When the pandemic first hit, most of us imagined that it would be a few weeks or maybe a few months before the situation would resolve. We put our heads down and adapted to our new work and social realities the best we could. We figured it was annoying but would soon be over. Now that it has become clear that this a much longer-term situation, an important mindset shift is happening.
Shut up inside our homes, severed from our usual ways of living and interacting, we are each rethinking our foundational beliefs, values and aspirations. How much meaning do our jobs bring us? Are the relationships we have solid or fleeting? What are the things that we truly consider most important to our existence — in both the daily and metaphysical senses? This reconsideration of everything that we thought to be habitual, comfortable and essential, has brought us to an important cultural moment — one with reverberations that will be felt long beyond the introduction of a successful vaccine. This moment in time will be a period that marks us and one that we will mark.
In the body modification world that my company, Metal Mafia, inhabits, everything has always been about marking the moment — literally and figuratively. People come in for piercings and tattoos to express who they are, how they feel and the things that have happened to them. The Covid-19 pandemic has only strengthened the need to put meaning to what is happening both inside and outside ourselves.
Different now in the tattoo and piercing industry is the way the moment is marked. Gone are the days of going to get a piercing or tattoo on a whim — under the current sanitary regulations, tattoo and piercing studios are primarily operating appointment-only. Appointments imply waiting, and waiting invites reflection. Potential clients will now be coming in with even greater intention, stronger conviction and more elaborate ideas. Perhaps it will eliminate the sometimes silly choices that we have made, possibly in the aftermath of partying, and later regretted. Perhaps it will mean multiple piercings at once to avoid coming back at a later date. Perhaps it will mean working remotely via email and video to propose and confirm tattoo art.
When the pandemic ends and people are no longer concerned about their safety, there will surely be an influx of clients looking to document the things that have happened to them while on lockdown: deaths, births, divorces, self-actualization. But I expect body modification professionals will innovate, come up with new areas of the anatomy ripe to pierce and draw new art, looking for bodies to decorate. This need for self-expression and marking the moment will be a profound catalyst not just in the body art industry, but in all areas of culture.
The fashion world will undoubtedly see both a renewed interest in frivolous fashion pieces to mark the moment of emergence and resumption of “public” life — think party wear and formal wear. But I expect consumers will also seek to buy timeless pieces, of better quality, that will move easily from the private to the public sphere, marking the need to be judicious in expenditures in light of the uncertainty just traversed. It will also be a moment of proclaiming who we are and how we want to mark others — where people will dare to wear wilder, more revealing things than in the past, to affirm their innermost selves and invite connection.
In the world of theater, actors, writers and directors have found new ways to mark the world by bringing their art and their wisdom to a wider public, and this far-reaching exposure is bound to continue. Those one-person shows have kindled new interest through intimate online settings, and streaming has given rise to new theatrical artifices, allowing expression to unfold in breathtaking new ways and to a broader geographical audience. For smaller theater troupes and those with less access to funding, the ability to be nimble and think beyond how many seats they can fill to rather how many people they can reach will yield greater visibility and longevity in the post-pandemic era, cementing the idea that your message can be heard if your medium is right.
The music industry has experienced a hotbed of opportunity with songwriters and musicians finding new creative ways to work — laying down tracks in isolated collaboration, reaching across genres to infuse new life and meaning to musical creations, and finding ways to keep on playing, even when venues were shuttered and stages were limited. Music, which has always been about bringing people together, has found surprising and deeply powerful ways to do so. This connection has marked music lovers and fans everywhere, now more than ever looking for a soundtrack to keep them energized, to offer them solace, and to express what they have found to be most important to them during this time of profound seclusion.
The art world, too, will emerge from this dark period full of pieces and projects that mark the inner life of quarantine, the questioning of choices made during the pandemic, but also the joy of reconnecting. There will be new artists who only discovered their own talent because their other methods for passing the time were restricted. There will be a desire to curate exhibitions that feature socially relevant, politically engaging and lesser-known works, rather than the old staples — and there will be more viewers ready to frequent those shows and more ways in which to do so than ever before, for people will be looking to get out, investigate and live.
Being cut off from the exterior has forced us to look internally. Like children who are told something is off-limits, we are all craving that which we have been constrained from doing. And like children, when we feel the sun on our faces again, the desire to remember, react, reaffirm and redefine will be our highest priority.