By Assistant Professor Dr Veerawat Sirivesmas
During early February 2020, Thailand was among the early countries that encountered the COVID-19 epidemic, which was soon upgraded to a pandemic, affecting the daily lives of all people in the world. Today, while the situation is still occurring, some parts of the world seem to be in control of the virus, but some are still working on it. Apart from the pandemic causing suffering and death, it has also brought massive disruptions to global and local economies. Personal and social health protection and prevention has risen to the new social normal, wearing sanitary mask, social and physical distancing. Certainly, the field of art and design are being affected and starting to change in response to the pandemic.
How do we now adapt?
Initially, once we went into lockdown, we were compelled to stay at home to prevent infection, uncertainly and stressfulness spread across Thai society. However, expression via social media by those locked-down encouraged society to be cheerful. Many of these expressions were inspired by art education disciplines in how to use online channels to express and raise the human spirit.
In our schools and universities, according to the public health regulations, all subject teaching in classrooms, face-to-face supervision, verbal and visual assessment, were immediately shifted to online platforms once the pandemic was declared. Studio-based learning, performance-based classes and workshop practice, and all studios and theatres have also closed down. Leaving many students’ work pending in uncertain situations.
Recently (late May), in Bangkok all curfew and government orders are starting, step-by-step, to be unlocked due to the improvement in the domestic pandemic situation. Universities are also planning to reopen for this coming semester which begins mid-July. However, the preventive measures have also been re-considered with the result that all of classroom lesson will remain online. Some studios and practice-led study will be allowed but only if physical distancing regulations are kept in place. All of the student degree shows have now shifted to online platforms. Practice-based research projects were inevitably affected, especially fieldwork investigation, interviews and observation. These will need to be revised. Appointment for interviews and observation and on-site visits need to also be arranged according to strict public health regulations (iChat is regularly used for general communication). This, of course will have an effect on the shape of the research method, data and even the research outcomes.
Across the professional arts fields, many museums and galleries are now being unlocked and preparing for reopening, with temperature checkpoints and registration, controlled numbers of visitors and the mandatory wearing of masks. But still music, concerts and performances are performed in studios or locked-down spaces and steamed online. However, groups of young artists, designers and craftspeople are now highly active via the online community, encouraging sharing activities and their artworks. Not only among themselves but also expanding to other audience networks, enhancing communication channels, both on and offline, in-house and on-site galleries’ activities.
According to the phenomenon that has occurred, the education system in Thai universities will not be the same. In Thailand, even without the pandemic situation, recent years have seen the number of younger people gradually reducing in contrast with the increasing number of institutions. Many universities were already affected by a drop in the recruiting of new students. Online teaching and learning were always on the plan but never really applied. COVID-19 has been a real catalyst. It has sped up the whole disruption of our education system. Now almost all of our programs have experienced interaction via online, either as meetings or teaching. This will become the mainstream teaching method next semester and so on. Online interaction will become the parallel tool for meeting-sharing from now on. However, we look forward to getting back to a (new) normal life. This experience will greatly enhance our appreciation of face-to-face activities.
However not every discipline has gained from the online platform experience. Some activities need more social and physical engagement. We are on the way to re-thinking how to keep engaging the socio-cultural context in the scenario of physical distancing. All the technologies which are now available will be great tools. However, how to keep the sense of spiritual and empathetic experience is the key to future meaningful engagement.
Assistant Prof. Dr. Veerawat Sirivesmas is a lecturer for under and post-graduate studies in the Faculty of Decorative Arts, Silpakorn University, Thailand. His education background is in Fine Art (Sculpture), Craft and Design (Jewelry). He coordinates inbound and outbound art and design academic activities for Silpakorn’s international network. He has participated in many international art and design conferences. Dr. Sirivesmas does practice-based research in art and design related to local social contexts. He is also a research-project manager leading a government funded research team specializing in cross-disciplinary research in art and social science that engages onsite with communities across Thailand. He is a member of the research think-tank team for Silpakorn and he currently holds the position of Deputy Dean of International Collaborations.