Is Lockdown Making Us All Too Self-Absorbed?

Spending vast amounts of time alone, or with just a few people, can greatly alter our internal state. A new online group show suggests that when our worlds shrink, our sense of self looms larger.

Bambou Gili, Neighborhood Sleep Paralysis, 2020
Bambou Gili, Neighborhood Sleep Paralysis, 2020

As the art world has adapted to the current pandemic, there’s been no shortage of creative projects and online exhibitions devoted to big-name artists’ lockdown creations: George Condo’s painting series Distanced Figures at Hauser and Wirth; BBC Arts’ Lockdown Culture with Mary Beard on 28 May, featuring Martin Scorsese’s exclusive isolation film alongside Gillian Wearing and Michael Landy’s first collaboration in twenty years; David Shrigley’s Lockdown Drawings online at Stephen Friedman Gallery… the list goes on.

A current exhibition online at Public Gallery, titled No Time Like the Present, features more than fifty artists, and all the works were created specifically to be shown as a standalone online experience. The idea behind the exhibition is, according to the gallery, to “form a unique snapshot of how artists react and adapt” to the changes brought about by lockdown, “how they process and question this unparalleled situation from their individual and shared perspectives.”




Spanning drawing, painting, textile, photography, video and sculpture, participating artists have each created one physical work and one video in response to the current situation. What’s interesting, seeing the group of works together, is that while they’re very rarely narcissistic or overtly navel gazing, a stark reality of lockdown becomes clear: many have their eyes locked on their own realities. For all the altruism—staying in to protect the greater good, claps for carers etc—for the most part, people are looking inward for art. That means both at themselves, and their homes’ interiors: a bedroom’s four walls become subject and canvas.

“We have to negotiate the balance between introspection and self-absorption“

In an environment where artists can’t visit their studios or access their usual materials, limitations force a new kind of creativity which largely, it seems, veers towards the autobiographical. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it encourages both self-reflection and contemplation, as well as the chance to experiment with materials and processes that they may never have considered.

Perhaps, in a strange way, this enforced pause is what we need—time to think about who we are, what we do, why we do it and how. When there’s few people to physically interact with other than ourselves, partners, housemates or families, we have to negotiate the balance between introspection and self-absorption. The gallery quotes artist and theorist Ian Alan Paul in explaining what the show is ultimately all about: “Now is a time for imagination, invention and experimentation, leveraging each as a means of producing new kinds of knowledge about our situation and new modes of struggle within it.”




No Time Like the Present

Currently on show online at Public Gallery

Justin Liam O'Brien, Tired in the days that passed away, 2020