Is 2022 the Year We Finally Stop Doomscrolling?

To help us kick the toxic habit, an exhibition at Petzel Gallery renders quick-hit scenes of pandemic-era political unrest on woodblock prints sourced from boarded-up storefronts.

“Doomscrolling” by Zorawar Sidhu and Rob Swainston at Petzel Gallery

Admit it: Over the past few years, you’ve been doomscrolling. The relatively new phenomenon—the tendency to keep browsing disheartening news—unofficially permeated our consciousness during the Trump years and hit peak velocity in 2020 as we found ourselves in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic and grappling with a racial uprising following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police. As normalcy continued to unravel, we couldn’t look away from the torrent of ominous headlines on our news feeds even though the habit was eroding our collective mental health. 

The phenomenon occupied Zorawar Sidhu, a self-admitted doomscroller, who teamed with fellow artist Rob Swainston to depict 18 pivotal moments during that particularly tumultuous time on woodblock prints. One piece depicts a New York Times front page that deemed the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. nearing 100,000 as an “incalculable loss.” Others render symbolic scenes of political unrest—Kyle Rittenhouse’s shooting at a protest, Trump holding up the Bible in front of St. John’s Church, and the U.S. Capitol insurrection—in vivid detail. 

“May 27” (2020-21) by Zorawar Sidhu and Rob Swainston

“We hope that by keeping the images in circulation, they continue to have possibility and don’t just become fixed in the past,” Swainston tells The Guardian. “These unresolved issues of race, of gun violence—we can’t put them behind us and keep living in them. We need to start to address them and it’s through images that we’re processing information now in a more significant way.”

To gather the wood, Sidhu and Swainston biked around an eerily deserted Manhattan during lockdown and sourced it from storefronts boarded up with plywood. Weathered by scratches, graffiti, and the elements, the distressed material proved an ideal medium to convey the six-month era’s seemingly unending chaos. Multiple images are overlaid on each woodblock to replicate rapid-fire consumption on a news feed, creating a poignant montage effect. Swainston aims for the 18 prints, which go on display at Petzel Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side starting January 6, to help steer viewers away from unhealthy social media habits that may still be lingering, even as the most turbulent times are hopefully behind us. 

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