Present Perfect Continuous
April 24, 2020
Imagine you are an actor in some theatre play. You sit somewhere in the foreground of the stage, totally absorbed by the character you’re playing. Then, driven by some arbitrary impulse, you give a cursory glance around and realise that all set decoration has disappeared; even worse — you suddenly have found yourself in a completely different play.
That’s how I feel about my recent weeks, trying to find a new orientation in time and space. On some sunny March morning I was running across a local park in South East London, not having the slightest idea that just twelve hours later I will run through it once again, though, by force, not a choice to leave everything — my flat, my friends, the life I have built there — to catch the last minute flight back home. Borders were shut the day after, and many of my friends were trapped where they are without a chance to leave. I got lucky.
Since the day I arrived back home, I haven’t been outdoors for 762 hours and 53 minutes. Hours quickly turn into days, coalesce into weeks and surely will stretch into months. As the days go by and I’m still trying to adapt to the new reality, I cannot help but think about lines from ’The Waste Land’ by T. S. Elliot. He writes: ‘The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past’.1Eliot, T. S. (1999). The waste land: and other poems. London: Faber and Faber. Suddenly new conditions have changed the meaning of beliefs that seemed solid: time passes faster in stillness, negative results bring success, rapid developments don’t translate into progress.
In some strange way, I have learnt to live with the immobility and accept it as my ‘new normal’ now. Needless to say, I am fed up with the self-isolation and I terribly miss human interaction (as I reckon, most of us do), but I have grown to see being by myself as a valuable opportunity to work on various forms of self-care: self-discipline, self-initiative, self-reflection.
A couple of days ago I watched a rousing TED conversation with an American author Elizabeth Gilbert, she seemed so sagacious and radiated an air of serenity. A sentence she said got me thinking: ‘Presence is a gift and challenge in this time.’2TED. (2020). It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. Here’s what to do next. Available at: https://youtu.be/oNBvC25bxQU. (Accessed: 21 Apr 2020). Indeed, these recent weeks have let me discover a new perspective on ‘presence’ and how multifaceted this concept is. Strangely, in contrast to many people, online house parties, live yoga classes, DJ-set live streams, Netflix communal watching and collective Zoom calls don’t cheer me up, rather deepen my longing for real-life experiences. Though, pondering upon the future, it has prompted me to ask — what are the facets of ‘presence’? How can we think of presence as a powerful quality for professional and personal development?
Presence as the state of being present.
What I appreciate the most about the prolonged seclusion is the time to think. Engross into things that truly matter and enjoy them wholeheartedly without distractions; fully embrace moments of aloneness and use them for introspection.
The essence of an independent curator is a cosmopolitan one. Hopping between cities and countries comes along with a constant shift between realities and temporalities. To get a foot in the door of the highly competitive field of arts, one has to ‘master the art ofliving with a chronic instability’.3Gielen, P., & McGregor, C. (2010). The murmuring of the artistic multitude: Global art, memory and post-Fordism. Amsterdam: Valiz. P. 38.
Although the pursuit of curator’s career teaches mental flexibility, it also forces to do everything ‘in time-lapse’ — forbidding to delve deeper into a single activity and, instead, hastily jump onto the ‘next big thing’. The crisis has forced me to press a ‘pause’ button and push myself into a self-prescribed self-immersion therapy. Getting to the root, feeling the flow, letting inner consciousness lead the way.
The highly praised, so-called, ‘superstar curators’ and ‘artist-entrepreneurs’ have implanted in us the harmful ideal to have something ‘going on’ all the time: let it be doing research, writing proposals, seeking for funding, visiting studios or negotiating with exhibition venues. I hope the moment of solitude will help us — curators, artists, creatives and society overall — to shed this destructive pressure and follow your own vision.
Presence as the immediate proximity of a person or thing.
Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan has rightly pointed out: ‘What is there in a culture that is not a form of escape?’4Sugar, R. (2019). The Great Escape. Available at: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/ 2019/8/7/20749177/escape-room-game. (Accessed: 11 Jan 2020). Paradoxically, in times of crisis, while culture comforts us and helps to deal with everyday life, it is the first to experience financial cutbacks. Which seems even more duplicitous, considering that artists are the ones cultivating nation’s heritage and cultural scene.
Our ability to build a more healthy and equitable art world lies in the power of joint effort. We have to learn to be more open and accepting to wider audiences, but first of all — build trust and cooperation among each other. In countries where the contemporary art discourse is still in a relatively early stage, there’s only a small circle of people who do art, curate art, observe art and write about art. I see this tiny ‘art bubble’ as very discouraging for constructive discussions and critical thought development within the local art scene. I’m tired of conversations that just state how bad the situation is, but don’t provide any solutions, just leave me with a bitter aftertaste.
I think we can grow much more, both collectively and independently if we put an effort into nurturing and establishing networks. Be friendly, but keep a professional relationship. Support each other, but give honest feedback. Be responsive, but focus on our individual thing.
Presence as personal appearance or bearing.
Crises shape history, and I believe that we, curators, have power in our hands to shape it for better. We could say we are creators whose material is the work of others — but in any case, the role of a mediator is inescapable. If we go along with the infamous curator’s Harald Szeemann’s idea of ‘artists as the best societal seismographs’5Carolee, T. (2009). On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators. New York, NY: D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers., curators, similarly to seismologists who study earthquakes and their waves, cross-examine ‘movers and shakers’ of the social and political climate.
This unprecedented time has taught me to not to underestimate the power of change in the society. I often wish I had more courage to do what I wish to do and take part in shaping public thought. Once and for all it’s time to get rid of the paralysing fear of failure. Fear of being judged, being seen, being public. Instead, learn to be self-sufficient without a necessity to prove anything to anyone.
We can make a difference. We are needed.
Take time. Take as much as you need. But make good use of it.
Tīna Pētersone is an independent curator and a writer based in London/Riga.
 Eliot, T. S. (1999). The waste land: and other poems. London: Faber and Faber.
 TED. (2020). It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. Here’s what to do next. Available at: https://youtu.be/oNBvC25bxQU. (Accessed: 21 Apr 2020).
 Gielen, P., & McGregor, C. (2010). The murmuring of the artistic multitude: Global art, memory and post-Fordism. Amsterdam: Valiz. P. 38.
 Sugar, R. (2019). The Great Escape. Available at: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/8/7/20749177/escape-room-game. (Accessed: 11 Jan 2020).
 Carolee, T. (2009). On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators. New York, NY: D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers.