Art at a Distance by Sian Matthews

Over the last few weeks, I have seen more and more galleries and museums opening, and in turn lots more people venturing out of their homes after lockdown to visit them. I would love to be one of those people. Some of the exhibitions I have seen opening look amazing! But I am just not ready to get back out there yet. Here is why…

If you have seen or met me at a Sweet ‘Art exhibition or event you may have noticed my skin condition. It’s called Atopic Dermatitis and is an autoimmune disease. To treat this, I take some extraordinarily strong immunosuppressive medication which switches off the parts of my immune system which are over reactive, therefore lessening my symptoms and pain.  Unfortunately, this means that I have a compromised immune system and am at higher risk of contracting an infection or virus and have less to fight with if I do catch something.

On top of this I am also asthmatic and talk weekly with a psychiatrist because of PTSD symptoms stemming from a hospital stay several years ago in which I almost died after contracting a virus.

Because of all this I was put on the shielding list at the start of lockdown and have spent most of the year avoiding literally everyone but my cat. Its been a rough year all round hasn’t it?

So why am I telling you this? Because although I am still not ready and am honestly a little frightened to go back out into the world of galleries as of right now, I have been finding ways to view art outside of my house and I want to share what I have been doing to experience art at a distance.

Firstly, at the start of August I booked tickets for the latest exhibition at Houghton Hall featuring Anish Kapoor. I had previously visited this stately home in Norfolk back in 2018 for the Damien Hirst exhibition and so I felt safe attending knowing that 90% of the artworks are outside in the grounds. For this exhibition, the house itself was closed, with the exception of the main hall which housed several smaller mirrored works.

Houghton hall is a fair distance from home, but I really felt the need to just get out and go somewhere other than the park behind my house and I did enjoy the day!

The exhibition itself was ok, I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of Kapoor, not much of his work excites me but the work which was on display was a great contrast to the grounds of the house and included everything from large scale installations and marble sculptures to smaller works and drawings. The house is also home to an impressive permanent collection of works by artists such as Rachel Whiteread (a personal favourite), Richard Long, and a SkySpace by James Turrell, who had an ambitious exhibition of his light works at Houghton hall back in 2015.

The main attraction for this latest exhibition is the piece “Sky Mirror” which as the name suggests is a huge circular mirror angled towards the sky on the front lawn. We probably picked the worst day to go and see this work because it was grey and overcast the entire day. No beautiful reflections of blue skies and clouds for us!

Moving on, as a chronically ill person I have a lot of hospital appointments to attend and not all of them can be moved online or turned into a simple phone call. Since Lockdown began, I have had 4 in person appointments to attend at both Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals. These appointments give me a valid and essential reason to travel into central London and so I have been using them as an excuse to explore the many public artworks on display around our city.

I am also truly fortunate to be a patient at a hospital with an extensive art collection and a rich history which it is proud to show off in the countless displays and cabinets dotted throughout its maze of corridors.

My personal favourite from St Thomas’s is this stained-glass window “The Window of Life” situated on the ground floor of the hospitals South Wing.

Outside the main entrance to St Thomas’s hospital is “Cross the Divide” by Rick Kirby which was commissioned for the hospital by the Guy’s and St Thomas’s charitable foundation in 2000. I’ve walked past this sculpture hundreds of times over the last few years and I haven’t really paid it much attention but one of the side effects from the current pandemic and lockdown is that we have more time to notice things which would normally blend into the background.

After my appointment that day I walked across Westminster bridge and up to Trafalgar square to see the latest installation on the Fourth Plinth. A giant swirl of whipped cream with a cherry, a fly and a drone on top, which transmits a live feed of the square, titled “THE END” is the latest work by Heather Phillipson and is a comment on the use of Trafalgar square as both a place of celebration and of protest. Which was quite apt really because the day I visited it was full of police waiting for one of the Extinction Rebellion protests to pass through on its way to parliament square.

The week after this I found myself back in central at another appointment, this time at Guy’s hospital which for those unfamiliar is right next door to The Shard and London bridge station. I again used this opportunity to walk across London bridge into the city proper to see a few of the artworks currently on display as part of Sculpture in the City.

Admittedly it was much busier than I anticipated with a lot of people at that time returning to their offices, so I didn’s stay around too long and only saw 4-5 out of 21 artworks. Favourites being “Botanic” by Jennifer Steinkamp and “The Source” by Patrick Tuttofuoco.

This edition of Sculpture in the city has been extended to the spring of 2021 so if you’re like me and aren’t ready to get back into galleries just yet, there is still plenty of time to discover the works in this installation.

For now, this is all I have managed to get out and see since the start of lockdown. But I can’t finish this blog without mentioning Sweet ‘Art’s own contribution to viewing art at a distance.

The Art Hunt is now up and available for all your socially distant art needs. It includes over 30 of our favourite artists and is a self-led art trail around Shoreditch in East London. You can search for all the stops by yourself, as a socially distant activity with a friend, all in one go or in small chunks. Totally up to you!

For more information on The Art Hunt and to book tickets (pay what you can) click here! Download your map, stay safe and enjoy!