During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Ronit Levin Delgado is an Israeli–born, New York–based multidisciplinary visual artist and a Fulbright Scholar. Her work explores conditions and experiences of instinctual human interactions through the use of the body, rituals, and the intimacy of a kiss. In performances, videos, paintings and sculptural objects, she calls into question the personal narratives of vulnerability and desire. In immersive installations she invites the viewers to engage and share a private intimate moment in a collective environment experience. The artist’s personal rituals fuse the fragments of cultural traditions, rituals and beliefs into performative actions and objects.
RLD: Art has always been the best coping tool that nurtures my liveliness. I know there are many ups and downs through life, and I’ve faced other more challenging situations that filled me with uncertainty. These experiences trained my mindset and helped me understand what it means to be mentally resilient. Having a “joy of life” outlook has helped me turn weaknesses into strengths. Uncertainty motivates a creative wave. It can be an exciting time, and is something I’ll continue to harness through my works.
Often my work is based on my own personal experiences, including family history, that I channel into creating. The more personal the art, the more universal it becomes. Once, after a building fire destroyed my apartment, I lived in a disaster survivor homeless shelter for two months. I viewed the experience as a durational performance, and created a series of smoke and fire paintings from it.
My latest exhibition is about my own journey of self-discovery. Through meeting my paternal family in Paraguay for the first time, attempting to cope with the loss of my father who left my family when I was seven years old, I explore the act of forgiving, as well as the pursuit of an ultimate identity. It was planned as a solo multimedia installation show at Domestic Museology in New York, but has been postponed due to COVID-19.
With unprecedented global uncertainty, forgiveness and coping are topical ideas now, and time spent in quarantine is an opportunity to reflect. A great way of dealing with this is to stay creative, and I’m experimenting with new techniques and digital drawings. I’m also reconnecting globally with many people in my life who help me feel that I’m not alone. It’s important to be kind and compassionate, and I give myself time to process and digest, taking it easy day-by-day. I also recommend The Science of Well-Being, an online course offered by Yale University.
RLD: Partially. It’s important to keep a routine for the sake of normalcy, even if it’s adjusted, doing little things in our apartments. I still teach art, but remotely, and am using the rest of the time for professional development–participating in online workshops and forums, broadening my knowledge of new fields, and acquiring new skills for my multimedia practice.
Because dance and movement are important to my art practice, I continue with my regular dance workout and belly dancing which are now online. I’ve also added online Yoga, which I love because it contributes to self-connection and the practice of mindfulness. The readjusting has helped me realize I can do a lot without outsourcing, simply by slowing down which allows me to focus on the present and go inward.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
RLD: It’s as if the pandemic has transformed everyone into durational performance artists–isolated and focused on the here and now. Like Marina Abramovic who purposefully isolated herself for twelve days during The House with the Ocean View, a post-9/11 piece with the goal of slowing our minds and bodies to simply enjoy the present.
It’s surreal being trapped in my apartment in “the city that never sleeps,” and I fear what comes next on political, social and economic levels. It’s as if the planet sent us to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. Uncertainty can be scary, but also exciting. Just as change isn’t always bad, only different.
The pandemic is forcing us to re-connect and appreciate each other more. Before, everyone was disengaged, always on their phones, but now it’s easier to meet in virtual meetings and creative workshops. And I love that so many incredible artists are sharing their talents globally with everyone! I hope this forced physical (not social!) distancing will continue to help us see our similarities and find common ground.
AS: What matters most right now?
RLD: Cherishing relationships in our lives and maintaining connections with our supportive communities. We create our own family in our own surroundings wherever we’re quarantined. This connection has always been my rock and helped me through difficult times. As an Israeli artist who lives by herself in a new country, the community I create from friends and peers is the most important both personally and artistically. The continuous identity, heritage search and longing to find lost family, my tribe, is part of my art.
A friend wrote how she loves that even in quarantine I’m still a social butterfly. But quarantine is only a physical, not social or emotional distancing, and it’s important to find ways to be together, because we are all in this together globally!
We need to be healthy and safe, mentally and physically strong, as well as optimistic. We must deal with the present and make productive use of our time and energy in the most authentic way.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
RLD: Art is important to society because it reflects on the road ahead and the realities of the time. It helps us tell our stories, and is also an avenue for protest and escape. We saw this in the American Regionalism art movement and “the lost generation” of artists that rose in response to WWI and the Great Depression.
More than ever online platforms are being used to view galleries, performances and museum tours. Though I believe it’s only a phase, digital art platforms will probably be more integrated into future art making. But viewing exhibitions, installations, and performances online is a different experience from what was intended to be a tangible experience; everything now is viewed through the lens of the black mirror.
As a performance artist who explores human interactions through shared experience, I find challenges in this new medium because humans have the innate need for one-on-one, not solely virtual, connections. So I’m positive that tactile, tangible art will have a resurgence, perhaps as a rebellion against cold digital formats. People long for human connection, and as a collaborative performance artist, I look forward to new and exciting opportunities for collaborations between artists from different fields and different places.
The pandemic has taken two important things from us: lives and liberties. Hopefully the quarantine restrictions will make us think about the values of life and freedom, help us realize that we all live together on this planet. Fate forges partnerships against the forces of nature, and will teach us to be more respectful of each other and the earth.