Conscious Isolation: Networking Together, Apart
Samuel Zealey and I set up Conscious Isolation right at the beginning of lockdown. We speak about and call upon what is important in these difficult times. Culture expands the mind and will bring us together. The aim is to facilitate cultural dialogue and to make it accessible to all. The group consists of fine art and design students, professional creatives, and interested members of the public. We offer online lectures by creative practitioners who are at the forefront of their profession, other non-art lectures with connections to fine art topics, open calls, and studio visits. Our platforms offer a network between creatives across disciplines and multiple locations. We currently run a number of platforms, a website with a mailing list sign-up, Instagram, and a private Facebook group.
Setting it up was all quite organic. Samuel had the idea to find a way to continue to talk to fellow creatives about important topics at the time when suddenly the whole world seemed to be grinding to a halt. He invited artists he knew and his peers to be involved. I became involved very early on and helped to set up the first talk/studio visit online. In the first few months, we then hosted over 40 online events. We also offered free tutorials to art students who had lost access to their art schools. We felt this was a small way we could give back having both been fortunate to attend great art schools ourselves and because we both have experience teaching in art institutions. By hosting events online, we hope it breaks down some of the barriers that are often in place in terms of accessing culture. Those who may not normally be able to attend events due to their geographical location, other work, or family commitments or because of health or disability can attend more easily.
Setting up Conscious Isolation took quite a bit of energy but for me, it was a real lifeline as well. I’m sure I would have gone a bit stir crazy without it to keep me busy and engaged during the lockdown as I was living alone and have never spent so much time on my own before. It meant I didn’t feel like I was too isolated and could keep the interesting discussions and connections with other creatives going. It felt like I was still progressing things in relation to my career and art practice from home, which was exciting. Since lockdown has eased, we have slowed down slightly on the talks but still, host them regularly so the energy levels are more sustainable now the ‘new normal’ life has resumed.
I invited young curator Carlos Pinto to do a takeover for the entirety of August which meant a bit of a break for me and a chance for him to experiment on our platforms. Carlos invited and Georgia Perkins to assist on the project and they took the idea of virtual shows to a new level using Instagram stories to live feed 24hr long shows. It was amazing to see how they animated the normal Instagram story feature in this way. They put in a lot of work as they had to upload content every hour but the effect was dynamic and very exciting. They also held online artist panel discussions and created a website to act as an archive of the Digital Touch exhibition for posterity. I think online platforms offer a way to experiment and take risks in ways that the logistics of in real life exhibitions don’t allow for.
We hope to offer the platforms to others to experiment in a similar way going forwards. The ethos is very much that we are open to all and although there is of course consideration and curation of our events we are very open to suggestions and to trying new things. I’m also going to invite students that I work with this year to take over the platform for a couple of exhibitions and to take part in the hosting of a discussion so that they can learn about what is involved. I’d love for them to curate an exhibition about consciousness but of course, they should input and select a topic of their choice if they prefer something else. It is exciting to see what ideas they bring and to use the virtual space as a testbed for experimental practices.
With regards to how it benefits my own art practice; I am an artist and it is great as it keeps me in constant dialogue with artists and art professionals. I also gain a new network through the contacts that Samuel brings and those who are part of our group. It also allows me to make direct connections with art institutions and in particular art schools around the UK and internationally which I hope will help me to build up my teaching experience. Further to this, it gives me a new toolkit for using online platforms alongside my teaching which is in line with the blended learning that institutions are incorporating more and more. The critical dialogues help me to contextualise and frame my own work and I am often left pondering something after a talk or event.
In terms of negative effects, I have to be careful that it doesn’t take too much time out of my own making and studio time. However, I feel that this is all about careful time management and being realistic about what is possible. It’s also running itself much more smoothly now and we have learned a lot about keeping events safe online and how to run online events using different platforms, so the learning curve seems flatter now. I hope that the platforms will continue to grow and that we can try different events out. For now, we are mostly focusing on the talks/discussions and a few online exhibitions throughout the year, but we are hoping to build on what the exhibitions can be so that we are not only using Instagram. We are considering using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality or the possibilities of embedding the virtual into real-life exhibitions. We are currently artist-led, not for profit, and are not funded but we hope to try to get funding so we can support artists whilst at the same time keeping the informal, personable, and DIY nature of the project where possible. I think it would be a shame to lose the intimacy of the events where the audience feels they can ask questions at ease and where they are often hosted from the artist’s own home or studio so there is the opportunity for direct insight into their work/life. A few speakers have commented that it’s nice for the speakers too as it’s a relaxed experience which is especially good if it’s the first time they are speaking at an online event. We also hope to host some offline events alongside the online when it’s safe to do so as of course it’s a brilliant way to experience art but the focus will remain predominantly online.
Please feel free to join our platforms and to spread the word:
Susie Olczak, (England, UK)
Graduated with a BA Honours in Fine Art, Sculpture and Environmental Art from the Glasgow School of Art in 2010 and with an MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 2019.
Susie Olczak is a multidisciplinary artist with a focus on sculpture. Her work asks the viewer to look again at the world. It is about the perception of geometry, pattern, and light while moving through transitory spaces, such as corridors, underpasses, and the walkways between buildings. Her work has been shown internationally and around the UK. She has been commissioned to produce public artworks by BBC Scotland, Charles Saatchi at the Big Chill Festival, and the National Trust. Susie Olczak was a bursary award winner at the Royal Society of Sculptors. In 2019 she showed in the Ingram Collection Purchase Prize Exhibition and in 2020 she completed the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award residency and exhibited the work at Standpoint Gallery.