Archiving a Global Pandemic
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, NFSA curators collected a range of audiovisual materials to reflect a period of great change – and creativity. You can view a selection of this content in our new Creativity in the Time of COVID curated collection.
The War on 2020
Just over a year ago, Australians were adjusting to a completely new way of life – lockdown in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, archives, museums and galleries around the world were reassessing how to continue connecting with audiences and how to collect material that reflected this unprecedented experience, all while working remotely.
From the first Australian cases of COVID-19 in January 2020 and the nationwide lockdown in March, audiovisual material relating to the pandemic steadily increased. Australians came to rely on video, music and social media platforms to engage with each other while physically isolated, stave off boredom and creatively respond to a strange and challenging new situation.
NFSA curators used several collecting methods to capture the audiovisual record of Australia’s COVID‑19 experience for future generations.
We collected content about the Australian COVID-19 experience through our ongoing funded deliverables program, including the web program The War on 2020, which featured iconic Australian film critics Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton giving this tongue-in-cheek review of 2020:
We will continue to identify and collect more COVID-19 material from the Australian creative industries through this ongoing acquisition program.
Here is the News
The NFSA has been systematically collecting TV news and current affairs programs since 1988 and has established a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week capture of radio broadcasts from stations around Australia.
Through news reports, you can chart the change in perception of the emergence of a new virus in China to a global panedmic:
Through news bulletins, current affairs, breakfast television programs and talkback radio we received medical and other information and stories of people directly affected by the virus. Mainstream media also delivered stories of warmth, humanity and kindness, and of people's willingness to band together to help others.
Australia Locked Down
Last year also created new opportunities for us to collaborate with content makers. Australia Locked Down was a crowdsourced project which particularly struck a chord for Victorians as they entered a second, prolonged lockdown period. This clip by Joel McKerrow and the creator of Australia Locked Down, Jamie van Leeuwen, is a 'visual poem' with narration by McKerrow and stunning images by van Leeuwen:
From drag queen lip syncs about 'staying safe and staying home' to contrasting romantic comedy web series about finding love in lockdown, we collected a wide range of materials that resonated with Australians during lockdown.
Lockdown also forced the NFSA Oral History Program to suspend face-to-face recording sessions – the ideal format for oral histories.
Oral history curator Sean O'Brien soon turned to the ubiquitous new form of communication – videoconference software – to record a series of 'pandemic profile' conversations that elicited the gamut of raw emotions from sadness to laughter.
You can view clips from 4 of the interviews in the curated collection, including with Nat and Julia from Nat's What I Reckon, whose irreverent and edifying quarantine cooking videos rapidly went viral during lockdown:
After recording 12 pandemic profiles, we have returned to face-to-face interviews in the Oral History Program, with a new appreciation for the simple act of two people sitting in a room together and talking.
The Creativity in the Time of COVID curated collection is a testimony to the ability of Australians to create, connect, empathise and inspire through audiovisual media even during the most disruptive and difficult of times.
Watch Joyce Maynge and Nat and Julia from Nat's What I Reckon interviewed for the NFSA Livestream: Creativity in the Time of COVID discussion, recorded in May 2021.
Main image: Empty platforms in Melbourne's Southern Cross train station during lockdown. Courtesy Jamie van Leeuwen