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Berlin art diaries: How is artist life during lockdown?

Two bloggers battle isolation and cancelled exhibitions.

The coronavirus has thrown the art world into crisis, cancelling exhibitions, residencies and putting careers on hold. Our art bloggers explain what the lockdown has meant for them.
Image for Berlin art diaries: How is artist life during lockdown?
This week, our art bloggers explain how artist life has changed during the lockdown. (Photo by Lennart Brede, style by Natasha Boldyreva @blud.site.)
Anna Nezhnaya “Nothing has changed,” my friend, an established conceptual artist claims. “As I worked from home like before, the only difference is that I might go to the supermarket less often. Pfff, Corona”. A wave of irritation covers me. Nothing has changed, except for the cancelled events I was supposed to participate in: a talk in a Berlin gallery, my show during Berlin Gallery Weekend, a four-week residency in Greece and a show in Moscow. I’m a painter and painting is the physical act of creating something that exists – in a room. A painting is something that you can touch, that you can look at. It’s not digital. Painting is a full-contact sport. A full-contact sport not only in the making, but also in its presentation. I, at least, didn’t get a kick out of observing the Mona Lisa by visiting the Louvre digitally. Did you? People suggest I should relax and meditate, and maybe cook Shakshuka with a new recipe.  Overnight, the whole world seemed to have turned into a strange post-apocalyptic picture, where almost everything was seen as a threat to life. Absurd new regulations are already becoming the norm – and finally you’re queuing in front of the supermarket as you used to queue to get inside Berghain or the Latvian pavilion at the last Biennale, wiping bottles of mineral water with disinfection tissue and literally distancing yourself from everyone and everything. Social distancing is like your safety has turned into a delicate soap bubble that can easily burst into tiny splashes. The Apocalypse came unnoticed and brought digitalization along with it. Is that the final call? The death of painting? Maybe painting becomes obsolete? Maybe I am paranoid. My friend, a curator, is struggling over the same question. “It seems that I will soon have to get a job in the telephone sex service,” they say. “Unless you undertake to supervise virtual exhibitions,” I respond. But we both know that the first option is definitely more interesting.  With great difficulty, I choose a new post for my Instagram feed and find an older digital drawing of mine from a year ago. Strange figures seeming not being able to find their place in space. This drawing had haunted me since the time I created it during a forced isolation last winter. I got so sick and could not leave my house for a month and a half. Was it just a rehearsal? It’s a beautiful April day. In Kreuzkölln, I meet two familiar girls –  an artist and singer. They started to perform out of the bedroom and hit Instagram. “How is life?” The girls shrug. “For us, nothing has changed.” Unfortunately, I cannot say the same. I can no longer go to my studio in Weissensee, as it’s far from home and there are people in our building all the time. People carrying danger. However, Berlin slowly recovers, illegal raves are being planned and exhibitions are reopening. But I can’t easily be fooled by this illusory picture – up to 80 % of the art galleries in the world might be forced to close. Perhaps, for a long period of time, collectors are not going to buy works from artists to support them. Young artists will be faced with the difficult task of not only physically surviving, but also loudly declaring themselves. How? By believing… like always. In the specific case of Anna Nezhnaya, this means presenting some new works at hanz.studio (Berlin, Strausberger Platz 19) as part of the new post-lockdown exhibition series “0010” curated by Noelia Gaite-Gallardo and opening on June 11, 2020 instagram: @anna_nezhnaya www.annanezhnaya.com Fabia Mendoza When Corona made it’s way into my world, I had just started a month-long residence program in New York City to finish the screenplay for my first major movie. It wasn’t a normal artist residency for me. Working freelance since the age of 16, I became a mother at 24 while managing my husband’s artistic career, which ranged from doing taxes and paperwork to modelling and graphic design: I was a 24-hour call girl, of sorts. Two years ago my mother crashed into a mountain with her paraglider, broke 18 bones and was hospitalized for a year. A month after the crash, my husband Ryan suffered a stroke. I spent inordinate amounts of time in the hospital, rolling wheelchairs, feeding soup through straws and lacking sleep. So, for me at least, this wasn’t a normal residency – this was the ‘It’s Fabia’s Turn Residency’. Nobody was going to take this away from me, not even Corona. “You are a conspiracy theorist,” I laughed at Ryan, who suggested because of the Corona outbreak we immediately return to our seven-year-old son in Berlin. “Nobody is going to close any borders, baby. Just calm down,” I insisted. Three hours later, Trump announced the US/European travel ban. As Americans queued up in front of gun shops to prepare themselves for the upcoming crisis, Ryan and I flew back to Berlin. My frustration about the failed residency seemed a perfect motive for weeks of self-pity. “Our gallery show in Milano and the book presentation are cancelled and I am almost broke.” I pause the whining tirade for a moment. My Italian friend, a young painter, listens from Naples on WhatsApp. I choke on her long silences. I hear her kids screaming in the background– ‘”Zitti!” (“Be quiet”) she shouts back at them. Being locked into her 40sqm basso (a tiny, ground-floor flat directly facing the streets, originally designed to park a car rather than to be lived in) with three under-stimulated children, my friend could exit her house exclusively to get groceries. I refrain from asking how her paintings were coming along. My son and I start a YouTube channel by editing together little self-made, amateurish superhero movies. Sometimes, to change set, we drive out into the woods. Maybe everything wasn’t so bad after all, I try to convince myself.  “The quarantine can be fun.” Ryan’s head pops out of the little tent he built above our bed to contain the warmth. “Kind of Wes Anderson-esque, almost romantic!” Ryan was equally concerned about the situation, but his sunshine attitude could never be dismantled.  “I’m cold! I snap back, grumpily wrapping myself into my faux-fur coat and wondering if it was too early to pour myself an alcoholic beverage. Our gas tank for the heating was empty and I used my last remaining money for food, rather than a refill. Our loft became cold in less than three hours. I look outside the window, where tiny snowflakes make their way onto a stagnant ground. With no place to go tonight, there is also nothing to miss out on as my hounded being is forced into isolation. I don’t like it, but maybe it’ll teach me something. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to appreciate the things I have around me.  Fabia is collaborating with Toni Froschhammer and Lucas Deschle on DA Gallery, launching in September 2020. Until the official opening, paintings by her husband, Ryan Mendoza, can be spotted daily in the DA Schaufenster at Gipsstrasse 9, 10119 Berlin