With skyrocketing material costs and heating up studios, artists are on the front lines of Europe’s energy crisis and inflationary economy

As the art world’s elite descended on art fairs in London and Paris this month, another reality loomed for many artists in Europe as they prepare for a tough winter ahead. Soaring energy prices and general inflation are threatening households across the continent, including artists’ studios and material costs. Russia has choked off natural gas supplies on which Europe is heavily dependent. In addition to the ripple effects of locking down physical venues and events during the pandemic, the cultural sector has been hit hard.

Artists are not the only ones who are unhappy: when they threw a can of tomato soup on a Van Gogh painting at the National Gallery in London, young activists reminded the art world that “fuel is unaffordable for millions of cold, starving families”, who “cannot even afford to heat a can of soup”.

The increase in energy bills for the coming season will affect vulnerable people, including artists who are often in precarious financial situations. “This is a disaster foretold to come with delayed effects,” said Zoë Claire Miller, a Berlin-based artist and spokesperson for the city’s artists’ union, BBK.

In Germany, a country particularly dependent on Russian gas, citizens pay their energy bills on the basis of monthly estimates, making up the cost difference at the end of the year. “The time when heads will really roll will be next year,” Miller said. This waiting game left people “scared, but mostly in denial,” Miller noted. “There’s no money we can save, so we’re hoping the federal aid programs will recoup the costs, and I think there’s going to be a lot of political turmoil — there is already now.”

Berlin artist Zoe Claire Miller at the Berlin sculpture workshop of the city’s BBK (association of visual artists).

Government Interim Measures

Indeed, in France last week, as the art world arrived for the inauguration of Paris+ by Art Basel, workers in the energy and transport sectors were on strike, demanding higher wages to counter the rising cost of living. France was quick to cap gas and other energy prices earlier this year, promising to do more next year, while providing subsidies to low-income households. However, the measures have not calmed anger over social inequality or the perception that the wealthy are least affected, and in some cases even benefit from the current crisis.

EU officials met during a Mountain peak last week to reach an agreement on how to manage energy costs. With deep divisions Between nations, finding a consensus has not been an easy task, as evidenced by the decision of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz controversialpledge of financial aid of 200 billion euros ($196 billion).

Claire Miller is skeptical of Scholz’s plan and its effectiveness. With energy costs expected to rise three to six or seven times their usual costs, she said BBK Berlin plans to “fight for special grants for the arts and in general for anyone who loses their home or workspace.

These concerns are not limited to Germany. “My gas bills have gone up nine times in the space of a month which is very scary as we approach the winter period,” said the UK-based artist. Conrad Shawcrosswho makes large geometric metal sculptures, many of which are now visible in a survey at the Oxford Mathematical Institute. Even with government assistance, he has to calculate the environmental and financial costs of every part of his process and now uses electric heating and wears thermals. “It’s very frustrating that renewables are tied to fossil fuels – that relationship needs to be broken,” Shawcross said.

Of course, the situation is not limited to Europe: an artist based in Marrakech Eric Van Hove said he was feeling the impact of the effects of rising energy costs, especially as his work is made of copper, brass and steel, all of which have skyrocketed in price. Fortunately, he bought a large stock at the start of the pandemic in anticipation of a temporary shortage. The artist creates an electric moped with local craftsmen in Morocco, which will be presented at the 1-54 art fair in Marrakech in February 2023. “The cost of energy will have a direct impact on this company, already threatened by the rising cost of lithium,” he said.

Haroon Mirza, 2021. Copyright David Bebber.

In a silver lining, the pandemic forced many artists to adapt to less energy dependent and less expensive methods before the latest crisis. British artist Haroon Mirza had already reduced his costs and energy expenditure by installing his works remotely. “This way of working has been influenced more by the pandemic, but Covid-19 and the climate crisis are inextricably linked,” he said.

Projects aborted or postponed due to the pandemic have LEDs to a “difficult financial situation”, the Belgian artist Lieven De Boeck said, forcing him to rethink his work process. He now works more slowly and prepares small-scale models to save on materials. “The scale research model becomes the artwork,” he said. This is what he did for his performance piece comprising seven wearable textile sculptures which will be presented in Brussels next year.

“The pandemic years gave me enough time to take out loans and do something” about environmental concerns, the Berlin artist says Antje Majewski who has long addressed these issues in his anthropological work. Using state-funded loans, she has installed solar panels in her studio, which heat it and charge her car and computer. Therefore, its production was not affected by the energy crisis. She has also stocked up on painting supplies to last until next year.

Antje Majewski, Tiere und Pflanzen aus Wietstock, 2022 © Antje Majewski / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the artist and neugerriemschneider, Berlin

The cost of living in Majewski’s gas-heated Berlin apartment, however, is another story. She said she had been keeping warm so far and was wearing “a huge woolen cardigan”. Lights are turned off whenever possible and she takes fewer hot baths. Majewski received €300 ($300) from the German state to help with rising costs, and she said she is also getting by thanks to her work as a teacher. His current project, a ‘Garden Pavilion’ in collaboration with The New Patrons and residents of a village in northeast Germany, features solar panels on a large mosaic artwork, the energy from which will heat the community center. from the village.

De Boeck, on the other hand, said he has so far not received any financial help from his region in Belgium. “I just learned that my application for general grants will not be paid due to a lack of money… They continue to cut money for artists and culture in these difficult times.” Although EU-backed government grants for the energy crisis were announced this fall, many details have yet to be determined, including who exactly will benefit.

The regional Minister of Culture of the Wallonia-Brussels State, Bénédicte Linard, announced a An envelope of 20 million euros (20 million dollars) to support the cultural sector earlier this month, with a particular focus on cultural venues – there was little mention of individual artists and their studios. The ministry did not return Artnet’s requests for comment.

The duo Gerard & Kelly are among those artists who claim that the energy crisis has affected their practice. Credit: Cité internationale des arts and Maurine Tric.

This fall, the UK announced a Energy Bill Assistance Program for households and businesses, which reduces energy bills. He comes after the exceptional Culture Recovery Fund aimed at relieving the cultural sector of the effects of the pandemic. “The war in Ukraine and increasing economic pressures are making life stressful for many people in our sector,” said Arts Council England CEO Dr Darren Henley in a public letter shared on October 12. He said the council was monitoring the situation and surveying arts and culture organizations to better understand “cost pressures”.

But time is running out and the recipients of government aid are still being determined in many cases. british artist Polly Morgan says she has no extra support. “This year, I resign myself to keeping [radiators] off,” she said, as she works on her First Plinth commission which will be unveiled at the Royal Society of Sculptors in February 2023. Morgan uses multimedia materials to create it. critically acclaimed sculptures, but she said working in the cold affects the hardening times of her cast models and she has to adapt as she goes. She’s also “perhaps less experimental with materials for now” and has kept the amount of collateral materials used in her work to a minimum.

In Paris, artist Brennan Gerard of the duo Gerard & Kelly, who has just started a collaboration with the Marian Goodman gallery, said the energy crisis has affected their exhibition at the Carré d’Art museum in Nîmes, until 26 March 2023. “Everyone has had to work harder to make [the show] possible,” Gerard said, concluding, “As a society, we must collectively and urgently find solutions to our reliance on oligarchs and totalitarian governments for energy.

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