During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Eileen Hoffman is a textile sculptor and installation artist whose use of non-traditional materials acts as a bridge between past traditions and contemporary approaches. Her art involves making the undervalued and unseen culture of women’s work visible. Her work has been featured in Family Matters: SDA International Exhibition in Print; The Gold Standard of Textile and Fiber Art, NYC; and Art From the Boros VII, NYC.
Demonstrator’s Bag: Untold Stories was part of Art in Odd Places, 2019. The idea originated from the clear backpacks people were asked to carry at the Women’s March on Washington in 2017. The clear bag serves as a metaphor—a container for the hidden stories of women’s lives.
AS: How are you coping?
EH: I’m healthy, but exhausted. I’ve heard people say there’s more time now to rest and get your work done, but that isn’t the case for many people I know, especially parents like me. I’m working harder than before. My husband and I joke that we are going to get sick from exhaustion before we get the virus. Everything is more complicated and takes longer.
My son, who’s in 11th grade, is home now all the time. He’s a baseball player who wants to play in college. Along with all the other athletes, his season is not happening. He’s hoping to play summer ball, and it might still happen, but it’s hard to keep practicing on your own, without teammates. My husband is working out with him, which means I fill in by doing other things for my husband.
In the bigger picture, I’m fortunate. I live in a brownstone in Brooklyn near Prospect Park. We have a small backyard, and my studio is on the top floor. My main exercise is taking our dog, Rosie, for an hour walk in the park once or twice a day. I have a great family and enjoy being with them. We will be financially impacted by this, but aren’t in danger of going bankrupt or losing our home.
AS: Has your routine changed?
EH: How has it not changed? I don’t know where to start. Three people home all the time requires lots of food, cooking, cleaning and organizing. My husband and I are trying to stay out of stores, but figuring out what we can order online for delivery is a part-time job.
Though my son is a teenager and more independent, he’s not able to be with his friends in person or work out with them. My husband and I have tried to make ourselves more available to break his sense of isolation. We’re also trying to help him practice and stay in shape for baseball, which is tiring. The over-the-door basketball hoop is back up in my studio, which now doubles as a gym.
Before social distancing a dog walker walked Rosie four mornings a week. Now we do all the walking, which frequently falls to me, since my husband often has morning work meetings. Rosie knows something is going on. She misses her dog posse, and is a more skittish and clingy.
I’ve always been an artist who can work through anything. I brought knitting projects to my son’s baseball practices when he was younger. I’m figuring out how to keep working, but it’s challenging to think big and make plans. I’m pleased I’ve been able to maintain my connection to work.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about this?
EH: I’m scared for my health and everyone else’s right now. That hospitals are overloaded, without necessary ventilators or supplies, is terrifying. The politics are infuriating. I hate the fear and uncertainty most of us are feeling.
I’m also upset about the economy. It’s heartbreaking to see so many artists’ plans and projects being put on hold, and people’s livelihoods threatened. I worry about people not having the support they need to get through these difficult times. I’m also upset about how hard this is for young people. I’m concerned about their social development since their main contact with friends now is through devices. I’m concerned for the ones who aren’t in safe homes and are potentially subject to neglect or abuse. I hate seeing young people isolated in the park, not able to play with each other.
AS: What matters most right now?
EH: Doing what you can to stay healthy and observe social distancing. Which means you have to think about yourself, not in a selfish, but a thoughtful way. Which isn’t always easy to do, especially for women. Relationships matter. People are doing all kinds of great things for their communities, which I see having a positive impact. In the big picture, I am hopeful people will be able to come together to make the changes necessary to address the climate crisis.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
EH: I love and cherish my artist friends. They are people who’ve made a decision to keep their own thinking. They understand there are different ways to look at the world and build a life. The work we do is so important, and we contribute so much to the world. I want my beloved artists to remember this and keep working. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I’m confident that artists will continue to lead the way.