Productive solitude: Artists in the corona crisis
Isolation has long inspired artistic creativity: From contemporaries like Ai Weiwei and Igor Levit to nineteenth century literati like Victor Hugo and Alexander Pushkin, lockdowns have long inspired great art.
Igor Levit: Building a virtual community
The Russian-born German star pianist gives a concert every evening during the corona crisis live on Twitter, with the recording available immediately after on Twitter. Performed in casual dress, these house concerts are his way of maintaining a connection to his audience while doubling as valuable daily practice. Levit's house concerts have a cult following online.
Leïla Slimani: The privilege of boredom
A new literary genre is taking hold, particularly in France: the quarantine diary. Bestseller author Leïla Slimani publishes hers in the daily Le Monde, praising the beauty of the morning mist, the buds on the lime tree, the blooming chamomile. "Curfew? For an author, a stroke of luck," she writes.
Alexander Iskin: Supervised solitude
The 29-year-old artist revealed himself via webcam for eight hours a day for 50 days, even while eating and sleeping. Before the Corona crisis erupted, Iskin withdrew into Berlin's Sexauer Gallery until the end of March to concentrate on painting. He looked increasingly unkept but was highly productive. The paintings might be sold once the pandemic is over.
Kirill Serebrennikov: The moment of truth
The Russian theater director was under house arrest for 18 months until April 2019, but made his isolation productive. Now he has published a video with tips for getting through the corona crisis: "Read, keep a diary, exercise, work at home, cultivate friendships. Most important thing learned: Delete the concepts 'quarantine' and 'isolation'. It's a 'new start'. It's 'regeneration'."
Marina Abramovic: Monastery retreat
The Serbian performance artist spends every year's end in a monastery in India to meditate and recharge her batteries. "We have to create situations where our bodies are healthy and function well," says Abramovic. The first time she went into a three-month retreat, she had to burn all her possessions to be "reborn."
Ai Weiwei: Unity of art and life
In 2009, the Chinese concept artist Ai Weiwei was arrested and so severely beaten by police that he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. His "crime" was to call for a thorough investigation of earthquake victims suffering damages due to lax building standards in Sichuan. Then he criticized the regime in selfies from surgery – and made his prison time and house arrest in 2011 an artistic statement.
Liu Xia: Art under house arrest
The painter, poet and photographer was held under house arrest by the Chinese government for eight years. The widow of Liu Xiaobo, a dissident writer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died in 2017, Liu Xia expressed her helplessness in the face the regime in poems and photographs exhibited in Berlin's Martin Gropius Bau. But Liu Xia also suffered from depression.
Edvard Munch: Pandemic paintings
The Norwegian painter was terrified of the Spanish flu that broke out in Europe in 1918. Munch gave expression to the pandemic in several works, including the Man with Bronchitis and Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu. The artist went into voluntary isolation when he himself was stricken with influenza and lived only with his art. He lived alone for almost the last 30 years of his life.
Alexander Pushkin: No distractions in Boldino
The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, founder of modern Russian literature, withdrew to his family estate in Boldino for several months in 1830 to escape a cholera pandemic. There he would lie in bed until 3pm in the afternoon writing text after text — poems, novels, fairy tales — with no distractions.
Victor Hugo: Writing after banishment
Napoleon Bonaparte had the French author arrested in 1851 and later banished. Hugo even had to symbolically take off his last shirt. For 19 years he settled on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, which belonged to England. He used his downtime most of all to attack "little Napoleon" from exile. He also worked on novels such as Les Misérables.
Blaise Pascal: The good fortune of tranquility
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal, the act of leaving his room was the root of all evil. Around 1657, in his collection of aphorisms collected on scraps of paper titled Pensées ("Thoughts"), he wrote: "Every misfortune of humanity comes from people not being able to stay quietly in a room." Pascal was deeply religious, and to him staying in solitary in one's room was a path to finding God.