Sunday, February 25, 2024

Near and Now: Art Out of Chaos

We all can remember with absolute clarity, just over two years ago, where we were when the pandemic was declared. And then, shortly afterwards, the world came to a halt. And all of our lives changed forever. For me, it was sitting down to a coffee and sandwich at Red Church, my laptop open and a document in progress. That document was a novel I’d been banging out. My first, actually. Two years later, I sheepishly admit that it remains unfinished. Oh, I have a first draft. But it’s very messy. Still, in the months following the lockdown and intervals since, I’ve continued to work away at this project. In the early months of 2020, my sense of what the story and the characters would be was fairly clear. Two years of a global pandemic later, I am no longer sure. And there is something both anxious and exciting about that.

In the opening weeks of the pandemic, a popular Facebook meme shared widely among creatives hunkering down was the supposed historical fact of Shakespeare having written King Lear during the Black Plague. The message, of course, was that even in the bleakest of moments, creativity thrived. Indeed, profound art often emerges from the darkest of times. I, for one, didn’t really take it that way. Most artists I knew came away from that meme feeling even more despondent; the message only reinforced the hard knocks ethic that artists must always be working otherwise they’re worthless.

MInd you, these past two years, I have continued to create. My writing has been published and produced (digitally) and I’ve been successful in grant applications and arts residencies alike. Turns out my version of King Lear-by-way-of-COVID isn’t the first draft that sits on my computer awaiting a rewrite. It’s the script I started in the last year of my association with Theatre Aquarius. The play about my daughter, her love of the ocean, and my fears of the future; a script that took on new meaning when a shadow was cast over the future of humanity. A shadow, I would argue, that still looms large.

With a brutal war in Ukraine, waves of COVID variants, increasing racial injustice, rising alt right extremism and accelerating climate change, our world has perhaps never faced such widespread chaos. Certainly, it has never faced it while being so directly plugged in real time via the window of social media. It is increasingly hard to discern any sort of pattern from the perpetual noise of the news cycle around us. Now, more than ever, society needs the creative vision of artists to craft lasting and meaningful work. Art is uniquely suited to transform and give meaning to chaos, even if the meaning is that such turbulence will always be a part of our lives.

With that in mind, I am going to be dedicating the next few columns of my writing on the blog to speaking with local artists in Hamilton about what they see as the next steps in art and culture. I want to find out from them what kind of art these past few years of calamity are creating right now and how the current events of our world will shape art in Hamilton for years to come. So, if you’re a Hamilton-based artist (no matter the discipline), and would be interested in having a conversation about this issue, please get in touch with me at [email protected] and let’s talk about the art out of chaos.

Stephen Near
Stephen Near
Stephen Near is a freelance writer and educator living in Hamilton. He is a graduate of York University (BFA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (B. Ed) and the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. He works at Mohawk and Humber College and is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and an alumnus of both the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre. Stephen's plays have been produced at the Hamilton Fringe Festival and Theatre Aquarius and he is completing his first fiction novel.

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