jann haworth-artists

‘What are we for?’ on being an Artist during a Pandemic

This week we hear from Jann Haworth, who’s musings on being an artist in times of corona are tinged with melancholy, poetry, hope and homesickness. Haworth is a pioneer of soft sculpture often associated with the Pop Art Movement in the 1960s. She’s also the co-creator of The Beatles’ album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

“Why is it that we feel such sorrow at the thought of the canary or the pit pony in the coal mine? Why is it that artists are often compared with the former? And seldom with the latter – perhaps because we are noted for our singing, and the hard work of it is behind closed doors and in imagined ‘Ivory Towers’.

Yet, since spring last year we have in some ways been caged and had a counterfeit Ivory Towers in Lock-Down. We were left to find our own way up and round our Ivory cell made of bricks and mortar, and we were in fact, bewildered, scared and as ever low on funds. And certainly low on any certain future gigs, shows, lectures, commissions, workshops or other ways that we ply our trade.

Well, but we thought, “the perfect time for uninterrupted work”. “We artists are used to isolation in our creative callings”. We choose to live out on a limb for sure, as if by just saying that it accounts for us sitting on this thin branch way way above the dependable solid ground [saw in hand]. It’s the old ploy of inventing a logical explanation after an inexplicable event.

So, last March- the birds began to sing in a way they had never done before and we saw birds we had never seen in this part of town. No we didn’t, we just noticed them more. The sky got insanely blue. Yes it really really did and it was a total wonder. I want to give that blue as a name to a paint company – no scrap that – I want a paint company to pay me for giving them a name for their next blue paint: ‘Pandemic Blue’. And I would like to do a film to go with Jarman’s film ‘Blue’ titled ‘Pandemic Blue’. A Post-Script to the epidemic that took him.

March marched on-Birthday parties were re-invented on front lawns and sidewalks, holidays were taken in short walks, or long bike rides. Workshops were run on Zoom. Murals were made by email. Coffee shops moments ceased- bands in bars-ceased. Actors had no plays- radio plays were re-run from pre C-19 recordings. Christmas was 12 days of isolation for all those in the family who could isolate 12 days BEFORE Xmas. And on the back deck we shared Cinnamon Buns and hot chocolate and small hand-made gifts appeared out of Xmas sox on an unaccountably warm day for winter at 5000ft.

As we enter our 11th month of the world on pause- we begin to wonder what we are for? ARE we the fat of society or something important. If you silence the canary what then–? The French seem to agree that the Arts are essential, but there are essentials that must come first when a world has seized-up. Children need to be educated, the homeless need shelter, the hungry food, the sick medicine.

The natural world needs to be saved from destruction. I wonder am I an animal that is about to become extinct. A rare silver or perhaps blood red or pandemic blue canary—hoping that what I do, so irresponsibly, matters; that the live songs will be heard again; that the dancer will appear in the theatre, that the festival will happen in Edinburgh, that Sundance will again have its Film Festival. It’s not about money or fame… we always knew that it was about giving voice and singing the song of the animal-people. Why did I say that in the past tense?

– Jann Haworth 

Jann’s ‘Mannequin Defectors’ exhibition is on view at Gazelli Art House, London.
Exhibition: 3rd December, 2020 – 20th February, 2021

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