What awaits art in 2021?

By Abel Cervantes

It is not necessary to repeat it: the word of 2020 is Covid-19. What happened this year will cause a series of social, political, economic changes, whose remains to be seen. I have mentioned it in other places: perhaps the two most important events of the 21st century are September-11 and Covid-19.

The first one changed the way of understanding international relations. September-11 instilled fear in the Other. It promoted the disappearance of the line that divides the public and the private, and allowed cell phones to become surveillance devices. For its part, the second one has achieved what could be expected. Our fear has grown. Due to this disease, whose behavior we do not know, we are afraid to get close to the Other who carries Covid-19. However, we can be the people who promote danger because we carry the disease. We are the Other. As I write these words, I remember the beginning of the second chapter of the post-apocalyptic novel The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, in which our protagonist mentions: “My mother died, and then my father died, and since then I lived all alone in this house. Two years ago, the nurse who took care of me when I was small died as well…” Everything is dead now.

And what can art do in this context? For now, nothing. The timid efforts that artists, curators, gallery owners or auction houses have made respond less to their inability to act than to the little margin they have to attempt a proposal. Art has no responsibility to change things. It doesn’t even have to thematically represent the images of death seen around the world.

It is true that there are some scenarios that could change significantly in the art world. Many of today’s most interesting pieces could be developed on digital platforms. Museums and artists alike will have to modify their education to explore the avenues digital tools offer. But isn’t it that we are all obligated to do so?

The 2020 pandemic evidenced, for example, the lack of education to take advantage of the technological tools that have been available to us for a long time. However, it showed something more important: in the capitalist system it does not matter if there are tools to solve problems, what matters is who has access to them.

In 2001 it is very likely that art will continue without advancing. With the invention of a vaccine that will soon circulate around the world, it is very possible that museums will open their doors in a few months. The art fairs will re-establish their activities. In appearance everything will return to the past. But if we have learned something, it is that the past never returns. And it doesn’t have to come back.

Perhaps in this loophole art has its best chance. Art can become a space—unstable as it is—where our decisions are discussed. A place to discuss our current uncertainties. A space to reconfigure the way we project our feelings and emotions. To recognize that the moment we have of life can disappear at any moment. A space to accommodate once and for all the concept of ambiguity in Siri Hustvedt‘s sense: “ambiguity is inherently contradictory and insoluble, a bewildering truth of fogs and mists and the unrecognizable figure or phantom or memory or dream that cannot be contained or held in my hands because it is always flying away, and I can’t tell what it is or if it is anything at all.”