Cauleen Smith takes over Piccadilly Lights with Covid Manifesto

She follows Ai Weiwei and precedes Eddie Peake as the monthly artist in residence, commissioned by Circa to make art for Europe’s largest screen when adverts pause for two minutes a day.

2 November 2020


Cauleen Smith is the next artist to take over London’s Piccadilly Lights as part of curated art series Circa, following Ai Weiwei and preceding Eddie Peake as the monthly artist. Smith will be presenting her Covid Manifesto, a series of 23 pronouncements made as reflections on this year and calls to action for the future, made as still lifes on the artist’s desk. These will be shown on Piccadilly Lights, Europe’s largest screen, as part of Circa’s programme which pauses adverts every night from 20:20–20:22 GMT to transform it into a digital canvas, and invites a different artist every month to “present new ideas that consider our world circa 2020”.

Smith’s Covid Manifesto takes the form of photographs of the artist’s desk and its various ephemera, at its centre a handwritten statement, for example: “Covid Manifesto #5 – The internet is a tool not a habitat. I don’t live there” and “Exploitation is the only thing that trickles down”. Smith will be rewriting and revealing each point of the manifesto throughout November, with items in the still lifes including remnants of daily rituals and key references to her practice accumulating and disappearing. The manifesto will be displayed in a sequence over the month of November, with seven “intermissions” showing Smith’s existing works. The piece is directed by Elvira Dyangani Ose with London gallery The Showroom.

Ose says Smith’s piece is “a timely narrative providing insight into an individual’s intimate experience as shared through social media – a form of storytelling that holds a mirror up to society, one daily pronouncement at a time”.

Smith has had solo shows at the Whitney, Mass MoCA, the Art Institute of Chicago and ICA Philadelphia, as well as having her film work shown at Rotterdam International Film Festival. Her film Soujourner explores what a feminist, Afrofuturist and radically generous community might look like; it is currently part of a two-artist video exhibition at SFMoMA, inspired by archival photography from lifestyle magazines.

Ai Weiwei was the inaugural artist on the Circa programme and created an original piece titled Circa 20:20, an episodic visual narrative bringing together images, videos, sounds and poetry from across his artistic career and activist work. Weiwei said of the artwork: “The project begins from the year I was born through to the current, unceasing pandemic threatening the human condition globally. All visual material is produced by my studio. There [is] a selection of quotes taken from my own writing, as well as from other writers and poets. We will provide a visual feast with a strong message for the public.”

On Saturday (31 October) Weiwei’s full one hour film was screened, making it the longest ever single presentation of work in the history of Piccadilly Circus.

Covid Manifesto will be screened every night in November at 20:20 on Piccadilly Lights and streamed on the Circa website. Visitors to the London screening can listen to the audio from the piece via their own headphones. Circa will also be continuing to raise funds to support the arts by selling limited edition prints. Cauleen Smith’s print is £100 and is available here. Sales of Ai Weiwei’s print in October raised an incredible £60,000.

GalleryCauleen Smith: Covid Manifesto (Copyright © Cauleen Smith, Circa 20:20 and The Showroom, London)


Ai Weiwei: Circa 20:20 (© Ai Weiwei and Circa 20:20)

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Cauleen Smith: Covid Manifesto (Copyright © Cauleen Smith, Circa 20:20 and The Showroom, London)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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