15 April 2020

A peek inside the bubble

How have you found your first few days in lock-down?

In a sense my life is pretty much contained – so it’s not that different for me in lock-down. Except that I can’t go to things or have coffee at the end of my walk or go to the latest show or something that’s on at the Art Gallery. I’m just giving myself the option of lying in a bit longer and reading news, etc. online.

I’ve been retired from the Christchurch Art Gallery for two years now. I did quite a bit of travelling at first, but now I’m taking on more art-related project work. I’ve had what was a single garage transformed into a very elegant space to work and I spend my day out there.

As long as I get to the ‘office’ by 11am, I think that’s alright. When I go there, I go to work - I keep things separate. I have been finding it a bit hard to concentrate I must say, but I have about four projects that I’m working on at the moment and it’s quite good to have that many (and all quite different).

What have you been doing to pass the time?

Apart from project work, I’ve been looking a lot more at social media. I don’t do much, but I have started Instagraming lately. I went on it initially because I realised that I didn’t know what my nieces and nephews were doing. Now I’m quite enjoying posting something every day. It appeals to my sense of humour – the little quick-witted things that you can sometimes think of around home.

I’ve noticed a real following of the ‘If ya can’t see the art, be the art’ movement, which I became aware of through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (the Met). People are staging images from collections at closed galleries and posting them on social media. There was a fun one posted from the Met, emulating The Great Wave by Japanese print maker Hokosai. Someone had reconstructed the sea with rolls of lavatory paper. It was actually quite stunning beside the original.  But a lot of galleries have been coming to the party, including Christchurch Art Gallery with some great ‘dress up’ images from the collection.

I’ve enjoyed seeing those things and following the major museums. Social media is so much more active than when we had to close down (the Christchurch Art Gallery) because of the earthquakes in 2010/2011. In those days we blogged every day and that was pretty good. We also published works from the collection once a week in the Christchurch Press. Ten years later most of the larger galleries are pretty well resourced for the digital side of things and most of them have collections online. They’re doing some wonderful things for children and grown-ups. I’m looking at those and am interested in how they’re projecting themselves, even though they’re closed.

How are you keeping your spirits up? And what’s your special lock-down treat?

I’ve been cooking more, looking up recipes and trying to push myself a little bit more. I have a nice glass of wine at the end of the day and start cooking.

I’ve been reading too; I’ve got a good book on the go. I’m also finding things to take photographs of for Instagram, that’s quite interesting.

How are you keeping in touch with others?

I’m ringing my friends more, which is nice. I’m thinking about more people and thinking that I must ring them, friends as well as family. I have a daughter in Auckland – so we try and speak every day.

I’ve also been asked to join a poetry sharing group. I thought that was very interesting and inventive. I had been asked to record a poem by the Christchurch Art Gallery librarian who is preparing recordings of a poem to wash your hands by every day - so more than 20 seconds. I have a recording of me reading Denis Glover’s Home Thoughts which I’ve passed on.

One of the things I do all day is listen to the RNZ Concert programme and I’m jolly glad they’re not putting it on to AM or getting rid of it. I feel like I’ve got companionship through the announcers on that. I know one or two of them, I’ve meet them over the years.

What are you missing most?

Apart from the fact that I can’t go to things and eat out with friends, go to shows or exhibitions at the Art Gallery, it’s not that different. But I had planned a trip to Sydney for Biennale of Sydney – an international arts event. Assuming I don’t get there before June, it will be the first one I’ve missed since 1984 and apparently, it’s a good one.

What long shelved project are you reviving for the lock-down?

There isn’t anything really pressing to do. I know there are things that I’ll do when I’ve finished my projects, sorting through photos and deciding what to do with them, things like that.

What are you doing for exercise and fresh air?

I live in Woolston and right on the Heathcote River, and so I can walk by that and over a couple of bridges and that gives me good exercise. I had a hip replacement late last year so it’s all part of getting fit after that. I walk for about 30 minutes. My sister, who is a nurse, reminded me it’s not how long you walk it’s more important to walk with – what I call ‘attitude’ – walk firmly, almost power walk.  That’s better for you than a wander. I’ve also got an exercycle on the deck and occasionally I get on that.

What has surprised you most about lock-down?

I’m reasonably surprised at my sense of self-containment. It’s probably made me establish a bit more of a routine, and there’s a sense in which I really like it. I know I’m hugely privileged living somewhere where you can isolate like this. One of the things I did last year was to take a tour group to India and I just think about all those people there who have no show of isolating. I think we are incredibly privileged to be in a first world country.

I’ve also been really impressed with the way the arts in general is managing to do things and keep their followers in touch and keep spirits high. It’s been pretty amazing. We just have to hope that in some way and form (the audiences) will be kept up afterwards. What the galleries are doing makes me feel like I’m part of a wanted audience. I think it’s been very good.

I think this event has shown us how connected we can be.

Jenny Harper in her home office.

Jenny Harper in her home office.