Isolation is more or less my normal life. My home is my studio, my gym, my everything; above all it is my space for thinking away from the family in Italy. I am very much on my own all day: drawing, studying, reading, devising my art projects, or, as now, doing all of this while editing and revising the book that records my latest project: a performative walk on the pilgrim way from Rome to London, collecting stories and drafting portraits of people who belong to what I called ‘fluid migration’ (i.e. people who change their lives, either to escape war or poverty, or to fulfill their aspirations and hopes). The Coronavirus has cut this project short. But I hope to resume it soon. Meanwhile, I am collaborating with an artist in Milan to conceive a new project on line.
The first week I was a bit all over the place, spending most of the time reading articles on line, checking posts on Facebook, listening to the radio, making sure my children in Italy were alright, phoning friends abroad, writing to the people I had met on my walk. I was not anxious about my health or fearful, but a bit lost, wasting time… I had to set myself a timetable, to make better use of my time. Mornings are for work, afternoons for the rest. Still, I feel there is never enough time.
In a way, I am more concentrated now; I don’t have as many ups and downs as I usually have. Maybe, because it is not only me that is isolated. Artists who work in studios usually have exchanges with other artists, which I do not have, unless somebody comes to visit me. At times this isolation, in the earlier normal conditions (who knows what will be the new normal), made me feel a bit depressed.
My distractions now are mainly on line: Qigong on Zoom with my master; lectures and Q&As by various institutions on political and environmental topics, which I used to attend once or twice a month, now are on line, and they go out to the world, not only those who come to the venue. Some plays are also on line. Usually, I do not watch films on streaming, and I do not have Netflix or Amazon Prime. I do miss the big screen. I certainly miss nice dinners with a bunch of artist friends, they are always very inspiring. I enjoy cooking for friends, not really for myself.
I do not sleep much, even in normal times: I wake up very early, or in the middle of the night, and turn on the BBC world service. This usually works, I go back to sleep. Not now! The news is really troubling; so many people have lost their jobs, their homes, and are hungry. Diving into my work, going mentally to another place, this is the only thing that clears my mind of the terrible images that resonate on the news. Some friends have started not listening to the news. I cannot. I need to be informed and form my own opinion on how things are managed.
Being an artist makes me sensitive to people’s suffering. I feel it. I imagine it. I miss having friends at home for dinner. Discussing the situation with them, life, not only on Skype, Facetime or on the phone. By the way, the phone, which never rung before, now does. People are calling. This is something new. When I was working in Milan, where I had a studio away from home, I used to hate the telephone ringing. Now I find it a pleasant distraction.
I am worried about how we will relate to each other when the lockdown is over. Will we look at each other as a potential threat? Will we ever get rid of the social distancing?
On the other hand, during the lockdown situation, we all saw nature flourishing and heard birds singing without the background noise of road traffic.
I am not a fan of gardening. I have a roof terrace with few plants, but an ancient plane tree stands magnificent in front of it. During lockdown I have been exercising early in the morning on the terrace, besides enjoying the sun rising, for the first time I noticed nature transitioning to spring, the leaves growing, the movement of birds on this tree, constantly coming and going, and singing. I even had a blue tit accidentally fly into my living room. It is exciting! I hope this will be an opportunity for policy makers to invest in education, the arts, and green energy. The next threat will be the climate. We will not be able to escape by locking ourselves in. I don’t know how this pandemic disaster will affect my future projects; it will take a while to sink in.