In Their Own Words: Artists on Quarantine (Pt.1)

We tracked down 12 contemporary international artists from across the world, capturing their responses to COVID-19 in their own words.

The art industry, usually in tune with global mobility and hyper-connectedness, is currently at a standstill. The art world is by no means immune to the current crisis: the market is sluggish and the cultural spaces we cherished and loved are frozen in time.

Artists, like the rest of us, are processing and reflecting on these strange circumstances. Some artists have even channeled their lockdown experiences into their work.

If you look at all the traumatic events of the past – world wars, pandemics, economic depressions – artists were always quick to respond. After WWI, we saw the rise of dada and surrealism, after WWII – existentialism and abstraction. It sure will be interesting to see the post-coronavirus art world. 

Keen to get artists’ perspectives on this, .art tracked down 12 artists from across the world: from Chicago to Tbilisi, from Amsterdam to Moscow. We wanted to capture these contemporary international artists’ responses to COVID-19 in their own words. Art is one of the world’s greatest unifiers. In times like these, it is our obligation to document the moment, helping these works live on to become a part of our collective memory.

Nelly Agassi – Chicago

My home is my workplace. As I’m spending all day with my kids, I mostly work on embroidery in the evenings. Or, sometimes, works on paper and collages at the dining table, since I’m not going to the studio right now. When it comes to animations, I collaborate with an animator from London and a musician from Boston – this means a lot of Zoom and WhatsApp for work. 

For me, lockdown is a family vacation that I really needed. I was working and traveling so intensely these past few years. The slow down is a blessing. It’s inspiring to not work under stress and to see projects that I never thought would be born, like the Architectural Women animation project for Instagram. It made me feel ready to have my own animation show when the opportunity comes along, as I envision the animations to be projected large-scale on walls. We are already beginning to work on the next project.

So, it’s been productive but also very relaxed and fascinating. I feel like I am restarting and gaining new energies and spirits. Restraints are very interesting to work with and so are radical situations, so I’m letting myself be. I’m absorbing, observing and simply experiencing it. It will be interesting to see where it will take the world and what new directions and ideas it will take me.

Nelly Agassi, from the series “Architectural women”

Frank Ammerlaan – Berlin

Solitude isn’t a new concept for most artists. I can isolate well in my Berlin studio so I have been able to continue working, despite a mostly empty schedule. I pretend this is the ideal time to experiment more and to make mistakes. I do feel it’s getting harder to stay concentrated and motivated, though I stopped listening to the radio to feel less anxious about the economic implications that are constantly discussed.

Frank Ammerlaan

 

Uta Bekaia – Tbilisi

We live in a very strange time, but perhaps every time period has its share of strangeness. We’re observing how the Earth slowly goes dark; everything is eerily similar to that apocalyptic film by M. Night Shyamalan, but instead of the fires, earthquakes, and zombies, we have the home office and a toilet paper shortage (as I’ve read in some meme). It feels like the virus has existential consciousness with specific targets. I think we are all feeling that this little apocalypse that will change our vision, consciousness, and lifestyle. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will change for the worse, but change is definitely coming.

These days, despite virtually not seeing anyone, I feel an inherent, instinctual unity with other people all over the world. It feels like an inexplicable sensibility that comes with a full moon. It feels like nature is sending us signals. Due to the reduction of cars in Tbilisi right now, the air is clean. Fish were seen in Venice canals, satellite photos of China show that air pollution has cleared away – for the first time in so many years…

When I was a child, I used to go to a summer cottage where there were no children around, so I was all alone. This older woman lived in our neighborhood all by herself. The woman died and her home was abandoned. I remember going to her house every day to see how the trees began to grow inside it; the grass and moss-covered furniture, the settled birds.

This metamorphosis continued for some time and the house became an organic part of nature and unified with Earth. It really impressed the little Uta, and I think that watching this house decompose inspired me and taught me a lot. It was then, for the first time, that I understood that I was a part of nature and what it means to have an inevitable end and mortality. Do we need to learn how to live in harmony with our surroundings? To stop seeing the environment from a consumer perspective?  Should the set principle of values we have right now be more organic?

Uta Bekaia.

Maria Ionova-Gribina – Moscow

I position myself as an artist working in the field of modern photography. In the early days of self-isolation, I thought that, as an artist, I wasn’t too negatively affected: I wanted to focus on archiving and writing texts. I also really wanted to create something with my bare hands: collages, objects and sketches for future installations. But obviously the question of making money was also acute, since all commercial shootings were canceled. I then remembered about shooting photographs online. Artists and photographers have used this method before, but back then it was because of the concept, not the circumstances. 

I’ve seen the occasional post on my Facebook claiming that there were people who didn’t believe in coronavirus and nonsense about some sort of worldwide conspiracy. But I myself knew that the situation was serious. I decided to shoot people who were infected with coronavirus, interview them, and then publish these stories on my Facebook. This project turned out to be a project for social media, but I plan to exhibit and catalogue it later on. For now, it lives online and continues to grow.

At some point I decided that I wanted to tell the stories not only of the patients, but also of the doctors, volunteers, kids, online students, and pregnant women. To some extent, this project turned out to be more journalistic than artistic. So far, I’ve conducted more than 100 online shootings. I’m extremely interested in how online photography develops. It triggers completely different senses. When I shoot a person via Skype or FaceTime, I see how the light falls on the person’s face, I can work with the angle of the camera, with exposure. The person being photographed becomes not only the protagonist of my portrait, but also an assistant photographer.

All day long I sit and edit and look for new protagonists. There is quite literally no time for any other projects. All in all I can say that my workday became ten times more intense than it was in my ordinary pre-pandemic life.

Niek Hendrix – Amsterdam

At first, I was kind of lethargic. Every show that was planned was canceled or postponed until further notice. Also, I had planned to move to a different studio within a few days after lockdown. Aside from the very last things I had worked on, everything was cleaned up. I had a gap of a few weeks planned to make the move and to start my practice up again. But then everything came to a halt. What was left to do?

So, I kept working in the old space. It was a mess again, but that was to be expected. It took me a couple of weeks before I got into the flow of work. It was a good time to make smaller works and to try out new things. I also delved into weird non-art related subjects. I like to learn new things that are totally unrelated to my practice. Sometimes these topics come creeping into my work. So while others were bored at home, I was kind of doing the usual thing.

One of the postponed shows is about to open up again, so I’ve had something concrete to work for in the last few weeks. I also plan to make my move into the new studio next week. Fun fact – it once was Piet Mondrian’s studio who couldn’t go back to Paris because of the First World War.

 

Niek Hendrix.

Daria Kravchuk
Daria Kravchuk
is a curator and art manager with an MA in Museology from Amsterdam University. Her international projects are focused on the intersection of contemporary art, architecture, urban planning and anthropology. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.