Art in the time of physical distance: Pam Hall
What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why?
I am often isolated, working in the studio or on other projects in the field, and in the “before days” I read every day and always had more than one book in progress. Since the lockdown, my reading has become more intense, more determined, and with no breaks between books. As if I am breathing in the books and need them in order to inhale.
I read at night. On the chest of drawers beside my bed is usually a pile of books five or six volumes high, non-fiction mixed with fiction, Mary Oliver essays mixed with advice from Pema Chodron. I like to have choices. Right now, there is a larger-than-normal stack of books. The Oliver, the Chodron, Tracing Ochre by Fiona Pollack, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, and The Bedside Book of Birds by Graeme Gibson. This week, I am reading the one on the top of that pile, The Lonely City by Olivia Laing.
In the fiction stack and recently finished, there is Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, which is an awesome uncomfortable book about race, privilege, and cultural deafness. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has an amazing female character in a richly detailed physical and social swamp. And The Overstory by Richard Powers which is an amazing and important book but almost too heartbreaking to read during a pandemic. It is the most I have ever learned about trees. This pandemic will eventually conclude, I hope, but the world will still be environmentally wounded and unlikely to recover.
It is hard to answer a why question about one’s choice of reading. I live with a young writer so am often handed books I might not otherwise have found. I have just recently started the NK Jemisin fantasy trilogy thanks to a recommendation from a Facebook friend. I think my choices are based on the writer rather than genre. I seem to be reading almost only women writers. I regularly look at the titles that win prizes or praise from critics, and not surprisingly a lot of those are women writers. But I also return to favourites of mine, like Michael Chabon, and I am getting around to some of his work that I had not yet read. I wish I had not read all of Louise Penny’s books because I could read those forever. I suspect, like many of us, I am reading more as a way to avoid thinking too much about the details of the news. The pandemic news, yes, but also the rest of it. We are in the plague days in so many ways.
Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching? Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site?
I am watching old mysteries and spy movies, often British ones with not too much violence. In fact, a lot of what I am watching is British or Australian. Things like The Night Manager and London Spy and the entire catalogue of James Bond movies in order, and everything Bill Nighy was ever in. This, as you can imagine, is a large catalogue of films and television and I especially adored watching the Johnny Worricker movies again. I am also watching comedy which was never really my first choice of viewing unless my daughter, Jordan Canning, directed it! So, I’ve been watching Schitt’s Creek and Baroness Von Sketch Show, but also Fleabag which I recommend to everyone.
What music or artist are you listening to right now and why?
I am listening to a lot of birdsong these days. Strangely, I am not listening to much music, but when I do put some on it is classical or instrumental jazz. Music with lyrics seems to make me weep. Not in a bad way; it is very calming and cleansing to have a good healthy cry, I think. And when I am up to going there, or for dancing wildly around my kitchen while I am cooking, I put on Tim Baker’s new solo album Forever Overhead which makes me dance and only makes me weep on one or two songs.
Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work? Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now?
My routine is driven by plants and animals, the same as in the “before times”. The act of “tending” must be performed daily or other living things suffer. It has always helped to have cats to feed and seedlings to nourish. My work as an artist has often engaged a daily practice of one kind or another, and yes, I suppose there is now a routine to what I am “doing”, although I am UNdoing and UNmaking rather than MAKING (which is kind of what one expects from a visual artist).
I am thinking a lot about art, objects, and meaning and about how much there is already in the world. I am not sure, of course, but suspect there may be enough already, or at least enough that has been made by some groups. So, I am unmaking things. All those flying fish from an outdoor installation a few years ago in Port Rexton, and all those aprons from my years of work about women’s labour. Stitch by stitch they come apart. It seems kind of like unravelling knitted things which I also am getting ready to do! I might sew all these deconstructed parts into Plague Blankets or I might not. The stillness and quiet of the process is enough for me right now, without needing a plan for production.
If I had “advice” for others working in these strange times, it would be “don’t produce what is not needed”. For it is this fundamental assumption of capital that drives our badly broken planet… that MORE is better. These days I am thinking about ENOUGH… and wondering about whether to make more or not.
Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything, in particular, you have discovered that has delighted you?
I will confess I spend more time on Facebook than ever before, and truthfully am comforted by the community there. I have discovered a game!! I know many others have been playing games online for years but not me. I have just discovered this now and enjoy searching for hidden objects in pictures and matching things up. Childish things, yes? But profoundly comforting I think because they are completely distracting and totally absorbing. Aside from these games on social media, I am very happy to be Facetiming and Zooming with family and friends all over the world. I am MORE in touch with distant friends and family now, during a lockdown, than I ever have been before!
How has food provided comfort?
In the early days of lockdown, I ate my first bag of potato chips in 20 years!! So it has been definitely providing comfort, but not always in a good way!! I have settled down and gone off carbs again now. I feel very lucky to have great organic farmers close by and access to good healthy food. I am also growing some pea shoots and making sprouts, which is both fun and comforting even when the cats eat all the pea shoots!
Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with.
I am locked down in my big old house with two cats and one housemate. I have my office here and three studios, so there is lots of space to work and dream. One other housemate is in Ontario, and two others have left the province to finish their graduate work from home away from here.
So it is quiet but lovely. My housemate, Olivia, is excellent company and also happy in the solitude of the house. And the garden is awesome now that the snow is retreating. We found garlic breaking ground a few days ago and have a deck where we can take coffee out of the wind on good days. So physically we are safe, secure, and wildly privileged. And very grateful.
In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic?
Distance from the large urban incubators for the virus and also the safety of being on an island.
Mostly the best thing is just being HOME.
Any overall words of wisdom to share?
Nope… except maybe “be suspicious of words of wisdom – we know less than we think”.
What do you miss the most?
Hugging and being hugged.