Part of our series Artists in Quarantine. We talk about the lives, interests and concerns of artists during the lockdown, based on ‘interviews’ with some of the artists we work with – some conducted by email (with a list of questions), some on the phone.
I came to Glasgow in 1998 and fell in love with the place. The friends I’ve made, the work I’m able to do, and to work at Glasgow Print Studio (GPS) – these are all things made me feel at home.
My own studio and GPS are in the same building, and I walk to and from them every day – it’s a nice long 40 min walk. The day when they decided to close, I carried as many things as I could. I had sketchbooks, catalogues, materials, in backpacks, carrier bags, IKEA bags – everything I have, and walked home. It was a struggle, but I guess adrenaline took over and gave me the determination.
The next day, I set up in my living room and started working. I’m lucky that I live in a top-floor, south-facing tenement flat – and it’s been so sunny, especially for Glasgow. When the sun floods my living room, I can carry on.
I have been working towards a two-part exhibition of drawings and prints in Taigh Chearsabhagh and GPS. When I visited Taigh Chearsabhagh in the Outer Hebrides, I walked for miles in the wilderness and was suddenly confronted by some stonewalled structures. I was told they are sheepfolds, used by crofters to confine sheep when they need to ‘manage’ them – one of the uses is to quarantine. They left an impression on me, and I often think about that when making new work for this exhibition. Now that I draw a lot more, since printing at home isn’t possible, the exhibition may take a direction not in any way that I have ever imagined.
Time seems to have an elastic quality when the space around you is fixed.
For the first couple of weeks, I kept busy. I made work, worked on collaborations, spoke to friends on the phone, and when you looked up, it’s 9 p.m. already. And inevitably, you realised that you can’t carry on like this. You have started sprinting then found yourself in a marathon. It’s hard to adjust your pace when you don’t know how long the race really is, and you might already be exhausted.
Yet I find it hard to take days off – and I know I need to, otherwise making work become repetitive. Now I’m managing to take one day off every week. On Sundays, I do things around the house, I go for long walks, I bake (a lot) – I try to keep my mind occupied.
There are many benefits of staying in one place and not travelling, and there’s a sense of relief that I could work from home. This time last year I was on a residency in Australia, and I missed the blossoms at home, so it has been a real treat to see the blossoms from my window this year. I’m very fortunate to have amazing parks around my flat and it’s wonderful to observe the change of seasons in this way. In Pollock Country Park, you can even meet deer and Highland cattle, which is wonderful.
I also got to know those around me better. I have a bird feeder outside my window, and I started to recognise the birds as individuals. I can tell who has been for a snack today and who hasn’t, based on the details in their feathers. I never thought I’d be able to do that. And my neighbours too – I have been helping one of my neighbours who had a long and painful recovery from COVID.
It might sound strange, but it’s incredible to witness how human can adapt and change drastically – the whole country, the whole population. When you read The Handmaid’s Tale, you might think ‘surely, that can’t happen over-night?’, but now we know we can change, for better or worse, when under pressure. We might even change to an extent that we may never remember what it was like before – ‘the new normal’ as many people are calling it. But let’s hope we will change for the better.
See Rachel’s work as part of Made for the NHS Event.