The Daily Heller: Highway COVID-19 Revisited

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Well, I was runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen my load, got COVID-19 on my mind …

There are many other things on our minds today, but if you were to parse your daily thoughts, you'd probably discover that Coronavirus tops the heap. Just ask Australian artist Michelle Hamer.

She has been obsessed with the new language of 2020 as transmitted through pandemic-related road signs, media reports, cautions and communications that are contradictory and bewildering.

In her latest series, "Relax We are Doing Great," Hamer transforms small perforated panels (26 x 33 cm) into stitched billboards, each with a different background view of the sky. This is a comment on the unfeasibly clear skies after the tragic bush fires that ravaged Australia, and the resulting lockdown that slowed movement and industrial activity. Not too long after the blaze was under control, the virus swept back in.

Hamer has created 40 pieces so far. About theses told me:

My artwork has always been concerned with the importance of language, particularly questioning the everyday language that we all absorb. As COVID-19 began to affect the world, people began sending me pictures of their local LED signs. Simultaneously, I'd been collecting & photographing local signage and statements from global leaders. I decided to keep the basic layout the same for each artwork, which allows me to create gifs, and highlight the mass quantity and lottery of messages we receive.

Her work gives a handmade texture to phrases like "Nonessential," "We’re Going Down," "Shaking Hands Is Optional," "Don’t Panic," "Maintain Social Distance," "Disinfect to Protect," "Je Ne Suis Pas Virus," "No Injecting Disinfectant," "You Must," "Rules Apply," "Stop the Spread" and “Together Apart.” Separately and together they provide a vivid picture of how our "normal" is in rapid flux, and with it comes a new language or words, phrases and slogans. The velocity of change has also altered her own process.

I usually create works individually, but given the volume of this series I've been working on these in batches. I'll stitch all text for a period, then all details, then have all skies to do for a few weeks. Repeat. The language and signage keeps coming, so every time I think I can see an end point I realize there are others I have to do.

Warrnambool Art Gallery in Warrnambool, Australia, has acquired nine panels for its permanent collection and will spotlight the broader series in the show "2020 is Cancelled" in October. "Through her stitching," says WAG Director Vanessa Gerrans, "Michelle turns us away from media bombardment and anchors us into something known, rhythmic and ironic, that exposes the confusion we have been living in.”