When the global pandemic hit in 2020 life changed in major and also everyday ways. In those confusing early days of lockdown when we were all destabilised – learning what living through a pandemic meant, responding to changes of circumstance, and expanding our vocabularies with previously unknown medical and public health terms – threat and collective unease turned us inwards. Nikola Tesla, the epitome of creativity, asserted that "The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind." While there is undoubtedly truth to these words, creatives also battled a plethora of puff pieces talking about how the pandemic would give birth to a new Renaissance. British art critic Jonathan Jones even went so far as to point out "much of Europe's greatest art" came from a time between 1300 and 1700 when plague and quarantine were a normal part of life. However, the reality is that lockdown destroyed livelihoods for many artists.
For Laith McGregor, as for many artists, lack of access to buying new materials meant making work with only what they could find around them and exploring uncertain times in creative ways. McGregor's signature exploration of a wide range of materials beyond the traditional became even more extreme, leading his practice to take a new turn. The following text is written by the artist reflecting on making the body of work exhibited in Second Wind:
"Second Wind developed through a series of subconscious interventions made during our recent globally shared year of uncertainty. This new work is primarily made of found and fabricated parts from which I've created a series of mounted prints and sculptural forms that indicate a collective response to our current situation in the world. Being forced to isolate in the rural, regional setting of Northern New South Wales proved difficult to obtain my usual art materials and equipment. This unforeseen circumstance led to an unexpected exploratory development in my practice resulting in new work made from existing materials found in my studio. An assortment of renderings made up of a chaotic collection of faces began to illustrate my mindset during this unprecedented time. I slowly built up a collection of misfits made by collaging pages from old magazines, books, and art periodicals. The collages formed ambiguous portraits created through moments of immediacy and intuition, as if conjuring a collective of elusive indiscriminate characters. The project continued to explore notions of the in-between, the grey area that exists between fiction and nonfiction. I set out to make a collage each day until the pandemic had reached an endpoint, little did I realise that when I began the project, this global phenomenon didn't have an endpoint in sight and continues to consume our everyday lives.
My intention was to let the subconscious drive the narrative. Not surprisingly, the narrative led to ideas of isolation, longing, time, and protection. The collages were made daily with a parameter of creating a portrait within a landscape that suggested my response to the day. This limitation allowed for unsuspecting and fortuitous conclusions of my thoughts and psyche during this time. The collages were then made into a series of limited prints that are float mounted and editioned. The sculptural forms echo my feelings of unsatisfied yearning for an 'other'. These objects were created using materials I had on hand, including wood, cement, and cotton, then assembled to elucidate my conflicting attitude towards an unseen peril. Moments of confusion, weariness, and bewilderment are intertwined and circulate throughout the show. As the title of the show suggests, one must find an alternate way to conjure energy during hard and pressing days, we must find a way to cope with these days of unease, we must locate a second wind."
Press release courtesy Starkwhite.