Artist Aimeé Beaubien discusses how she has been using her time during the pandemic and the creative work that has come out of it. She shares some of her favorite resources and artists that have been keeping her inspired and energized during this time.
1. How are you holding up?
I’m holding on.
I continue to experiment with different ways to wrangle ambiguity amidst such profound turbulence.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
The beginning of the pandemic felt piercingly eerie. My last walk through our school hallways brought back palpable memories of being in the same exact physical space as a student in the early days of the AIDS epidemic when so much was frighteningly unknown.
Things are definitely shifting. After 23 consecutive years of teaching, I am on my very first sabbatical. I haven’t had time to myself like this since graduate school in 1991. A sabbatical feels like the most precious gift that I do not want to squander. Every day I wake up with raw questions about what I am doing. Everything feels intensified in our current conditions. If I experience any sense of immobility I concentrate on advice I might give to a student. That usually manages to shake things loose and then I get to work.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
Before, in a race to keep up with demands split between teaching and making, my thoughts were continuously interrupted. Now, while so many things are suspended there is more time than ever to think.
Over the summer I built an immersive installation at 062 Gallery. A friend visited and to my delight, they immediately responded to the balance of grace and threat. For some time, I have been looking closely at plant movements in my immediate environment while also photographing the ever-changing conditions in my studio as plants dry and projects grow. One day a vine began growing near me and I have since tracked its voracious progress around the garage and along the side of our home. I am mesmerized by this vines steadfast embrace of all that it encounters and have modeled forms of creating after the various ways that vines touch their surroundings. Vines move with grace and threaten what they encounter with strangleholds meant to further their reach.
My husband cut that vine at its base in order to replace rotting wood around our garage. I pulled down nearly 30 feet of continuous vine and stretched it through the exhibition space at 062. Everything grew from that first move. I just dismantled my summer’s installation, rooted-looping-scrambling-rambling-tangling-twining-tendrils, less than 24 hours ago and have already headed into deep reflection as I anticipate new directions. Moving forward I hope to hold onto time for thinking and discovering greater connections.
4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?
Jenny Drumgoole continues to blow me away! She immediately converted her basement into an extra special portal and began creating an ongoing series of whip-smart parodies loosely called Amazon Review Remote School. These videos shorts did wonders to help me cope with the abrupt shift to remote teaching at the very start of the stay-at-home orders. Thank you SOXX from the bottom of my heart!
Instagram updates from William O’Brien cheer me up. A favorite is Bill riding his unicycle in front of a wall of his DO NOT FEAR VOTING IS NEAR posters. In the captions, he declares “Yes I have officially lost it! #getloudgetweird #createtheworldyouwant”. Early on there were invites to a meditation group he was leading in Zoom. Bill continues to provide studio updates and encouraging self-care while distributing his compelling poster campaign to get out the VOTE.
I savored every post from Sam Ramos, writer, and educator at the Art Institute of Chicago. While I am happy AIC has reopened I miss Sam’s personal reflections on artworks when the museum was shuttered during the quarantine. “March 15, 2020. JMW Turner, “Valley of Aosta: Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Thunderstorm,” 1836/7 (detail). Possibly the most dramatic couple of inches in the entire museum. Look up the full painting for scale. A disaster befalling a family. A woman in agony being held back by a loved one. Wrenching anguish. Impending doom. Gestures of love, and support. Some feel European painting isn’t relevant anymore, but when do human stories go out of style? I’m a POC from the East Side of Austin and I see myself in this work. I relate to this 19th c. British man’s vision. We’re connected, you see. All of us. Everyone who has ever existed or ever will exist. We are the universe seeing itself. We’re the elegant, chaotic experience resonant in paint. #theartinstiuteofchicago”
I love seeing what people are making and am definitely leaning into Instagram in lieu of in-person viewing. I am always so happy to see work by former students, drawings by Carol Jackson, collages by @loyola_condenser, the wondrous blur of work-life-parenting in posts from Marzena Abrahamik, Allison Grant, Sonja Thomsen, and so many very others.
5. Are there any artists, filmmakers, albums, or genres you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?
Since I am not in a classroom with artists for the first time in a very long time I find myself plugging into online content about creative production. It has been thrilling to tap into streaming programming from near and far. Some favorites include: MoCP Photos at Zoom, MoCP Behind the Lens and just about any artist talk from Filter Photo, SAIC Visiting Artists Program, SF Camerawork along with loads of offerings from museums.
The wave of independent initiatives to raise funds through social media channels for COVID related relief and to support social justice like Art for Philadelphia Community Bail Fund & Amistad Law Project organized by Meg Onli has been energizing!
I’ve been listening to podcasts and audiobooks while working in the studio. Often I listen more than once because my mind wanders. Some favorites include: Merlin Sheldrake reading his book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures; Ocean Vuong reading his book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; The Modern Art Notes Podcast, The Great Women Artists Podcast.
And periodically I turn up music loudly for much needed dancing interludes!
Aimée Beaubien is an artist living and working in Chicago. Beaubien reorganizes photographic experience in collage, immersive installations, and artists’ books. Her work has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally. Beaubien is an Associate Professor of Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL where she has taught since 1997.