Plague and Locusts 2020. November: Nancy Wyllie.
Nancy Wyllie. Courtesy of the artist.
Trained as a painter, my work became extremely narrative as it matured. I remember being asked more than once if making films was something I would pursue. After completing a Master’s at RISD and Tulane University, I moved to SoHo where I continued my studio practice while doing coursework in film at NYU. I worked as an Art Director on a couple B films right out of film school and then began teaching college level art & design courses at Ithaca College. After teaching in Providence for many years, I went back to RISD to retrain in digital media. Ours was the first class in 2002, to complete Final Cut Pro training. I never imagined that I would be able to make films on my desktop. My primary focus has been on short experimental films that mine both public and private memory.
Covid has changed the way in which I approach various projects that have come my way during the past 8 months. It has forced me to dig more deeply into my personal archives and to make greater use of stills and Zoom interview footage. At the present time I am under contract to make a film on racial justice. In trying to frame and distill this urgent issue, I am working with more visual elements from various texts and studies and less on traditional personal interviews.
Although I still have a paid project to complete, I do appreciate the time the lockdown has afforded me to take stock of footage and audio files that have resided too long on SD cards and external hard drives. I find myself making lists of disparate footage shot over a period of several years, looking for connections and opportunities to recontextualize. As always, the search for meaning goes on.
The pace at which I work is far more deliberate. With fewer distractions, my research goes deeper. Books are pulled out of my library daily that inform my work in new ways. I am grateful there is time to study and percolate. I feel very much like a student again. The pandemic often feels like my freshman year; a period marked by a dogged determination to succeed that is tempered by a tentative future.
Making work is a critical form of therapy at this time. I cannot imagine how I could survive this pandemic without the stimulation of intellectual pursuit. In addition, I am freed up to learn new software programs that have been too time consuming and demanding to master pre-pandemic.
Being an artist is, for most of us, a solitary endeavor. We often fight for time to isolate and answer the call to create. Although we are decidedly social animals, social distancing is a gift to many creatives. Art is a calling not a profession. This is the exchange we make upon entering into this lifelong contract. Many artists have learned the lessons now faced by others who find themselves struggling to pay the rent or get medical needs met.
I have found that virtual meetings for film festivals have been surprisingly productive and satisfying. Many fellow filmmakers are in agreement that that dialogue raised and connections made in an online setting are free of the kind posturing and artifice often found at actual events. There is a pared down intimacy in our online interactions. Unshaven faces and jailhouse tans do not seem to matter in the unforgiving light of this scourge. The pandemic has taught us how to prioritize. Perhaps the pandemic will hold up this kind of mirror to the art world at large and the resulting work will be as authentic and impactful as any ever made.
I fear we will forget the price that has been paid in human life after this pandemic is tamed. 9.11 comes to mind. I remember often hearing proclamations such as “We are all New Yorkers!’ “We are all Yankees fans!” The loss of human life, the horror and the sacrifice of first responders faded too quickly for many and there was a return to ‘me first’ mean spirited behavior. This is my biggest fear about fallout from this pandemic.