Culture

This artist was social distancing way before COVID-19 hit

Vincent Tanguy's artwork may not be a prophecy but it certainly feels like an eerie coincidence.

Vincent Tanguy

At first glance, 30-year-old Vincent Tanguy is a multimedia artist who captures digital life, globalization, and urban living. But when you look closer at his work, you might think that Tanguy has prophetic abilities to predict the future.

Well before the coronavirus pandemic began, Tanguy was already showing his audience the complicated and frequently lonely face of social distancing through isolated living, empty art galleries, and sports stadiums.

The Wandering — The 2019 video performance shows Tanguy taking a solitary walk through Shanghai. His only companion is a luminous ring that hovers around his ankles, never leaving him once. It creates a physical distance between pedestrians and Tanguy as he saunters down a market sidewalk, escalators, past a train, around a plaza. Naturally, the real-life pedestrians look curious and amused by the artist's little contraption. The scenes, colors, time, and crowds change throughout the video but the glowing ring remains right by Tanguy's side.

Empty art galleries — Even before his video performance, in 2015, Tanguy took photos of art gallery display stands after digitally erasing the art from the venues. It was Tanguy's depiction of the influence of virtual reality versus present-day art, and a slight jab at how art exhibitions and fairs are called off and often relegated to online spaces. It's strangely similar to how museums, reading groups, art galleries, and instrumental performances have been forced to display their work and tours online due to the coronavirus.

Vincent Tanguy

Ghost sports stadiums — In 2018, Tanguy created an imaginary stadium that had keyboards for stands and a green screen for a field. It was a commentary on sporting events being broadcasted online well before COVID-19 forced everyone to stay home and cheer from their couches. Again, it looks eerily familiar now that we've seen some sports organizations and icons introduce COVID-19 appropriate events. Virtual baseball fans, anyone?

Vincent Tanguy

Isolating before others did — In 2019, Tanguy isolated himself from the world for five days in June. He had nothing but his smartphone and 500 yuan (about $72) on him for delivery services. Tanguy described The Convenient Life performance as:

By living only thanks to digital platforms and home delivery services, at the command line a comfort, an environment and a documentation are created.

It's almost identical to how numerous people are currently self-isolating and relying on the services of Instacart and Uber Eats, among others. This artistic performance, however, seems the most prescient of all Tanguy's works as it shows the artist himself resting on the ground, intently focused on the only thing that keeps him connected to the outside world: his phone.

Vincent Tanguy

Realistically speaking, Tanguy most probably had zero inkling that a pandemic would turn the world upside down in 2020. But his artwork is a deeply personal and at times uncomfortable look inside social distancing, hyper-atomized living, and pure loneliness. We're not calling him a prophet but we'd love to know what else Tanguy's working on these days. Just so we can prepare ourselves for the future.