I’ve been talking with a good number of artists recently and our COVID-19 conversations almost invariably include the subject of time. What it felt like during the height of the quarantine, how it passed (or didn’t), what we managed to do (or not do), and the relationship between creativity and time. We agree—it got rather bizarre (and residually remains so).
For me, try as I might, it has been hard to answer exactly how or why time seemed so strange day after day during the unprecedented coronavirus stay-at-home orders. Maybe it starts there, with citizens ordered to stay at home all the time. One friend wondered when the police might start patrolling the streets to enforce your time outside was for getting groceries and not just cruising. Sounds dramatic now, but all sorts of “couldn’t happens” did happen during virus time.
It’s as if time simultaneously raced and dragged. Flew by and crashed into a stop sign at the same time. Time didn’t behave according to many of the old rules, not so much marked by the clock but by things to do. Is it time to eat? To call a friend? Get on Zoom? Watch episode 8?
Yes, in the pre-coronavirus days some days seemed to go faster than others, but it wasn’t so simple in virus time. Someone said that it took so much time to get going some days that it was then time for bed. Like driving a time machine powered by slow-motion fuel.
The writer Brian Doyle talks about how “time stutters and reverses and it is always yesterday and today.” He didn’t write this in our pandemic period, but somehow it makes sense in virus time.
Eventually I connected virus time to certain encounters I’ve had with deep creative expressions, e.g., art. There have been times during a gallery night, music festival, museum visit or performance event when time ceases to hold any weight. It just kind of disappears.
Then I’m left wondering when that song started or ended, or how long I’ve been staring at that painting or photo. Deeply creative expressions move us outside of time and are themselves timeless.
Several years ago, the Cleveland Museum of Art installed a work by a Canadian artist where 40 speakers were placed in an oval through which a 40-part choral performance was played. Standing and listening to it was like leaving the world of time and entering a dimension of just experience instead.
So that’s what I decided virus time could, for me, be understood as: a place where experience trumps time, and we’re basically just along for the ride. Virus time took us where it wanted us to go—through all kinds of thoughts, feelings, emotions, realizations, frustrations and wandering wonderment. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but always in its own sweet time, or non-time.
The Arts & COVID-19: What Now?