It feels strange to look back and see how much the world has changed since we last sat down to write an editorial. As we finished publishing Issue 3 of Cicerone Journal, Australia’s nightmare fire season was at the forefront of our minds. In the space of just a few months, however, the coronavirus and lockdown living have dominated headlines and radically reshaped how people across the globe interact with one another and within their own worlds. These events have also cast a new light on art and creativity. What place in people’s lives does art occupy today, when so many former norms, delights, and pursuits are now barred to us?
Art has always contributed to people’s lives in meaningful – though not necessarily quantifiable – ways. Many of the activities and distractions keeping people occupied and sane during lockdown fall beneath art’s umbrella: music, television, baking, craft, and writing, to name a few.
Yet the arts industry and those working in it are also among the hardest hit by the coronavirus lockdown. Shows have closed and festivals and book tours have been cancelled. Now more than ever, working in the arts feels – and is – precarious. This especially rankles given the demonstrable role the arts have in improving people’s quality of life, now thrown into even sharper relief by the events of the past months.
How valuable or essential are the arts? Opinions differ. For this reason, the theme around which we have centered Issue 4 is that of perspective. Perspective, especially now, is a thought-provoking lens through which to read fresh writing. In times of change – like the year 2020 – how do our perceptions of time, of people, of places and of what is normal change?
Several pieces in Issue 4 engaged with these questions. Maura Pierlot’s Inside Out, for example, is a heartfelt personal reflection on time, isolation, and the changes in parent-child relationships over time, framed by the challenges to emotional wellbeing that COVID-19 has forced us to consider. Meanwhile, Jocelyn Deane’s Viruses takes an experimental and expansive view of the concept of virus: as text, language, culture and bodies.
Jude Aquilina’s Hibernation 2020 provides a more hopeful, intimate view of isolation; the perspective is one that draws on nature for a fresh perspective of very human living spaces, made anew by the pandemic. Likewise, Jane Frank’s Last Day at Work challenges us to reframe the human “blocks of buildings” as “ordinariness” against the “drama unfolding” in the “flotillas of butterflies exploding / over the lawn”.
Several authors in this issue force ourselves to consider where we stand in relation to the natural world. From the startling closeness of Karen May’s vibrissae to the shifting gazes of Maurits Zwankhuizen’s Grey Currawong, we are forced to question whether our understanding is actually merely one of many possible ways of perceiving our environments – and how we can inhabit different physical bodies and spaces through writing to develop new understandings of the natural world.
Time in particular has moved even more strangely in this year than usual. Jane Downing’s Wandiligong is a story that explores the non-linearity and the indefiniteness of time, which speaks to a certain feeling of limbo that resonates at this time – with usual milestones indefinitely delayed, on hold or disappeared.
Under current circumstances, Brett Firman’s and Christopher Palmer’s poems are a reminder for us to truly see the overlooked. In our society, the overlooked may come down to those very workers now considered essential.
On that note, multiple pieces in this issue shine light on people who have been overlooked or forgotten by others. Moya Pacey’s The Girl Who Disappears And Then Comes Back tells a chilling story of innocence and violence. Janeen Samuel’s This Season’s Daffodil shows one woman gaining greater appreciation for another – one about whom she had previously made assumptions. Phil Manning’s playful tale The Day Mart has for protagonists two elderly women in a rest home. In Zeta One, Ace Boggess wonders where forgotten actresses may have ended up; and in Dave Medd’s The Midnight Crossing Keeper, a chance encounter with a nameless stranger leaves an indelible mark. Likewise, Rosa O’Kane’s Latrinalia highlights small joys in the observance of ordinary and everyday places. All the pieces in this issue have allowed us to feel closer to their writers, to glimpse their perspectives for a brief moment – something for which we are very grateful. In this time of necessary social distancing, we are reminded that perspective is rather something that can be shared and that can bring people closer together.
At the core of making art is the ability to see, and at the heart of the appreciation of art can be the sense of being seen. This is part of why art is lauded for its capacity to build community, create shared experiences, and communicate stories that educate and empower. In this sense, although our ability to congregate has been curtailed by social distancing requirements, it is gratifying to recognise that we can still hold onto this power of seeing and of creating. In seeing, we allow things to be and to become.