Artists on Coping: Jeanne Brasile

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

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Jeanne Brasile is an artist, curator, art educator and writer and is also the Director of Seton Hall University’s Walsh Gallery.

Jeanne Brasile is interested in repurposed paper as a medium, especially when its original function is outmoded, and structured to communicate information that is currently transmitted in a digital format. Most recently she has been working with library card catalogues, Braille newspaper pages, vintage dictionaries and newsprint to make wall sculptures on canvas or board. She shreds, cuts, folds, weaves, sews and curls paper – reassembling the pieces to alter the data it once conveyed. Her work has been shown most recently at the Montclair Art Museum, The Pascal Gallery at Ramapo College of New Jersey and the Mattatuck Art Museum.

AS: How are you coping?

JB: I am well. I’m still employed at the moment, so I don’t have those additional worries that many folks do. I am extremely grateful for that. The first two days of social distancing were the most difficult, especially because I live alone. While I do enjoy spending a certain amount of time by myself, it’s always balanced by the events that are an attendant part of working in the arts. I always recognized my social life is wrapped up in going to openings, studio visits and other art events – but not as much as I now realize. It was a little unsettling at first to be so isolated. Now two weeks into this, I feel like I’m coasting. The pace of everything seems much slower and I am enjoying it. I make sure to spend some time out-of-doors each day and I am fortunate to live in a home with lots of sun and a neighborhood with lots of open space to explore. When I find myself worrying, it’s about the future more than the present. For the most part I’m staying positive and though I question digital technology in my work, I am extremely grateful for Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, texts, instant messaging, video conferences and of course, the old fashioned phone call – an electronic means of communication – and still very much one of my preferred ways to connect with friends.

I am much better at keeping in touch with old friends and family right now. I’ve also been making amazing progress on my art. I have a home studio, so I am fortunate in this capacity too. The only thing that has changed is that I’ve had to fit my office and studio into my kitchen since my studio was under construction when this all went down, and I am working remotely now. It’s tight, but I’m making it work. With my usual schedule it sometimes takes months to complete one piece since I have to fit artmaking around my responsibilities as a full-time gallery director. That situation is compounded by my process which entails gluing individual fragments of paper onto canvas. It’s very time intensive. I am just about to finish a piece that I wasn’t expecting to complete until the end of the semester which is in May. I’m about eight weeks ahead!

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Jeanne’s kitchen/studio/office

AS: Has your routine changed?

JB: Definitely. I have a lot more time for myself. I am worried for the future, but strangely, in my daily life, there’s a lot less anxiety. Working from home I don’t find myself pulled between tasks or dealing with interruptions and demands on my time. I am eating better, exercising more and as a result I feel refreshed and energized. I’m also sleeping better. I find I’m starting my day earlier and clearer. It feels like someone hit the reset button on life. This relaxed pace seems eerily familiar. I felt like this after September 11th, The Blackout of 2003, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and now the pandemic of 2020. It’s like I’m in the eye of the storm – calm amidst chaos. I’m using this enhanced clarity to focus on projects both at work and in the studio. I’m very efficient right now.

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from the Topography of Typography series (in progress), shredded card catalogues from the Brooklyn Museum library on panel, 8” x 8”, 2020

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

JB: I noted the calmness that’s enveloped me, but I think it’s too soon to tell you my feelings. I believe we’ve got a way to go before this is over and I am trying to keep it together for the long run. Without the benefit of distance from current events, I don’t think I’m ready to feel or assess anything. We’re still in the midst of this and I want to get to the other side. My reticence is a coping mechanism. The current focus and productivity I’m experiencing is because I am channeling energy into work and myself so I don’t have to feel worried or steeped in uncertainty. If I’m feeling anything, it’s disconnected from reality.

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Untitled, Braille newspaper, graphite, watercolor, thread, 4” x 6”, 2019

AS: What matters most right now?

JB: If you had asked me this at the onset of this quarantine period, I would have said, I was attentive of not getting too lost in my head. It was hard for me since I tend to internalize my thoughts a great deal. I get lost in minutiae – just look at my art – it’s an externalization of my mental map – full of nooks and crannies to explore. I am reminding myself of the importance of friends and family, taking care of myself and being grateful for what I have. I go to great lengths to remain optimistic. More than ever, I am reaching out to overcome the isolation and my disconnected state.

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detail of work in progress

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

JB: I’m taking it one day at a time. None of knows what the future will bring, but I must believe that this pandemic and our response to it is an opportunity to make the world a better place in the long term. The aftermath of the Great Depression brought about sweeping reforms such as Social Security, public assistance, unemployment insurance, labor and health care initiatives and other social contracts that still exist today. I’m hoping that this crisis, and its devastating effects will bring about new reforms that have been sorely needed for some time. Maybe we’ll even get a Green New Deal out of this catastrophe – after all, this pandemic is ultimately an environmental disaster.

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Sector, shredded card catalogues from the Brooklyn Museum library on canvas,11” x 14” 2019 – private collection

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: