Published in Hole Punch, showreel and phonebook, June 2020.
Last weekend I was at my parent’s house, removing a tree from the garden. Someone had tried previously to gently shape, and reduce, the tree, but alas it continued to return to its original state. To stop this, I dug deep into the ground, exposing the root of the tree, before hacking at it with an axe. This left an ungainly hole in the ground, as well as exposed roots that had to be burned to prevent the old growing back. In this unsightly scar in the earth, a new plant was embedded, one that grows speedily when encouraged absolutely, blossoming within days. I sit here now watching the diaphanous pink petals float through the air, bringing a crispness, and creating a sublime sunny moment, that would not have been achievable through gently trying to mould the original, inadequate, tree.
This long-winded – but true – metaphor and anecdote can be applied entirely to the way paradigms are held in place by our society. In order for fresh ideas to blossom, there has to be a period of destruction. In the art world previously, this has come from extremes of abstract art, breaking rooted ideologies. Let us consider the “Anti-Painting” of Joan Miro, or the abstract art of the DaDa movement in the early 20th Century. Ideological boundaries have to be broken down by artworks that appear radical at the time of their creation. If one tries to lift the boundary wall out of the ground and move or manipulate it without damage, progress will be excruciatingly slow, if possible, at all.
Our domestic spaces, our chosen fashions, and our “tastes” have been particularly affected by the Coronavirus. Those channels of personal choice or expression have always played a great role in influencing art, and now their nature has been enormously changed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, art will, in turn, be enormously changed, as our new tastes influence the direction it moves in. More importantly when we return to “normal” we will have a clean slate, a freshly ploughed field, that we can grow out of however we choose. Without the extreme environment created, the level of paradigm shift we will see may have taken years because of the resistance from previously immovable paradigms.
We should not forget “old” mediums, or ways of creating art. Many of them have ceased to be employed during lockdown, and if they have, they have then been represented through digital means, reducing both their “trueness” and their impact. In time however it will become clear that stagnant or stale mediums have been given the opportunity to reflect on their position, and thus may emerge with new life. This renaissance will be reinforced by the many artists who have had to change their methods, and ideologies. Moreover, new individuals have found refuge in art as well as photography, bringing their own hypotheses, methods, and interests.
Since photography is a fairly young medium, with digital representation in particular still firmly in its infancy, there has not been as many periods of extreme paradigm change, in comparison to painting or sculpture. Perhaps the most fundamental paradigm shift in photography, came in the early 20th century, when we moved away from the idea that photography is a science. Pushed by the early surrealist photographers such as Alexander Rodchenko, and Man Ray, we began to consider photography an art form, that is in fact subjective, and not simply an un-biased observer. Rapidly evolving camera technology (the extreme) made destruction, of what we expect from the photograph, possible. This was then built upon by expressionist photographers who used the camera as a brush. More recently in the photographic world, we have had the evolution of digital technology, which I have no doubt will undergo paradigm shifts in the coming months and years, for better or for worse.
These times have also exposed the sheer power and influence photography – in particular digital imagery – has. I am not sure if it should scare, or empower us, but I hope we begin to treat the medium with the consideration it deserves. If we do so, we may learn to use it respectfully when representing other mediums. In turn that may reinforce the credibility of digital technology, as a paint brush in its own right. Rather than a dilution of mediums – as boundary lines blur – these circumstances may provoke a respect for, and thus an enhancement of, differing mediums and their differing powers. This will only be possible due to the rapid paradigm shift, before a rapid paradigm settling, that has been provoked (and made possible) by the extreme circumstances.
Since writing this article in early 2020, it has become clear that reform will not happen separately in each of the various societal factions. Instead, society as a whole will be undergoing a destructive phase before a rebirth. The Coronavirus has affected us all massively, but in years to come we will look back and see that despite the hardship, the pandemic did breed the correct conditions to allow a monumental challenge to the paradigms defining race and culture, across the world. If we look back at all protests historically, be it in the art world, or society in its entirety, they all must have seemed extreme in their day. But one cannot assess them based on their immediate effectiveness, as their achievements are realised over time. Analogously, we will remember this period of extremes as a necessary period of dramatic paradigm shift, in every area of society and culture.
Paradigm Shift Requires Extremes