Doom, Gloom, Stuck In Your Room: The Project Bringing Quarantine Creativity into View

Words by Helena Wacko and Portia Kentish

IMAGE Urban Venus by Alexandra Kinga Fekete.

The canvas on which we conduct our lives has shrunken. As social distancing cements into the new normal, we are gradually learning to operate within the four walls of our homes. As social creatures, this time of isolation can be a daunting experience. The incessant bombardment of heart-wrenching news and hypochondriac craziness is fuelling the need for escapism. Finding themselves in isolation, many artists are channeling these feelings into creation. 

With copious amounts of time now at their disposal, art has emerged as a remedy against fear and isolation, not to mention boredom. Even amidst unprecedented times and cabin fever, human creativity is resilient. At the same time, we are now unable to consume art in the way we used to as cinemas, galleries, theatres, and streets are absent until further notice. 

In an industry that so heavily relies on interaction and connection, the era of social isolation brings a new and uncharted time to the arts. Realising this, three university students Zsuzsa Magyar, Morgan Bakinowski, and Lindsay Wickersham aim to fill this gap with their Doom Gloom Stuck In Your Room Report (DGSYR). With this, the trio want to create a space for “artists across the world to share their quarantine creations” in an effort to capture the creative drive emerging from this new normal. 

Not only does the project wish to support and promote artists, but to serve as a documentation of this time. Throughout history, artists have filled the separation between historical events and their emotional implications, and now more than ever, we need creative observers to make sense of this new normal. “I hope [the project] can capture a moment of quarantine and social distancing,” says Zsuzsa, “the art is not necessarily about aesthetics, but more about the moment it was made in.”

The art is not necessarily about aesthetics, but more about the moment it was made in.

Zsuzsa Magyar

Filled with a mix of boredom and frustration, Lindsay and Zsuzsa wanted to overcome the lack of social and artistic stimulation they were facing. Lindsay began to observe that “secret hobbies were being revealed as newfound poets, people recording and sharing songs on instruments that once collected dust, and knitting projects among other creative exploits became a regular and welcomed addition to my online experience.” 

From there, the idea for DGSYR grew, as they realised that a quarantine art exhibit was the answer to their restrictions. “For those of which art had already played a central role in their life, I saw experimentation within the constraints of the quarantine, people using their immediate resources to their advantage and exploring themes related to the current state we are in. I wanted to celebrate this.” tells Lindsay.

Then, Morgan, with her graphic design skills, joined the team. Though the idea had been cooking for a while, once the concept was formed the ball was quickly rolling; in a mere four day period, a website was created and the trio embarked on their project. For the Doom Gloom Team, it became a way to spend their time, a healthy distraction away from the outside world, and continues to be driven by the hope that it will be the same valuable distraction for others.

Shave the Beast by Sam Vladimirsky 

“I think this is a cool way to digest art in a time where all of your usual stimulus and encounters are not happening” explains Morgan, “instead observations and experiences are abbreviated to whatever is happening in your room or on your phone”. Like much of life during the pandemic, the online sphere has become crucial in filling the lack of stimulus, and the arts are no exception. 

The beauty of this online medium is its universality and accessibility – and word travels fast. After only a few days, dozens of artists from around the world began to contribute. From dancers to filmmakers, painters to poets, the DGSYR has become a validating space for many to share their art, consume others’ work and more importantly, serve as a connection between the two.

While patiently waiting for the day a physical exhibition can be held in the east London venue Ziferblat, the project is set to embark on a digital one. Through a collaboration with Cyber Warehouse, contributing artists will have the opportunity to showcase their work in an online space. This cooperation is emblematic of the project’s flexibility to circumstance, as the digital world increasingly fills the gap of the physical. 

DGYSR is also a demonstration of ingenuity born out of increasingly restrictive circumstances. This is certainly true of “The Dwelling”, a short film made by Bournemouth university students living in isolation together. The film, which was accepted into the Quarantine International Film Festival, was shot entirely in their house and garden. It went on to win best editing by the Canadian festival, highlighting the global traction of the project.

Quarantine Diaries by Nell Mitchell

For others, the project has been an alternative to art that is so often commodified and competitive. “In a digital market, canvases are used to prop up ad-rolls, between every song on Spotify another advertisement is trying to sell you a different song” explains the band Apathy Spells “so it’s refreshing to see artists turn to one another in this time and freely share their work”. Their submission, a song titled ‘Neo Dungeon’ was recorded whilst in isolation in Vancouver. Similarly, painter Joseph P. Keiffer speaks of the report’s intention in providing “an honest slice of who is doing what”. The 68-year-old painter now isolated in Rhode Island, has made multiple submissions to DGSYR, and appreciates the project’s ability to illuminate “an unfiltered view of what’s happening inside houses… not what is in galleries or magazines”

Another contributing artist, Holly Peters, hopes the project “will inspire more people to get out of their comfort zones” during a difficult time. The Toronto based fashion student has been making “fun yet functional” masks for herself and others, combining distraction with purpose. 

Beyond encouraging practical and much-needed creations, the DGSRY report supports the mental wellbeing of creatives. For the Doom Gloom Team, recognising the mental health impacts of the global situation was a significant motivating factor. “For me, art is a way of processing,” says Zsuzsa, explaining that she wants the project to be a tool for motivation and aid in the creative process. This recognition led to the creation of the “DGSYR Cures” which aim to focus on the positive mental health benefits of the project, such as empowering artists, by creating a task that people can work towards. “Art for many is a coping mechanism and serves a therapeutic purpose.” explains Lindsay,  “The walls of your room may feel less claustrophobic if you access other worlds and realities through your creative pursuits, and by sharing them with others it may help you feel less distant from a society we cannot physically interact with at this moment.”

She continues; “I’ve seen posts circulating that are vaguely in the format of ‘if you haven’t created a side hustle’ or if you ‘haven’t finished that novel’, it isn’t because you haven’t had enough time it is because you’re lazy”. The trio aim to deconstruct this problematic expectation of productivity during a crisis. “ I believe people have enough pressure already and strangers performing the role of the ‘disappointed parent’ and projecting that onto the masses serves no use. It is also ignorant of the struggles people are enduring in this chaotic time specifically.” Rather, the team wants to shed light on one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic.

The Dwelling by Benjamin Schweimler Ricca, Can Yilmaz, Harry Tomlin

The team also acknowledges that being able to create art under quarantine is not a privilege afforded to all. If the recent months have highlighted anything, it is the harsh realities the pandemic carry for all of us, particularly the most vulnerable in society. The trio keep this disparity in mind and emphasising its role in serving the community of quarantined artists, whilst attempting to make the project universal and accessible to all. 

Despite having manifested their vision over the past two months, “It’s still a work in progress”, and leaves the door wide open for future iterations with the project. The plan is a physical exhibition, when the situation allows for it. For the Doom Gloom Team, who knows that the future holds, but this exhibit is far from a capstone. For now, the exhibit stands as a celebration not only of creativity, but of the many positive initiatives that are emerging from this hard and complicated time. As Lindsay expressed, “I wanted everyone to come together after lockdown and see what they all had created and feel a sense of unity and accomplishment.”

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An earlier version of this article was published in UCL’s Pi Media.