Making the New Normal

This Is Normal, Right? by Ric Kasini Kadour
8”x10”; collage with elements from Daniel in the Lions’ Den by Sir Peter Paul Rubens and a 1928 Simpson’s Department Store catalogue; 2021. Courtesy of the artist.


Thoughts on a Post-Pandemic Life

A version of this editorial appeared in Kolaj 33To read the full editorial, SUBSCRIBE to Kolaj Magazine or Get a Copy of the Issue.

A year ago, in the pages of this magazine, I wrote about The Cool Zone of History and the idea of defining moments. (See the editorial in Kolaj #29.) I believe now what I believed then: Artists have an important role to play in helping us make sense of the world. Over the past year, I watched collage artists tackle the fear, grief, loss, and anger the pandemic thrust upon us. We saw artists assemble and distribute packets of materials to their neighbors. We followed projects that broke through the isolation and reinforced networks. We witnessed the embrace of new technology that allowed us to come together. There is much for this community, this movement to be proud of.

If I were to be entirely honest, as proud as I am, I am also tired. Like, really tired. I feel as if, for a year and a half, I’ve been dangling from a cliff or holding my breath under water. Re-entry feels like another new reality where you have to relearn all the rules and customs. Are we still masking or not? Is it okay to get on an airplane? Can I plan an event for a few months from now? What’s the plan if the exhibition needs to be shut down again. Life is hard and complicated enough without an ever changing list of unknowns. Then there are all the lingering feelings about what just happened.

A friend I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic walked into the bar the other night and my reaction was not pure pleasure at seeing him. It was relief that he was still alive. I find myself hesitant to ask if anybody has heard from other friends out of a fear that they have been lost…or an unreadiness to take on the grief if they were. I am also angry at those who actively deny the pandemic, who deny science, who put their own minor discomfort above the wellbeing of others. I am angry at those who pass around stupid conspiracy theories as if they are meaningless gossip.

Internet memes are celebrating the “Vaxxed & Waxed Summer of 2021”. Mashable explained it best: “Is ‘vaxxed and waxed’ a ridiculous, thirsty, slightly annoying saying? Certainly. But we’ve all been through a lot, and we’re excited to be vaccinated and get back out there. So we can have this unhinged motto as a treat, don’t you think?…But please stay safe this summer, because the coronavirus still very much exists.” I think this message is wise. We are making our way through the woods. We are making progress. We are not done. We are in an in-between space, still in The Cool Zone of History, but more 1946 than 1944.

Which brings me back to the return to normal. If history tells us anything, it is this: The new normal won’t be like the old normal. Nor should it be. Do you remember how cool it was to read about wildlife coming out and air quality improving in April 2020? Maybe that is something we want to hold on to. As difficult as lockdowns were, many of us reconnected with families in a different way. Some of us found time to make art. Many of us put on weight, but I think we also developed a different relationship to food and dining. We learned to bake bread. We all got a lesson in how easy it was for governments to invest in the health and wellbeing of the people, that money isn’t the all powerful curtailment of our impulse to care for one another.

Our challenge moving forward is to find those good things and make them stick. This is how we build the new normal. In her diary about hiding from Nazis in an Amsterdam attic, Anne Frank writes about making a collage soon after her arrival. “Up to now our bedroom, with its blank walls, was very bare. Thanks to Father–who brought my entire postcard and movie-star collection here beforehand–and to a brush and a pot of glue, I was able to plaster the wall with pictures. It looks much more cheerful.” In doing this, Frank was using art to make a new normal. We should do the same.

—Ric Kasini Kadour