Since late 2019, a new artist has been making massive waves of social, political, environmental and economic impact on Earth. Known officially as COVID-19 and colloquially as Corona, this artist specializes in socially disruptive participatory art.
Corona has successfully sparked a global movement of social distancing. You may have noticed pieces initiated by the artist outside of your local bakery where humans in the role of customers stand 1,5 meters apart from each other waiting to receive baked goods out of translucent-gloved hands. In line the people speak towards each other, aiming carefully so their words reach but their spittle falls short of their distant conversation partners.
As a spectator, one might experience the works with a sense of playfulness similar to following the rules of a game. The rules here state (among variations) that players must stand 1,5 meters apart, enter stores individually and wear rubber gloves when touching things in public space.
The work of Corona is famously participatory. The artist is never visibly present, though manages to create a convincing ambiance that they are somewhere nearby or on-top of the participating subjects. The artist has managed to partner with national governments to enforce the rules which give artistic direction to the artworks: in many countries, police will fine groups of over three people in public. By laying these foundational rules for their works, Corona is initiating series of events which were likely unplanned in the original artistic concept.
Corona has set off an intensely recognizable common human experience: globally enforced social distancing. In this common movement away from physical contact, social distancing, in many cases, becomes emotional distancing, often elapsing into personal suffering. The work of Corona is making access points to our emotional support pillars — friends, family and colleagues — become less intuitive or present. Because of this, people are in need of these supports more than before. Most people can no longer count on spontaneously crossing paths on the street, at school, or at work. We have to schedule video calls or remember to send messages via location-independent computer-systems in order to experience the closest thing we know to human-contact (i.e. flickering pixels and digitized sound waves).
Corona-directed social distancing is inspiring new ways of navigating emotions and relationships, as well as challenging many fronts of collaboration between artists, entrepreneurs, friends, families and nearly all layers of human doing. As Corona-initiated processes unfold, a wave of mutual-aid community-building is presenting itself at the forefront of the socially engaged art scene. This movement is rooted in individual people actively building trust and understanding in order to support each other at the emotional-spiritual and financial-economic levels.
Coined “Microsolidarity,” this contemporary wave of peer-based emotional and economic support is more specifically a methodology. I have taken hold of Microsolidarity as a method to collect 25 trusted people from my network and begin working and socializing with in ways we haven’t before. Besides me, Microsolidarity has made its way into carefully growing collectives of entrepreneurs, workers, and artists originating in Switzerland, New Zealand, Thailand, The Netherlands, and more, with new groups emerging often.
Similar to the artwork of Corona, my work with Microsolidarity is also participatory. I started by gathering people and inviting them to practice a set of foundational norms (e.g. gathering in-person twice per year for 2-3 days, sharing needs and boundaries, practicing reciprocity). In turn, these norms empower everyone in the group to carry out their own doings with the support of the mutual-aid community. Once the common rules are grounded and practiced, they are often upheld by peer-held accountability and a common desire to act within a uniquely developing culture.
Like Corona, the social artist injects Microsolidarity as a seed of rules into a select group of people and lets the artwork unfold. The artistry comes with the close watching of the unfolding process to make grand or subtle adjustments as needed, ensuring the core of the concept is followed (.e.g. in the case of a group in Maastricht, NL: to create a strong network of people who support each other in doing emotionally and financially fulfilling work). The artwork itself is that process, the interactions amongst the people involved, and any of the many forms of translating that process into sharable form.