Jorge Picó. The first days of the confinement decreed by the Government of Spain had hardly begun when all of us were launched into an orgy of cultural consumption on our various digital networks: guided visits to museums, access to movie libraries, artists giving concerts from their homes, recommendations and lists of cultural items to consume and digital platforms opening their contents. All as if there were no possible way to stop. Hold back? Unthinkable. “The show must go on” was the maxim used by some prestigious theaters and operas. #stayathome produces vertigo in the plethora of us artists who form our own brand. We have to give in to the tyranny of visibility. I log in and I recite a poem for you or I read to you a passage from my favorite book. Waiting, for example, until the RNE (Spanish National Network) moves a finger to hire a few actors and actresses to broadcast theater? No way.
I am taking a step forward beforehand. The artistic endeavor, which consists above all in teamwork and is meant for a live audience, is produced on the social networks where we are hypermotivated yet docile, without realizing it, and without evaluating how this forced halt in our activity echoes in us. I am both the subject and the creator, the artist and impresario, the heroic subject of the social networks. Our vocation is all of these things and we have to maintain the illusion that we are always active even though it is at the price of giving everything away for free. You see me and therefore I exist and my vertigo is lessened. You continue to see me and so I remain in the market and I am able to continue competing. Precariousness, anxiety, contingency. I am writing this in these days when I am taking time off from work contracts and interrupting essays, handing out a pittance in salaries that do not reflect the real hours of work that there are in an artistic creation. However, we are able to disguise this precariousness as something glamorous. We even feel the comfort given by the ultraconservatives which slaps us in the face: “a farmer or a cattle rancher is more useful than you” and if all the theaters, lecture halls and cultural centers were to close, it makes no difference. Now you see fulfilled the prophecy of Peter Brook.
Well, orgy, yes, but with a VIP pass. Those people who are in refugee shelters are now doing push-ups to maintain themselves in shape in their tiny rooms in shared apartments, entertaining themselves on the screens of their mobile phones and being careful not to consume too much data. There are also mothers (and some fathers) who are spending all their time in the house with their children, doing more laundry than ever, cooking more than ever, or they change diapers or breast feed, they take care of their parents, checking online the things that they should take care of. I don’t know if they have enough time or strength to take a virtual stroll through a museum or delight in an opera at the Met. I am thinking a lot about those children for whom public education, with a failure rate of 25%, is the only opportunity to get out of isolation. This work stoppage prejudices them even more. Women who are in the sex trade and who are beginning programs sponsored by Caritas to change their lives no longer go out to work in the street. They are left without income and they need videos, yes, but personalized ones which serve to comfort them, animate them, accompany them and to touch their hearts. Or those people who are homeless with their plastic bottles cut in half with a knife but which are empty because there is neither hard money nor small change that is found in the street these days. Beauty can wait. Culture, snared in the web of the market, at this time less than ever finds those who are weak. The winners, as always, are those of us who either from the cradle, or because our parents took us up on the social elevator of culture have been able to build for ourselves a spiritual silo in the form of a library, movies and cultural inputs so that our children will inherit it and which now helps us to confront the confinement with a certain amount of calm.
And what will happen afterwards when we stop counting up the dead? Will we be capable of putting our grief out on the table? I am concerned that we will continue to trim down Culture and that those who remain creating works of culture will be only those who have the luxury of doing it, those who have savings, rents or a family behind them who can guarantee loans. I fear that after the sickness there will be left a devastated cultural landscape where what will survive will be a residential neighborhood of culture which will not travel to the suburbs of injustice and pain, or that the artists will go there simply to affirm themselves, using it as creative material in the same way they would treat a catalogue of ideas. Because those in power will be right there waiting to whitewash our conflicts and trying to reestablish a harmonious image of reality through cultural production and their works. Above all, as Antonio Francisco Bohorquez, SJ, explains on his Twitter account: “In a few days we will realize that we will not be sustained by comedy, nor by live concerts, nor reality shows, nor video chats. In a few days, if we allow ourselves, we will enter into silence and we will discover who and what sustains us. Perhaps there will be surprises.”