Covid-era creations that prove we still have things to be grateful for

Nothing lasts forever, not even endless pandemics. The pain of this moment is its own reminder to celebrate the ephemeral and the enduring, writes Jessica Brodie

21 February 2021 - 00:01 By jess brodie
Artist Hillary Waters Fayle blends embroidery with a natural, temporary canvas, stitching fully rendered botanicals onto leaves and seed pods.
Artist Hillary Waters Fayle blends embroidery with a natural, temporary canvas, stitching fully rendered botanicals onto leaves and seed pods.
Image: Supplied

Sometimes, a realisation can happen when you least expect it.

While scrolling through Tika the Iggy's Instagram account (the dog has become a viral sensation and was recently featured in Vogue) I was stopped by her video wrapping up all the things about 2020 she didn't appreciate. I giggled as she listed "the quarantine, I didn't appreciate it, the weight gain, I didn't appreciate it, the boredom, I didn't appreciate it, the detoxing, I didn't appreciate it." 

According to Tika, sweatpants were the only things that got the appreciation they deserved last year.

"Appreciation" struck me. It's the last word I would use to discuss any aspect of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet there are still many things to be grateful for, even if terrible things have happened.

One of my favourite fables is from medieval Persian Sufi folklore, first captured in English by the poet Edward Fitzgerald. He writes of a sultan who asked his sage to make a ring for him on which was inscribed a phrase that captured the nature of human affairs.

The mystic inscribed the words "this, too, shall pass", capturing a universally applicable truth, which Fitzgerald described as "the oscillation from good to evil, and from evil to good, which from the beginning of the world has been the invariable characteristic of the annals of man."

It was simply explained to me that the mystic created a phrase that would make you happy when you were sad, and sad when you were happy. Nothing is permanent, no matter how much we may want things to either change or stay the same. We should appreciate what we have right now.

Edith Eger, the Holocaust survivor who wrote two astonishing books, The Choice - Embrace the Possible, and recently The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life, is a master of transcending painful experiences.

In both books Eger covers how she survived the horrors of Auschwitz, but focuses her writing on providing a road map for recovering from trauma and details how she cultivated profound happiness in her life.

Now, in her 90s, her life's work as a psychologist aims to help people transcend their own suffering by acknowledging pain and finding joy. She writes: "Hope isn't the white paint we use to mask our suffering. It's an investment in curiosity. A recognition that if we give up now, we'll never get to see what happens next."

Though it's hard to do sometimes, it pays to look to what we have to be grateful for during this time.

Here are three Covid-era creations to temper the resentment and sadness most of us are feeling for what has befallen the world:

EPHEMERAL EMBROIDERY

The work of Hillary Waters Fayle binds the traditional craft of embroidery with a natural, temporary canvas. Fayle gathers leaves and seed pods from around her house, and stitches fully rendered botanicals onto the delicate foliage.

Fayle sees herself as continuing with a long tradition of botanical imagery in the decorative arts. Through her work, she hopes to remind us that we are connected to the land and reinforce our place on the planet.

Fayle says that through plants, we confront the cyclical nature of life. "We see the incredulity of growth, and the truth that all beauty fades, everything living must eventually die. Through plants we are reminded that to all winters, there are summers, for all that goes dormant there is a resurgence of growth."

By creating botanical embroidery, she takes her place with people (mostly women) throughout history who've dedicated themselves to the textiles of our lives, and she embraces all that plant imagery can symbolise. It is hopeful and triumphant work, which she hopes reminds us of "the celebration of the fullness, the vibrancy, the sweetness and exuberance of life, and the importance of being aware of and present for moments of fleeting beauty and joy."

Through her work she brings together the materials and processes that express the union of humanity and the physical world. By stitching, drawing, planting seeds, or harvesting, her hands echo the gestures made by thousands of hands over thousands of years.

"I feel connected to the lineage of people working with textiles, plants and the land. Stitching, like agriculture, can be functional — a technical solution to join materials as means of survival — or both can be done purely in service of the soul, lifting the spirit through beauty and wonder."

The leaves can be pressed and preserved — and therefore the works will likely outlast our lives — but nothing living lasts forever, and that is so important to remember.

RENEWED INTEREST IN COUTURE

With catwalk shows still off-limits, Dior debuted its Spring/Summer 2021 haute couture show with a film homage to tarot cards.

Creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri's Le Chateau du Tarot is a 15-minute film shot at a Tuscan castle by Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone. It's the fantasy we need.

WATCH | Dior's 'Le Chateau du Tarot'

Tarot cards are a motif Dior has used before, but they are particularly apt now. The cards purport to tell the future, but they're actually a medium for self-reflection.

In this, the Age of Sweatpants, it's a timely reminder from fashion's superleague to resist the pandemic of comfort dressing. The show put forward cantilevered empire-line gowns and classic Dior bar jackets as a reminder that, even as formal dressing remains out of reach, sweatpants are not everything, and we will go out again.

Tarot cards are the motif for Dior's Spring/Summer 2021 haute couture collection.
Tarot cards are the motif for Dior's Spring/Summer 2021 haute couture collection.
Image: Supplied

For some, haute couture's survival is a critical reflection of the inequalities of the pandemic's effect on incomes, with those rich enough to afford couture most likely still able to do so.

For me, the reason couture is particularly special now is that its popularity heralds a shift away from the rampant consumerism of fast fashion, one of the least sustainable practices on Earth.

Couture pieces are meticulously made over several months, with the intention that they'll not be worn once or twice, but for a lifetime, often passed down from generation to generation. It makes me happy to think of things being lovingly made to last long into a hopeful future.

FARM TO FORK

The Western Cape's restaurant system is largely governed by the term farm-to-table.

Now a ubiquitous concept in restaurants around the world, farm-to-table was radical in the '70s, when chefs and restaurateurs first began to build menus from food grown by nearby farmers. This idea grew into a pipeline connecting chefs, farmers, cheese makers and wine makers, generating sustainable income for small-scale producers.

The ethos of farm-to-table - with its thoughtful principles governing everything, from which seeds are selected to grow and the soil farmers grow them in to which communities they feed — have led to better understanding and awareness of what we should be eating, and how our local food systems work.

Granadilla Eats is SA's first conscious online farmers' market.
Granadilla Eats is SA's first conscious online farmers' market.
Image: Supplied

Our own network of producers and restaurants continues to be disrupted by the pandemic, with restaurants requiring much less produce over the past year.

Though lockdown restrictions are lifting slowly, the overwhelming majority of people are still primarily cooking at home, having, over the past year, made a tentative reacquaintance with their own kitchens. Which leaves the problem of linking our small-scale artisanal produce with home cooks.

This is where entrepreneurs Joshua Meltz and Adam Duxbury stepped in, creating Granadilla Eats, SA's first conscious online farmers' market and next-day delivery service.

Granadilla Eats goes beyond sourcing sustainable produce — the mission is to, where possible, get suppliers on board who are people of colour, female, queer and differently abled. They want to support the local community of producers, by providing sustainable sourced groceries to consumers. Instead of "farm to table", let's call it "farm to fork".

What's clear is that this time has changed us. We all have a new, more complicated and robust relationship with cooking at home, and with it a closer focus on what we eat and where it comes from. Services like Granadilla Eats safeguard the livelihoods of our producers by linking us to them by way of necessity.

The kind of progress and rapid growth required to make such a leap in online product offerings would have taken many years to happen organically. It's in crisis that rapid development is possible, and in this case, a closer link to our producers and food systems and renewed focus on sustainability is the kind of change we needed.