What Will We Take With Us Into Post-COVID Life?

In this powerful Op-ed. Storyteller, Art Curator, Artist & Creative Pois-On Contributor Sabrina Wirth reflects on our collective social and business future after the global pandemic emergency.

COVID19 Mask
Sabrina Wirth wearing one of the masks that she produced during quarantine.

When we started this quarantine journey together in mid-March, it was like we knew we were settling in for the long ride. We knew it would be temporary, and that it would be an inconvenience, but we approached it as a challenge. And so, we began to get creative and resourceful, thinking of ways to keep us busy, or create new content, because all of a sudden, social media became everyone’s outlet, and our home, the stage. Three months in and this temporary way of life has slowly transformed into the “new normal”. The big questions on everyone’s minds now, are: what will remain from this existence, what will return to how we remembered it, and what will change? 

By Sabrina Wirth

There is no question that pre-COVID life will remain in the past, and whatever we had been used to will have to continue in its adapted form- if it is to continue at all. Anyone who had been reluctant to jump on Instagram, or other social media, is now discovering the platform, and realizing that it is the window into a borderless, and virus-free world that does not have to follow social-distancing rules (Yet, at the same time, realizing that it is also a highly visible world, where the impact of what you publish can have far-reaching consequences). In the process of (re)discovering these alternate environments, many individuals and companies came to the awareness that much of what they deemed necessary, like in-person meetings, is in reality more efficient over the phone or on Zoom.

A ZOOM meeting in times of Corona Virus

Distance can no longer be considered an acceptable excuse for missing -or being late to- a meeting, because how can you be late to a phone call? It is safe to say that technology has significantly changed our pace of life over the past 30 years. Remember writing and receiving letters? Those shoeboxes once filled with letters from pen-pals are now filled with either bills, invitations, solicitations, and the occasional letters or postcards. In those letter-writing days, immediate gratification was not a thing. We lived our lives off-line and in the physically present moment. Indeed, everything was much more local, and calling someone in another country was a planned event. When texting became more common, it was exciting to be able to reach another person so instantaneously. Now, no one even gives it a second thought. Our pace of adjusting to the opportunities technology provides has been increasing gradually- so gradually that no one has really noticed.

Then, Covid-19 happened. It was as though someone said “now stop whatever you’re doing because if you want to continue, you have to figure out a different way.” They say “necessity is the mother of inventions”, and in a sense, we (by “we” I mean the majority) have had to invent a new way of life. That’s why #creativitywillsaveus keeps growing, because creatives are, by nature, constantly reinventing and reimagining. They are the ones who are leading the path into this new world, and the more people share on this platform, the more people are inspiring others to do the same. 

With all these advancements in technology and tools for working remotely, why has the workplace structure remained the same for so long? The traditional 9-5, 8-hour workweek has been around since the 20s when Henry Ford and the labor unions instituted a regulated work schedule. After WWII, when women and African Americans entered the workforce, office layouts were designed in the style of the factory floor rows, which had become common during the war years, and have since barely changed. It’s taken 3 months of quarantine and forced “work-from-home” for people to consider a different way- a more creative way.

During the quarantine, Sabrina got creative producing art, homemade masks, and developing innovative entrepreneurial ideas. She is also giving her voice to the podcast version of the Creative Pois-On #CreativityWillSaveUs Series. Check it here below!

And it’s taken this pandemic for people to finally embrace the changes that technology has made possible. If employees are able to productively work from home from whatever geographic location they are in, it confirms the notion that the traditional work model is outdated. As businesses begin to open up and people are given the option to return to their offices to work, there is a high likelihood that most people will want to maintain their flexibility, since it worked just fine during the quarantine. The one main difficulty, however, will be maintaining a sense of structure and balance between work and life, since the two have been blurred by existing within the same space. 

One industry that is discovering a “re-birth” of sorts, is the art business. Auction houses, galleries, museums… the kind of business that relies on in-person viewing. It’s a hand-shake business that capitalizes on the stories behind the object, the mystery of the artist’s process, the stories evoked in the tactility of the paint. The Mona Lisa is not the same on a screen as it is in the Louvre. A picture of a Warhol is not the same as the real thing. So what will this post-Covid transition look like?

Online Gallery
Is the online market the future of the Art Business?

For a while, auction houses were merely flirting with the idea of expanding the market online, and -despite the fact that being in the auction room itself is much more exciting- were cautiously making advancements with online bidding. It was never taken completely seriously though until a recent online auction at Sotheby’s brought in $36 million, more than double from the same period last year. Seeing these numbers come in from digital sales seems to be the validation the art world needed in order to forge ahead into more online ventures. To move ahead of the competition, without the advantages of real estate and location, the challenges will then be about storytelling and creating experiences that transcend between the virtual and the physical. In the meantime, however, museums and institutions that rely on membership and visitor fees will need to re-imagine the on-site experiences they provide in order to keep visitor numbers up. Will visits be limited to a certain number of people? What will happen with blockbuster exhibitions?

As the light at the end of this quarantine-tunnel becomes more visible, and our global attention is split between health and civil rights issues, I cannot help but feel a rush of emotions when I consider what our next phase of life will be. While eager to return to a sense of normalcy, I find myself hoping that some elements from this moment of isolation carry through into our future. Solidarity and community, for one.

#BlackLivesMatter
One of Sabrina’s homemade masks inspired by the principles of solidarity and community. Find more of these creations on Sabrina’s Instagram @_artwirth_

When we were all forced to individually “shelter-in-place”, we found ways to come together with tools like Zoom, FaceTime, and social media. In fact, many people may have found more community throughout these past several months than they had before. The shared efforts of making masks or designing and producing PPE face shields brought creative people from all industries together in a way they hadn’t previously experienced. The Black Lives Matter movement amplified the feeling of solidarity. Hopefully, this awareness of being able to impact change as a collective can transition into a more permanent state. Together, we can do more: we can be more creative, we can affect change, we can be stronger. Together, we are better. Let’s keep this as our main souvenir from Covid.

Sabrina Wirth
Sabrina Wirth

Sabrina Wirth is an artist, curator, writer, and storyteller. Her curiosity for people and different cultures has led her down various unusual, but fulfilling paths, such as exploring Iraqi Kurdistan, and working on a film about refugees in France. She believes in the power of creativity, and has learned that the best stories are the real-life, human ones.

For more info on Sabrina please visit: www.sabrinawirth.com

Surviving COVID-19 & Learning from Survivors of Genocide: The Concept of “Collective Humanity” Over “Collective Immunity”

French Human Rights Artist, Academic and UNESCO’s Artist for Peace Guila Clara Kessous, shares her theories on how to survive the COVID-19 by applying insights learned from assisting survivors of traumatic events such the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide.

Guila Clara Kessous

Why does it take a pandemic to bring humanity together—and realize our interconnectedness as a collective humanity in a global society? It is such a notion which, by an act of shared solidarity, it makes it possible to draw a human perspective of the collective rather than seeing it as a Darwinian means of containing the pandemic. As a UNESCO Artist for Peace, I have spent over two decades of my life serving survivors of globally devastating events, ranging from the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide. Throughout the duration of this global crisis, I have made the effort to share some of my theories on how to survive COVID-19 by applying insights learned from assisting the survivors of such genocides. 

by Guila Clara Kessous

Corona Virus
COVID-19 – People’s acts of solidarity towards the healthcare workers.

In times of remembrance of Holocaust victims, such as Yom HaShoah, I would like to remind us all that some of the most important philosophies of humanity have been derived during times of crisis. For example, Newton conceived his law of gravity during the Great Plague in the 1600s. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel became a Nobel Laureate for his many insights on the nature of mankind, offering perspectives such as,  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Now, in the face of COVID-19, we find people taking a stance towards love, such as cheering at night in New York, Paris, and Italy for healthcare workers, and governors standing up for state justice. 

Reptilian Brain

With the upheaval imposed by the coronavirus, we find ourselves developing a perspective of survival functioning linked to the reptilian brain, whose instructions were defined by Walter Bradford Cannon as the “3 F’s”: Fight, Flee, Freeze. In the face of a threat, the brain dictates a spontaneous behavior that is almost impossible to anticipate, linked to a reaction of either aggressiveness (fight = combat), dodging (flee = escape), or seizure (freeze = stunned). The extreme frustration in the case of the coronavirus is that no matter how hard the brain orders us to fight, our threat is invisible. It can order us to flee, but we are forced to remain confined in our homes. I have explained it as,

“We are left with only one option: inhibitory stupor. This is the one we can read on the faces of officials when they speak to explain the situation in the media. It is the one that animates us all. We are all shocked by the speed and intensity of this epidemic that brings back to mind the ‘memento mori’ of the Ancient Romans: ‘Remember that you are mortal.’

Guila Clara Kessous

It is at this precise moment that we must call upon the leader within us—the one who “shows the way”, who creates enthusiasm,  who is inspiring—the one we want to follow. Overcoming sudden fear presupposes three specific lines of thought, two of which are linked to what I will call “personal leadership”. These have been consciously or unconsciously chosen by many genocide survivors (Shoah, Rwanda, and Bosnia), of whom I have had the chance to follow during customized coaching in post-traumatic dialogue sessions. Today, I advise any leader, but above all, the leader that everyone is for themselves, to be able to follow these three key guiding principles. (The third recommendation is directly related to the position of leader in an organization.) Efforts to improve ourselves as individuals will consequently guide us to a greater international unity–after all, there is no better time than now to take the first steps, as said by Anne Frank: 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Anne Frank

1) PHYSICAL INSIGHT: FIND A NEW HOMEOSTASIS & CONNECTION TO YOUR BODY. Just fifteen minutes a day can save your life in terms of resetting the fluidity in your body. Like most post-traumatic stress syndromes, attacks on the joints can scale from the bottom to the top of the body. Moving the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, wrists, and the neck in small circles can be fundamental to finding your healthy and new homeostasis under quarantine. Originally discovered by the scientist

Claude Bernard, the term “homeostasis” comes from the Greek “to hold”, “equal”. It refers to the body’s ability to self-regulate despite imbalances of all types caused by external factors. It thus refers to the body’s ability to balance itself despite adversity. This homeostasis, this “rebalancing”, supposes an awareness of the body’s corporeal reality; and, as in the Russian martial art system, it suggests not to “stiffen” oneself in front of the blow under the influence of astonishment, but to “get out of balance” upon a threat by wasting as little energy as possible.

Since we can’t fight the virus, nor flee from home, let’s make this home—this body that is ours—a mindful, alert, and adaptable entity by being attentive to what it tells us.

Guila Clara Kessous

 “Healing is a process,” says Albert Nsengimana, author of How I Survived Being Killed by My Mother, and who lived in his flesh during the suffering of the Rwandan Genocide. Everyday physical efforts can help aid this vital healing process. Sporting activity, of course, is a very good illustration to which one can add a simple slow choreographed movement reflecting what the body needs. Even a simple balancing exercise at least once a day would be very highly recommended. Take a moment to stretch, spin, and dance!

2) MENTAL INSIGHT: BUILD A MINDSET OF TRAGIC OPTIMISM. People often speak of resilience.  “Resilience,” a notion so dear to ethologist Boris Cyrulnik, implies a willingness to rebuild after a trauma has been accepted and experienced.

Boris Cyrulnik
Ethologist Boris Cyrulnik

Unfortunately, with COVID-19, we are still undergoing the trauma. Victor Frankl’s notion of “tragic optimism” would be more appropriate to the situation. Otherwise, if we pursue “resilience” during this storm, it could evolve into “resignation.” As such, we need to fuel ourselves with this sense of tragic optimism. It is not a question of “happycracy” by forcing oneself to be happy in a superficial way. It is the “optimistic attitude to the tragedy of existence [that] allows. . . to turn suffering into a motive for fulfillment and accomplishment.” This “tragic optimism” tries to enable us to seek within ourselves the resources necessary to cope with a tragic existence that is beyond us. “Changing suffering into a motive for fulfillment” means daring to do what heroes and icons have done; it means maintaining positive psychology and keeping a watchful eye on the situation; neither being too fatalistically nor naively in denial of danger and keeping a belief that the best is yet to come.

3) ORGANIZATIONAL INSIGHT: BUILD A TRIBE OF COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE. What about the “collective body” in terms of teamwork? This line of thought comes from the experience I have gained throughout the duration of this pandemic, coaching managers by videoconference to teach them how to continue to create a link with employees when there is no longer any face-to-face presence. Leadership needs to be reinvented from an organizational point of view, especially if it pertains to an entity that is not used to virtual collaboration. When teams are required to come together through a new medium, we come to understand how valuable individual efforts are in benefitting the collective.

Malala Yousfzai
Malala Yousfzai

Malala Yousfzai, the internationally recognized advocate for education and peace, reminds us that “we realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” The objective of the virtual team must be to ensure that every individual is heard and to now allow for these circumstances to silence them.  There is an even greater need to find common goals in virtual teams and to reinvent storytelling. “Storytelling is a common myth to the group, a necessity for team cohesion,” as I have explained to colleagues. The appreciative inquiry method is an excellent example of re-creating collective intelligence in times of crisis and is fully applicable via videoconferencing. It involves identifying the successful factors that differentiate the collective in order to strengthen the bonds, particularly in rough times, and to show that leadership is not just a question of pyramidal authority management, but rather, a means of managing people in the service of common values, and who must face hazards such as the coronavirus together. 

Combined, these three insights create a notion of “collective humanity” to replace “collective immunity,” which in some ways is a much more Darwinian perspective of the world. For humanity consists of a body, a spirit, and a living-together, as the three dimensions of this article show. In addressing the progress of the Rwandan nation following its 1994 tragedy, Nsenigmana believes that “it’s better to live behind our past, our story. To move forward. To be together, to consolidate, to make a unit.” An applied mentality of collectivism that aims to unite humanity also points to Nobel Prize-winning existentialist, Albert Camus, in his reminder in an eponymous book narrating another famous epidemic:

“The only way to put people together is still to send them the plague.”

Albert Camus

Not even halfway through 2020, this year presents such a compelling and exciting time for all people, from the United States to Nigeria to China to France, to apply these concepts of collective humanity. Rosian Zerner, who not only survived the Holocaust but was reunited with her family in Lithuania, illustrated this resilience best in her poem reflecting on the nature of the mass genocide, “When Our World Stood Still”: “My hope is that the meaning of our inward pause will not be lost, that we will see this great transition as opening a different, better road ahead, that we return to or reinvent the meaning of what truly being human is in our wonderful creation.” By observing and reflecting on these insights from survivors of traumatic events, each person around the world is faced with the opportunity to be leaders of positivity in designing and building a post-COVID-19 world. 

BIOGRAPHY OF AUTHOR

Guila Clara Kessous
Guila Clara Kessous

Guila Clara Kessous, PhD. is a research professor, a coach, and a UNESCO Artist for Peace. Recipient of a doctorate under Elie Wiesel’s direction, she is using theatrical techniques to help suffering populations (survivors of genocide and human rights violations) better express themselves and have a stronger impact on new generations. She is also certified in positive psychology by Harvard University Professor Tal Ben Shahar and accompanies people to achieve stronger resilience in times of crisis.  She deals with issues of positive leadership, crisis communication, and managerial posture using theatrical techniques and role-playing. Following the coaching of suffering populations, she accompanies personalities, executive committees, senior executives, and managers in crisis contexts in France and abroad. Today, she is working with healthcare personnel, ranging from executives to nurses, to provide coaching and counseling to those serving at the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

Unlocking & Unmasking With the Powers of Art & Creativity

Letter From Our Editor in Chief Tommaso Cartia

Marco Gallotta
NYC-based Artist Marco Gallotta Masks Series – A tribute to all our first responders.

New York, May 20th, 2020,
how long have you been locked down? A couple of months? Is it really just a couple of months, or have we been living in stages of lockdown, on and off, since our life’s journeys began? Have we escaped? Have we tried to escape? With our bodies, with our minds, with our souls? Have we experienced freedom or are we still excruciatingly mingling with self-imposed or super-imposed imprisonments? Do we know that is our Self who is Super and has Super-powers? Are we aware of the superpower of our creative minds? Do we know that the Creation is never completed until we co-create it and expand its marvels with the pyrotechnical visions of the worlds we wish to live? 

How Long Have I Been Locked Down?

Tommaso Cartia
Tommaso Cartia – Editor in Chief of Creative Pois-On’s Storytelier.

That was one of my first thoughts when the surreal and yet super-real atmosphere of this global pandemic started clouding our vision and super-impose itself on our daily lives. Why was this atmosphere so familiar to me, where and when did I experience it? If I detected the origin of this feeling, could I have recollected how I dealt with it before, and what helped me to escape? The brutal desolation and isolation, the sorrow and the despair, with which this sneaky and virulent virus is paralyzing and polluting both our bodies and consciences, brought back virulent paralyzing and polluting memories.

Masking – An Old Habit
This is certainly not the first mask I’m wearing, and masking is a fashion that really never went out of style. How many times was I forced to wear a mask; a mask on my eyes for the worlds I wasn’t allowed to see or reach, a mask on my mouth for the words I wasn’t allowed to say, a mask on my heart for the feelings I was not allowed to express. How many days and nights, locked-down in a room wishing on lives, wishing on far-away lands and emotional landscapes I so wanted to walk in, fear-free, mask-free.

Free.

Art & Creativity – Compass of Our Lives
What helped me survive that isolation? What helped me expand my vision, my senses, and bring reality closer, shaped exactly how I envisioned it? It was Art, always, there were the artists, the mentors, the writers, the muses, injecting my mind with their purposeful creations. Art and Creativity are the compass of our lives, the sails unfurled navigating towards the ends of any horizon, transporting us through dimensions, unlocking all locks, unmasking all masks. 

With the same instinct that brought me to cling on to the artists to survive my many lockdowns and experiencing the life I’m leading today, we at Creative Pois-On felt that we needed to cling on to the artists to understand this very challenging time that we are facing, find in them guidance and find with them the time to rediscover how our own creativity can lead us to phase 2, 3, 4… of our future. As we are finding new measures to contain the spreading of this virus, and we are looking for effective treatments, the testimony of the artists of our times living through this pandemic, can give us creative measures to contain the spreading of our fears and treat our minds and souls to re-design the more sustainable world of tomorrow, humanly, ethically, economically. 

That’s why in the midst of all of this we launched a special project –#CreativityWillSaveUs

#CreativityWillSaveUs – Enjoy our Web Series on Creative Pois-On Official Youtube Channel.

A video/podcast series and social media campaign – nominated for the prestigious United Nations SDG Impact Awards – where prominent figures from the international world of art, culture, and entertainment come together to reflect on the central value that art brings to all humanity during these challenging quarantine times of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative is also designed to support the global community of artists who are seeing all of their venues temporarily shut down to safely prevent the spreading of the Corona Virus.


Listen to the Podcast Series Here below:

Creative Pois-On thinks that this is the time to go back to basics, to the essential DNA of its mission: “More than 7 billion people are living on Planet Earth. Every single one of us is like an isolated island, a polka-dot (Pois, in French), seemingly disconnected from one another. Laptops, smartphones, and social media provide technological bridges, but the storylines we channel are the real threads for all of the living polka-dots around the world to truly connect in this infinite maze.” 

These words sound so incredibly current and important in this climate of fear and transformation. So Creative Pois-On thought to channel the extraordinary, talented voices of some of the artists whose stories and creations have been enriching the pages of the platform, both on the Creative Pois-On Podcast show, the editorial project – Storytelier – and the Creative Pois-On Official Youtube Channel. The reach extends beyond these outlets, enlarging CP’s tentacular maze to embrace a constellation of a different variety of artistic expressions and artists. All together they raise a voice that can break through these walls of isolation sending everybody a positive message that #CreativityWillSaveUs and that we can spend this time making the most out of our creative powers.

Follow us on this journey with the goal to find ourselves renewed and ready to soon unlock not only the doors of our houses but also the ones of our intuition, when this virus will dissipate and we will be asked to co-create the world of tomorrow, mask-free, fear-free.

Free. 

Ready, Set, Imagine!

Tommaso Cartia