Free Time

Masks and the new normal

Words: Dawn Birch-James. Director of Art in the Heart  

Lockdown has impacted radically and the phrase ‘new normal’ will have already found its way formally into the English language no doubt. The specifics of this are different for each individual – that has become hugely apparent. But there are, I believe, fundamental common threads. There is a revived preoccupation with the present – the need to savour the moment, to smell the roses, look at the trees, and sum up what the joys are here and now, even if you have been dealt a bad hand – illness, mental health issues, even bereavement and of course financial hardship.

There is equally a different mood for all of us, as we look ahead. The world is unsteady – the future keeps shifting and mutating. We are negotiating that in our own ways – some have given way to fear, some are battling to resume the ‘old normal’. But we all are expressing our need to move forward. It’s a given psychological view, that we as human beings need that sense of moving forward. We make plans, for today, tomorrow, next week – we hope, we dream we express our future intentions and maybe do things now to prepare.

We are compelled to create new memories and collect experiences in some form or another which drives us forward. So here we are still retaining that indefatigable urge to step forward on a very different, rockier terrain. Then of course our environment looks different – still fewer people around, keeping their distance mostly, mask wearing, hand sanitising, more rules and regulations visible to us, stark headlines as we walk past the newsstands. Most of us look different somehow, our environment and physicality changed. Seeing someone’s eyes is very different from seeing their whole face.

It makes me think of cultures where hidden physicality is already a norm, and how communication can transcend the physical and seeing. We are regrouping every day, asking questions about ourselves and others and that may be an amazing thing…

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To find out how artists are adapting to or expressing the new normal (and much more besides) visit

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