Artists on Coping: Jaanika Peerna

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

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Jaanika Peerna at her pandemic era studio

Jaanika Peerna is an Estonian-born artist and educator living and working in New York since 1998. Her work encompasses drawing, installation, and performance, often dealing with the theme of transitions in light, air, water and other natural phenomena. For her performances she is often involves the audience in participatory reflection on the current climate meltdown. Her art practice stems from the corporeal experience of our existence and reaches towards enhanced awareness of the fragility, interconnectedness and wonder of all life. 

AS: How are you coping?

JP: By the time I get a word down the answer has changed. I try again and fail. I try in Estonian, my first language, no better. So I draw, dance, take walks, zoom into people’s eyes on screens as deep as I can reach, stroke the moss along the Hudson river path, stop trying to know, allowing the beat deep down the gut to guide me to the next moment.

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Experiments in fluidity: pigment and ice on hand cut mylar

AS: Have you had a show or other creative opportunities canceled?

JP: I feel like instead of canceling, the pandemic has postponed things. You cannot really cancel art, only postpone, so that the essential gets more clearly revealed. A climate emergency related exhibition at Zuccaire gallery at Stony Brook University on Long Island, for example, was supposed to open this summer but we met up with the curator and artists over the ethers to start the collaboration for it now. We’ll have more time to really get into it and come out the other end more nourished and with a powerful voice for the public in summer 2021.

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Drawing, sculpture and photo based works lined up

AS: Has your routine changed?

JP: Absolutely. I am based in one house instead of three homes over two continents. Both my job as the Cultural representative at Estonian Consulate in New York and my studio work are done from the house. Simplification on one hand together with complex issues of the job and the world on the other hand, all outline my days. Art is the only constant. It keeps pushing oxygen into the stuffed veins, it keeps manifesting in forms we did not know existed. I am trying to stay awake and open as the conduit for the mystery to pour through.

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

JP: My feelings are in flux. Much sadness and confusion, then delight and peace. Gratitude for the moss that I have fallen in love with – it is the softest and most embracing bed material you can imagine. Sorrow for not having the freedom to run to my friends’ arms. Feeling of the immense possibility of this moment. Then guilt that I have my morning to breathe on the banks of the Hudson river, while so many people are fighting to take the next breath. But above all: newly risen intense love for the natural environment – I talk to the trees and whisper with the waters. And I hear back. I do hear back.

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The last exhibition before the pandemic: Cold Love, solo exhibition installation view, Real Art Ways, Hartford CT

AS: What matters most right now?

JP: To really shift and shake if possible and remember what surfaces. It’s time for the essential to surface. Crises have the tendency to focus us on what truly matters. While so much of it happening right now is painful I do believe it has a value in the end. It matters to remember how interconnected we all are, it’s all one organism. Thus every one of my actions and thoughts DOES have an impact.

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studio moment

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

JP: Much grief is ahead. So much loss to process. Ashes to stumble upon. And while still dragging our feet in the ashes we will feel our wings grow…

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Jaanika Peerna , Glacier Elegy performance and solo exhibition, ArtDepoo gallery, Tallinn, Estonia 2018

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: