I remembered in the middle of the night the medieval disease of Acedia, in which the Benedictine monk succumbs to a form of listlessness and torpor, unable to work or pray; and looked it up this morning to check that it was indeed, as I had thought, the disease we are all suffering from collectively, unable to focus or concentrate because of the state of the world and the lack of motivation to complete tasks – ‘the noonday demon’ as it was described.
I have been following online what the expectations are of what will happen to museums if and when they are able to reopen. I came across the attached piece by Andras Szanto when it first came out on artnet and have now reread it after it was reposted on AEA’s excellent bulletin, The Platform. It seems to me to make a cogent case for what is likely to happen: a much reduced dependence on blockbuster exhibitions which will be impossibly expensive; a shift towards constructing narratives – and possibly exhibitions – out of permanent collections; and an increasing tendency, which is already happening, to contract in expertise, rather than growing it in-house. None of these are necessarily desirable, but probably inevitable.
I am struck by the question which has been asked in a Comment on my previous post on this subject as to why it is that an inventive country, which we have traditionally been, should have been so hopelessly unable to respond efficiently and at speed to a national emergency, with obvious exceptions, such as the re-equipping of the ExCel Centre into an emergency hospital in the space of ten days. But hospital gowns ? These are not apparently a particularly sophisticated piece of equipment, but make the difference between life and death. Lots of manufacturers have apparently offered their services, including individual makers, as in Hackney, but National Health England seems to have been slow to respond, maybe too centralised, unable to allow independent initiative. Or is it an issue of scale ? An over-dependence on the cheap labour of Turkey and China ? This surely is an issue which bears non-judgmental investigation if and when we ever come out of this crisis and are to learn from it.
I find that the most straightforward way of following how we are doing in terms of coping with Coronavirus is not by listening to the daily news bulletins, but by studying the daily graph published (helpfully) by the Financial Times. I can’t help but notice that the weekly number of deaths has now overtaken both France and Spain, which shows that we have demonstrated our exceptionalism by the exceptional arrogance and stupidity of our response: not listening to the WHO when it first warned us of the dangers; not joining in with conversations with our European neighbours as to how best to respond to the threat; not ordering PPE as required. Pretending that all was well when it wasn’t; ‘taking it on the chin’ as the Prime Minister recommended in contrast to all the best advice.
This article tells us what we all pretty well knew: that the government walked into the Coronavirus catastrophe with its ears shut, gloating about their election victory, looking forward to the triumphalism of Brexit, and spending time in the country planning for the new baby, whilst not paying attention to any of the warnings which were there for all, except the government, to see. They weren’t too worried about the deaths of a few old age pensioners, as Dominic Cummings advised a meeting of special advisers.
My faith in humanity is restored. Having decided to make gowns for her local NHS, Bella Gonshorovitz persuaded James O’Brien of LBC to do a tweet about her fund-raising appeal, which the Guardian picked up and in the space of less than a day she had raised all that she needs and more to make and supply the gowns. Thank you to all those who have helped. It’s such a direct and straightforward way of getting the equipment that is so obviously needed to the front line.
It’s taken me much longer to read the volume of essays on The Lives of Houses, edited by Kate Kennedy and Hermione Lee, than it should have done. That’s because although in theory I have all day and every day in which to read in practice there is always something else to be done. Also, I have found the essays, nicely varied in style and subject, work best as bonne bouches – Alexandra Harris on moving house, Hermione Lee on Penelope Fitzgerald, a good essay by Margaret MacMillan on her family’s house in Toronto, the appalling mess in which W.H. Auden chose to live in New York. It’s a good subject, particularly, as it happens, when we’re all locked up in our domestic circumstances.
Our friend Bella Gonshorovitz, who did her MA dissertation on the way that clothes can enhance the morale of people with disabilities, is now organising making gowns for hospital staff, since, although we are assured by government ministers day after day that hospitals have all the equipment they need, it is increasingly clear that they live in cloud cuckoo land. She is trying to raise money for her work. This is how to help:-
Since handing in the text of my book about art museums to Thames & Hudson, I have been trying to resist the temptation to add to or change the text: with one exception. I was persuaded to write something about what the effect of Coronavirus will be on museums, in which I now, only two weeks later, think I may have underestimated the consequences as I watch museums everywhere furlough staff, particularly, I notice, their education staff, and the value of their endowments sink.
What I wonder will be the effect of the current terrible recession on two of the great current building projects – the Zumthor building at LACMA, already underway, and Jamie Fobert’s renovation of the NPG, soon to begin ? Most especially, will much more activity go online or will people rediscover and relish the experience of seeing the original, once it becomes possible again ?
I’m breaking my self-imposed lockdown on my blog, only because I am getting increasingly frustrated by the government’s total unwillingness to accept any responsibility for the delay in implementing a lockdown, the number of deaths this has caused, the pretence that their belief in herd immunity did not happen (did we just imagine it ?), and the total failure of the opposition to hold the government to account. I have just checked on the date that I was first told all about the dangers of Coronavirus, how it was likely to cause a gigantic epidemic, which could only be solved by the development of a vaccine, which was likely to take at least a year, and how the Chinese had made the necessary information about the disease available to scientists globally. It was on Tuesday 28th. January. If I who am not a scientist, nor an epidemiologist, nor in any way involved with government, knew all about what was likely to happen, why did it take the next eight weeks for the government to act ?
It was too late, as is obvious if one compares what has happened in Great Britain as compared to Ireland. At least two weeks too late. Surely this is the question Keir Starmer should be asking ? It’s not unpatriotic.