Nicola Lewis-Dixon is a multidisciplinary artist and photographer whose primary focus is the taboo subjects facing women in their everyday lives. She used the sofa in her family home as an anchor for what would eventually become her hugely prolific project The Corona Couch. When Dixon and her family found themselves locked in as millions of others around the world in March 2020 she thought that this would provide an opportunity like no other to explore family relationships and their intricacies.
As Jo Spence, who has been majorly influential to Lewis-Dixon’s practice, claims, all the typical family album does is tell a very curated, highly polished and glossed-over story from the point of view of the adults. There are glaring omissions in almost all albums that create gaps and absences — they only document the happy and proud events, brushing anything that can’t be classified as a happy occasion under the proverbial carpet. What Lewis-Dixon attempts with The Corona Couch is to subvert these expectations of the family archive showing only eventful memorable moments — in some of her pictures there is not that much happening and that is part of the point. Family life is not all about birthdays, weddings and graduations, much of the other 99% of the time is highly mundane and repetitive, like watching the telly every evening or cleaning and doing the dishes. We’ve been conditioned, predominantly through social media in the recent decade, that we should be doing something exciting and fun all the time, but when Covid-19 hit us all out of the blue this notion went out of the window — everyone was stuck indoors with the people they live with and not much else to do apart from talk or do any activities inside the house.
The participants are being recorded by the camera going on about their daily lives; or are they? Are they aware of the camera’s presence? Perhaps so and I would argue that that changes the way they behave. The pictures are repetitive with regards to the “stage set” but this is the strength of the series — while the overall surroundings don’t move away from the couch, the activities performed couldn’t be more varied. The photographer can be seen taking care of her poorly child with the dog lurking in the background, eating, cutting her son’s hair, playing dress up, or even recovering from unexpected surgery. Her resilience, both as a person and an artist, shines through the fact that while she was in hospital she instructed her family to carry out the daily photographs on her behalf — maybe this is where the image of the empty couch, such a loaded metaphor, comes from.
The Corona Couch is rather cinematic in its performativity and it could potentially work well as a flipbook. Nicola Lewis-Dixon comments strongly on our preconceived attitudes towards the family album and what it should display by showing us her own side of lockdown experience, both the highs and the lows.
— foreword by Zak R. Dimitrov
‘What it seems the family album does is to tell the story from the adults’ point of view, particularly from a patriarchal point of view… it’s telling the story in that way, all the highlights and ideal parts, that creates a whole set of gaps and absences, that you can’t fill the rest in.’ — Jo Spence
A concept of three chosen images of a possible five that were taken was soon decided and to carry on, until life regained some normality. Little did I know how massive this undertaking was to become. Starting on Thursday the 19th of march and carried on until Thursday the 3rd of September, equating to 504 final images. The final collection shows the realities of highs and lows of family life in lockdown, and even unplanned emergency major surgery as I left the project (and home), giving strict instructions for my family to carry it on while I was in the hospital, and therefore documented my return.
People/families always have a level of habit and rituals in life, magnified by the lockdown. Some Days they are totally to be in-braced and relished, other times it feels like you are trapped in a rut of our own making. A surreal mixture of the films Groundhog Day, 28 Days Later and Rear Window. Even the picture taking itself became another monotonous task as the months passed.
Conceptually and theoretically the work has been underpinned with Jo Spence’s foundation of what she coined, ‘counter photography’. Looking into the idea of the family album being non-representative of realistic family life. Family albums do indeed show the good and posed side of the domestic setting but omits the realities. The same could be true for people's social media feeds today.
The final outcome of the project was to address this, showing both the highs and lows of this pandemic. The banality of life, in both documentary and sometimes in performance.