, less drawing …
006 Online art class with Resort Studios in Margate
I love Margate so when I spotted Resort Studios, based in Margate, offering an online evening art group, of course I signed up. It was called Sound & Vision and hosted by the lovely Lilias Buchanan. She brought together a different musician and artist to inspire us in each week’s class.
I noticed how much I liked interacting with people I didn’t know. By this point, several weeks into lockdown, I was missing that feeling of meeting new people. I set myself the goal of trying to make some new friends during lockdown! Easier said than done .. more on that later
007 Started building a shed/studio space in the garden
Over a few weeks, together with my Dad, we built a shed/studio space at the bottom of the garden. Carpets and comfy houses are lovely, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re quite inhibiting to making art. Particularly lovely cream coloured carpets …
The shed-studio was basic with a rough dusty floor and plywood walls. Perfect for getting stuck into things
008 Followed Keith Tyson’s online painting lessons
Now I had some messy space, it was time for painting with oils! I’m very new to oils, so I was thrilled to see Keith Tyson’s lockdown painting lessons. I loved hearing his non-fussy, hands-on philosophy of painting.
He based the lessons around painting a vase of flowers – constructed from your own imagination, source material and explorations on the canvas in paint. In 2019 I’d seen his wonderful show of paintings of vases of flowers in all different styles at Hauser and Wirth in London. So how wonderful to try recreating something from my own mind, inspired by his work.
Like any good lockdown project, the painting remains unfinished.. I took it down in the studio-shed, in order to do this …
009 Hang an art-show via video-call
With a newly constructed art-space/shed, it was time to re-engage with The Body Room in lockdown. Guests at The Body Room have the option to donate a piece of any work they make to the project. So my co-creator, Emma and I decided it was time to get them all out together and see what they told us as whole. And seeing as I was in the UK and Emma was back in Spain, we naturally did this via a mammoth 6-hour long video-call!
I unwrapped each carefully stashed piece, showed it to the camera so Emma could see it. Then I’d hang it on the wall and we’d both consider how it looked. Rearrange, move and change, until we had a beautiful flow and rhythm bringing together all of our guests wonderful pieces. We were bowled over by how powerful it looked as a whole! It really seems to say something about the experience of being a woman in London, and something that doesn’t come to the surface so easily in other ways.
The only downside to the the whole thing was it was only me who was going up and down the ladder, and I felt in my legs the next day. Oh and all the video footage has a lot of my backside, with various bits of masking tape stuck all over me.
But on balance it looked kick-ass, and in fact so much so, it lead on to ….
010 An Instagram Live Show and Q&A
Naturally now we had all of The Body Room work beautifully displayed in the art space/shed, the next logical step was to share it with the world via Instagram. And not just your regular post, we decided to hit the heady heights of an Instagram Live event.
It was amazing to share the work from The Body Room in Peckham with the world. Lots of our guests and followers tuned in, as we shared the visual work, quotes from guests and answered questions about the project.
011 I started writing a novel …
Another lockdown cliché, but I’d reached the point where I saw so few people IRL, the novelty of video-chats with friends had worn off and I was definitely out of news, so yeah I started to write a novel. I thought I’d go spend some time with these new people, even if they were fictional characters and try figure out what they’d get up to.
I’m two chapters in and have a vague super-natural adventure plot sketched out. But then along came the next thing .. so it’s currently on hiatus, pending any future lockdowns!
012 A term of serious drawing
I signed up for a term of online drawing classes with The Royal Drawing School in London. This is the most formal art study I’ve done since my art GCSE a really flipping longtime ago. And it was brilliant – suddenly my lockdown had a sense of structure and purpose and it was all centred around art. The teaching was via Zoom, 3 days a week, from 10am to 5pm, and I did a hefty amount of ‘homework’ in between class days as well. Definitely no headspace left for writing novels!
It turns out online teaching can be done pretty well. It’s a great format for showing examples of artists’ work, as a class we uploaded and shared the drawings we made during the day and I am now well-versed in the world of Zoom breakout rooms. The biggest downside is not being able to easily chat and get to know others in the class. All those little moments before and after a class, or even just making work alongside others. It’s just a bit tricky when there are mostly 20 faces on screen! But that said it did feel like a class as the weeks went on .. and bottom-line is, the awful lockdown situation made it possible for me to study at this art school. So a major silver lining!
013 Meeting for a cup of tea online
And I even managed to meet for cup of tea online with a few of my classmates outside of class! Yay to making friends in the online world!
014 Celebrating the Summer Solstice
As the Summer Solstice arrived, I felt this real need to mark it in some way. Not a feeling I’ve previously had. I think it was connected to having spent so much time, mostly walking in nature, and become more aware of the earth’s rhythms.
I made some decorations to hang in the trees, daubed with colourful paint. As I made these in the long light of the afternoon, it felt almost magical. As if by daubing these coloured spots on spirals cut from cereal boxes, I was somehow imbuing them with magical powers. They became significant, more than the some of their parts in that moment. I felt connected to the generations past, who had lived in this land, sustained by it and the movements of the sun. Who would have celebrated the summer and winter solstice too, with ritual and merriment and gratitude.
015 Great online lectures
I’ve watched some great live, online classes and lectures. My favourite was a talk by Whitechapel Gallery curator Laura Smith and artist Lucy Stein, all about an exhibition centred around Virginia Woolf at the Tate St Ives.
016 Visiting a gallery post-COVID
I visited the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate on the day it opened and have also been up to visit the National Gallery in London. Both were well-organised, with masks and rules and one-way systems, but despite all that it felt like a delicious luxury to look at other people’s art, in real life. To walk around it, to feel it around me, to see where its thoughts may take me. I’d missed it so much!
017 Hosting an online Body Creativity workshop
And several months on, with the real-world still a distant dream for so many art projects, the next development for The Body Room was to host an online workshop. We called it ‘Body Creativity’ and it was inspired by the experience we offer our guests in The Body Room.
We decided to host the workshop via Zoom, with guests’ cameras off, to mirror the privacy at a normal Body Room appointment. We designed a series of exercises to lead our participants through that would connect them to their creativity and their body. And that would only require materials that could be easily found around the home.
We joined forces with the wonderful group Women of Brixton, to host the event and were thrilled to have women participate from around the UK, Europe and worldwide!
018 A lot of drawing in the countryside
For several months I walked various paths in and around the fields and woods. During the term of formal study, I’d often walk after class and maybe sometimes also draw too. After I finished the term, I went out drawing most days, often for several hours at a time. Over the months I feel like I’ve come to know the land and trees in a really significant way. I feel so at home in them, I know them and I’m going to miss them. I feel so lucky to have had this time here.
I might try and count how many drawings I’ve made of the countryside, I think it’s easily north of 100…