There is no shortage of news dealing with coronavirus. And artistic efforts follow suit. But do works arising in the pandemic context really have such distinctive characteristics that they can stand out from all others and have an impact? First of all, to name it as such, one should be able to narrow down the term coronavirus art (irrelevant but read our article on Coronavirus Porn). Second, a large part of the art business and its global infrastructure have been devastated due to the pandemic and lockdowns. Hence, the lack of audience to enjoy it and interact over it. Many art activities are being relocated to the internet. There now coronavirus-imposed arrangements for viewers to enjoy art remotely. Solidarity and funding projects are exemplified by an exhibition project by the city of Munich on social distancing, which has been run throughout 2020.
Then there are documentary works, such as Ai Weiwei's film "Coronation" from this year, which is a collage of cell phone films dedicated to the outbreak in China, where you can see all the relevant external features of the crisis: The protective clothing in the Hospitals, the ventilation stations, roadblocks, deserted cities in lockdown (see a YouTube trailer).
A catastrophe alone does not make art
But works that unmistakably transform the natural disaster into a symbol, a myth of the 21st century, are currently lacking in numbers. On the contrary: Many artists say quite openly that they can't really think of anything about coronavirus. For a myth, the coronavirus crisis is still missing the big, significant secret.
Post drama? Dystopia? No idea.
Every cultural scene cultivates its technical terms because they are catchy and applicable. And we dare to ask questions to figure out the terms (the jargon) so that we can learn, think on, and finetune our understanding of what "that particular art" refers to. Yet, the terms are shaped by the collective human mind in coronavirus.
The often attempted comparison with the Spanish flu shows that other historical turning points supersede a catastrophe of massive proportions with a much-expected impact on arts after a while: the end of the First World War, the collapse of the Empire, the Great Depression, etc. Finally, art is subsumed under the term modern. And so in the coronavirus crisis, many topics were already there before but appeared to be much more fundamental: the climate crisis, new nationalism, social exclusion, the influence of conspiracy theories, Trumpian duplicity, all in all, the phase of posthumanism, which may be brought about by the coronavirus.
Art as our family album
We attempt at talking about coronavirus art, but it may have less to do with coronavirus than with an increasingly museum-like relationship to reality. This tendency can be clearly observed over the past few decades. Whenever something generally shocking happens, art or literature is called out. That was the case with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, financial crisis, climate crisis, and now with coronavirus.
Our ability to look at events in hindsight makes it seem as if we are just passive viewers, consumers of history that is somehow out of control. We want our experiences to be immortalized for future generations as part of the family album version - and that is art for humanity. But it also works the other way round as we always participate in this story ourselves to whatever small extent.