Vi ställde några frågor till Simon Gush, en av konstnärerna i utställningen Varje löv är ett öga, om hur spridningen av COVID-19 har påverkat honom i hans vardag. Han har också fått ge oss sitt tips på bästa musik så här i coronatider. (Intervjun gjordes i början av april).
Hi Simon! Can you tell us something about how the spreading of COVID-19 manifests itself in your part of the world?
South Africa has been fortunate so far, the virus took longer to reach here and has not hit as hard as many places. I think we were able to watch the responses and learn. We are in a three week lockdown and our numbers remain under control and most importantly the number of deaths have been low. A large outbreak here could be very devastating for many reasons. We are also in a difficult position in that many people here are in precarious work and our economy has a very large informal component. The lockdown is going to be very hard. I am worried about how we might open up economic activity after the lockdown ends, which will be absolutely necessary for us to survive, while still protecting ourselves against a jump in infections.
In what way has it affected people working within the arts and the cultural sector in your region?
It is hard for artists with exhibitions, conferences and events are being cancelled. I really don’t know what the long term effects all of this will have on the art world. From my perspective I have had quite a few cancellations and that is disappointing but right now that is not the most important thing. The crisis is much bigger than that. What is causing me anxiety is that I, like many artists, don’t survive through my art but through other work that I do. I am quite worried that the freelance work, teaching and other ways that I am able to make money will be badly affected. This is the most immediate concern for the arts, not so much the cancellation of cultural events, but that the forms of precarious work that many of us do to subsidise or is often solely the basis from which we can make artwork and survive, will be badly hit.
How has the situation affected you and your art practice?
I went to Mexico at the beginning of March. I was not very worried about it when I arrived. Africa and Latin America seem reasonably unaffected at the time. I was even supposed to be going back to Gothenburg for a conference in mid-April and I really still thought that might be possible. Two weeks later things looked very different. I had four flights cancelled, before I could find one to take me home. The first one I was supposed to transfer in Lima but Peru closed its borders in the time between check in and boarding. It is amazing how quickly the situation changes at the moment. I decided to not take that flight as I would have had to go into quarantine there, which I would not have been able to afford. Finally I managed to get home a week later, just days before the lockdown came into effect. Even though I have health insurance and am covered for my travel, I started to worry about what might happen if I got sick. Would the hospitals accept my insurance? What I would do in a situation where I don’t speak Spanish? I would be isolated and not knowing what was going on. I felt much calmer to be able to get back and be close to my family in space that I know.
Has the current isolation enabled you to create works or develop new ideas, that you otherwise might not have?
Probably the thing I have thought the most about and I am sure will come into my work is our relationship to the state. The way the power which the state holds can be so strongly felt at moment. Especially in how the state has such a strong influence on how we now behave within our private lives and spaces. It is interesting to me that in this time of crisis I immediately started to feel very foreign in Mexico and wanted to go back to South Africa, to return to the care of the state. A nationalism that I don’t normally feel. This really is a time of biopolitics.
Most of us are feeling stressful, worried and powerless. Which place do you visit to give your mind a rest?
Physically I can’t go anywhere, except to get food. I went out for the first time today, up until now I have been extra careful after coming back from my trip with so many airplanes and airports. I knocked on my neighbours’ door to see if they wanted anything and it was the first time I have spoken to anyone in person in two weeks. It was both nice to be outside but also hard as it’s also visible how many people are struggling. Mentally I haven’t found a space yet to be honest. I swing between reading lots of news about what’s going on or trying to ignore everything and get on with some work. To be honest I don’t have a lot of concentration for anything at the moment.
Finally, do you have some music, literature, or film tips that you would like to share with us?
After my previous answers I don’t want to recommend anything too serious or heavy, so the one happy thing so far has been Run The Jewels released two new tracks during this lockdown. Both are great but Ooh La La, is amazing (lyssna på Ooh La La på Spotify). I really hope the whole album is released soon. I need some new lockdown music.