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Personal stories of coronavirus

See how artists have been handling the pandemic in Hirshhorn Artist Diaries series

Howardena Pindell, Arlene Shechet, Eric Gottesman, and Marina Abramovic reflect on what it is like to work in isolation as part of a “living archive” of videos commissioned by the museum, and shared exclusively with The Art Newspaper

While the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC remains closed, it has not stopped creating new projects with contemporary artists, including a series of video diaries, commissioned at the start of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The series will become a “living archive”, the museum says, and a “record of the effects of the global pandemic on artists, their art-making practices and their views of the world.” The museum shared a few of these videos exclusively with The Art Newspaper, including personal reflections from Howardena Pindell, Arlene Shechet, Eric Gottesman, and Marina Abramovic, filmed at their homes and studios.

“The videos are like informal behind-the-scenes offerings at a moment when the usual day-to-day life routine has been put on pause and artists have a moment to reflect outside of the demands of exhibitions, talks and art fairs, events that were a part of their public life,” says the Hirshhorn’s director Melissa Chiu. “The idea with this video series is that we are able to gain insights into artistic processes and ways of thinking that we may not otherwise be able to gain through simply looking at the finished work.”

In the videos shared with The Art Newspaper, for example, Pindell talks about writing her memoir “in fits and starts” and how her earlier experience prepared her for working in isolation during the pandemic, her voice muffled by her facemask; Shechet shares videos she has been working on, including a jellyfish she shot last year that now “emanates the menacing power of the coronavirus”; Gottesman films his children and speaks about how working from home has affected his practice; and Abramovic discusses her daily routine and emotional state, ending with the observation: “Artist have to create, that is all we really know how to do.”

“To some extent the videos are determined by individual artist’s circumstances: some filmed from home, some filmed from their studio or even from other artist’s studios—wherever they felt most comfortable” Chiu says. “Our invitation to them was to create a short video on what their life was like at that moment, and to discuss whether the circumstances had any impact on their art. We wanted them to think about it less as an act of creation–an art work–and more as a marking of the moment, almost like a diary entry. What has surprised me is the somewhat unprecedented intimacy that this format allows. It’s really like being invited into the studio or home of the artist, giving us insights into their thinking, ways of working, and sometimes even their personality.”

The full series can be viewed on the museum's YouTube channel and its website, and Chiu says new videos are received and scheduled for posting every week. “We see this as an evolving archive that will reflect the changing circumstances of the crisis,” she adds.