There is so much upheaval in the world right now; Matt Siber approached his Creative Quarantine for Esthetic Lens with his usual generosity, honesty, and spirit. We are fortunate enough to have been given access to a large sampling of work he has produced during the pandemic. We are happy to be able to share it with you today.
- How are you holding up?
Objectively, I’m doing just fine. My family is healthy, I have a home to live in, enough to eat, and I’m still employed. I also have my art practice to keep me sane, which I am enormously thankful for these days. I am dealing with a great deal of unknowns about the coming months. How far will SAIC get through their semester before having to go to full remote learning again? I’m teaching photographic lighting and printing this fall. I can’t realistically do either of those things remotely.
From a purely emotional level, I’m devastated. I can’t really describe it any further than that. I am so, so, so angry. My young daughters help mitigate my anger with their optimistic innocence. I try not to think too much about the future that awaits them. It’s too much for me to handle right now.
I am starting to grow “accustomed” to our new reality, but I can’t quite seem to shake that constant feeling of dread, despair and disappointment. I received a BA in history and geography before embarking on my MFA degree. This background gives me a great deal of context for our current situation (perhaps too much context). I am more concerned about authoritarianism right now than I am the pandemic. My father was born in Germany in 1944 at the peak of World War Two. His birth certificate has swastikas on it. My grandparents have told me about totalitarianism since I was a kid, but I always dismissed their gentle warnings. My wife and I are making sure we don’t get stuck in a terrible situation like my grandparents did. My grandfather tried to leave Germany in the late ‘30s but was too late and couldn’t get out. I received my Canadian passport this summer and now hold two passports. I was born in Chicago to Canadian parents, which affords me dual citizenship. With family in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, we have some options if things get worse after the election.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work?
My practice examines constructed space as it relates to capitalism and consumerism. My last big exhibition, Idol Structures, was at the DePaul Art Museum at the end of 2015. I had an exhibition scheduled at Ignition Project Space in Chicago for October of 2020, but the gallery had to end its exhibitions for the year back in May. I am currently rescheduled for March, 2021, but that may also be in question depending on how things go. This exhibition was conceived as an installation using space, photographs, light, and objects. So much has changed since I first conceived this exhibition idea that I may need to reconsider a number of aspects of it. Or not. Who the hell knows? This exhibition draws connections between the self; consumerism and its structures; the American mythos and its structures; and systems of representation.
The most important effect the pandemic has had on my work is its role in keeping me sane. I’ve made a great deal of work without any aspirations toward exhibition or publication. These projects have given me a creative outlet without the usual pressures of the professional art world. They reflect my way of processing this time period.
The pandemic has elicited a flurry of work out of me that I would never have made if we hadn’t experienced this major disruption. I wonder how this work will look a decade from now with some context.
3. Is there anything I’ve added to my practice that I’d like to keep?
I like how this period has loosened up my practice. I will always continue the focused, concentrated pursuits of my main artistic practice, but I’m now feeling more flexibility in what I am willing to do. Not everything has to be a long-term investigation artistically. I’m far more open to one-off outlier ideas now. As my children get older and I start to regain control of my time, I hope that I continue to allow myself to follow the odd creative paths that present themselves at unique moments.
This is also the first time in my career where I’ve deliberately and consciously used art as a coping mechanism. I’m sure I was doing this before, but never with therapy as the objective.
4. Who is handling this well?
Like most of us, I am not directly connected to any of my colleagues these days. I can only answer this question based on what I’m seeing on social media. So, this comes with the caveat that I am basing this on the work that the artist is producing, which may or may not be evidence that they are “handling this well.” There are two artists that immediately come to mind.
Aimee Beaubien continues to rock; pandemic be damned. She is regularly posting her wonderful sculptural photographic installations that are always such an inspiration to me during these very dark times. Not only is she continuing to produce work at a blistering pace, she is making excellent work that is perhaps even more relevant under pandemic conditions than it was before this all happened.
My absolute favorite COVID project thus far is from Iris Bernblum. Very early on in the pandemic, she started making monochrome watercolor paintings based on nude photographs she solicited from her fellow artists. I love these so much!! I know on a personal level that Iris is struggling like the rest of us to cope with our new reality. This project is a way for her to do that, and it is brilliant. The project speaks directly to the distancing conditions under COVID. There is trust between fellow humans and an acknowledgment of vulnerability. Iris honors and repays that trust with her beautifully engaging paintings that make me think of the complexities of human social interaction; our societal pact; and self-representation.
Matt Siber is a dad, artist, and educator living in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. His multi-disciplinary art practice employs photography, digital imaging, sculpture, and installation to address issues of consumerism and late Capitalism. His work has been published, collected, and exhibited nationally and internationally. Matt is an Assistant Professor, Adjunct in the Photography Department of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he has taught since 2010.
His 2020 Meditations Gallery for Esthetic Lens can be found here.