New year optimism turned sour in 2020. Verity-Jane Keefe surveys her dashed hopes and wishes for improvement in 2021
Such high hopes. Such a well-rounded even number. 2020. Big energy. Time to blow the dust off the last decade of nonsense and the horror of the 2019 election. YES. This was going to be the year when things changed. When people started to do what they said, rather than performing what they do. Dear 2020, I couldn’t have been more wrong. You have challenged and squeezed our perceptions of what a bad year can be, draining the optimism and throwing us zinger after zinger.
We’ll call this a pre-emptive review of the year. A listicle, a top ten, round-up, a romp through – the spaces of which are usually filled with natty and wry observations of what the year has served up. At the time of writing, there are 64 days left of this foul beast of a year. I will hold on to a glimmer of optimism that by the time this is published, the outlook might be a little better. So let’s go back.
January. Begins with a small residency in Scotland – staring out over nuclear submarine circling waters. Walking. Writing. Taking solitude. I find an abandoned botanical gardens and house and fall in love and am heartbroken by the story behind it. An adventurous son died on a specimen collecting trip, an aged father dying soon after. What will happen to this beautiful encyclopaedia of plants and care? I walk on to February – workshops, engagement, planning, making work, preparing for a Stage 3 deadline for a project in Thamesmead reopening a former social club. Early starts, late nights, boozy celebrations to mark a successful funding application.
March. A strike across universities that brought hope and togetherness alongside disappointment and frustration – solidarity cut short on the last days of action thanks to Covid-19. We sat with students and staff alike, assessing the wake of austerity and the neoliberal university. Asking what education is, could be and should be and how we can collectively navigate this territory together. We looked ahead to what we could do within architecture, within the institution and the profession(s), coming back to precarity again and again. We were on strike for ourselves, our colleagues, the future of education, for our students, outsourced cleaning and catering staff and the future of the creative arts and architecture. Onwards we said, establish support structures and continue the discussion.
What really makes April different to June beyond changes to rules, new slogans, more confusion and a change in temperature?
And then lockdown. If this was a review of the year I’d give those moments on the picket four stars. The last time I was in a full place. The last time we populated busy public spaces inside and outside together. The last time I hugged people goodbye with abandon.
We know what has happened over the rest of the year, I don’t need to synopsise. (Time – peppered with clapping, sloganeering, zooms, bewilderment, planning, replanning, panic, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, decolonising curriculums, holding the mirror of lack of diversity square in the face to practice, Paradise burning, art worker redundancies, £20 temporary extra Universal Credit, Rashford for PM etc. Don’t bother visiting 2020, it doesn’t live up to its early hype). I struggle to break it up in to ‘Things That I have Done’ as what really makes April different to June beyond changes to rules, new slogans, more confusion and a change in temperature? We have adapted practice and behaviours, adopted new language, and only time will tell what the future will bring – what the world will look like. Everything is different, and much is the same. Being in a supermarket is different, a gallery, a museum, the workplace. Experiences have changed. The clocks have changed.
Dear 2021, I REALLY hope all those promises everyone made this year have been kept, that privilege is acknowledged, those books have been read, we still support our communities, we still give to food banks, Trump still isn’t president, Universal Credit gets extended, that hope creeps out for everyone.
The mansion and Botanical Gardens in Scotland is now listed for sale. Someone buy it please and let’s all move there.
Verity-Jane Keefe is a visual artist
BACK TO YOU BOJO
It is impossible to articulate the time, challenges, space and pace of the year. I am not speaking for everyone. For a refreshing and brilliant take on 2020, told via a cross-country poo- and rainbow-illustrated masterclass in holding power to account, head to the Foundling Museum to see the Covid Letters, on until January. An exhibition by Jonny Banger and hundreds of young artists offering humour, swear words and hope across this fantastic museum. Boris Johnson is a pickle.