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«THINKING – TRANSFERING – ACTING» – Interview with Sarina Scheidegger

By Carolina Martinez

In recent months, the whole world has been telling a story together, without having agreed upon it. Usually, different stories and events that take place in various sites are assembled under a common narrative which is interpreted as the reality of a moment, space, and time.  

At this moment, the «COINCIDENCIA» program wishes to enable the meeting of ideas, hopes, fears, criticisms, and different forms of human and artistic expression in order to discuss, together, what new ways, models, and languages we can project for a post-Coronavirus world. 

CAROLINA MARTINEZ: Exchange of knowledge has been manifested through trips, residencies, exhibitions and other projects, also within the experience you had during your residency in Colombia: Facing this new scenario, how do you think we could, today and in the future achieve the exchange?

SARINA SCHEIDEGGER: The residency «FLORA ars+natura» in Colombia is a very specific and unique residency, the artists spend ten months together (which is a long time for a residency), the idea is to exchange knowledge and learn from each other during this timeframe which is based on seminars, workshops, trips and other formats of sharing. But the more important aspect of this exchange is the ability to start, carry on and to build up friendships with the ones around you. So, what happens when this «around» just simply isn’t there anymore? When the «around» is replaced by «far away» or by «distance»? How can friendship take place and emerge from these uneasy circumstances? What happens with exchange and friendship when there is no plane but a lot of zoom-meetings? Observing the reactions of artists to the situation of the pandemic and making this experience myself I do think we must develop and cultivate new formats which can bring another kind of communicational movement in our practices. We might now use digital ways, online conversations and web research, social media chatters but we might also go back to timeworn letter writing, working with instructions and scripts, developing more ephemeral, performative modes and finally accept their impermanence. But in the end, I am wondering if we can develop a practice of exchange through digital forms only which can manifest themselves on a deeper and prospective level.

I am used to work with the parameter of distance, just recently the book «Tiene palabras, ella» was published in collaboration with Ana Navas and «ESPAC» in Mexico, for which a major part was developed through phone calls and exchanging material without being on the same continent.

And also my collaboration with the Argentinian artist Jimena Croceri is shaped by «the two of us not being in the same place» but exchanging our thoughts and research through various channels of communication. However the aspiration or purpose is never only a digital encounter, in the end there is a project, an exhibition, a performance waiting to be realized, an encounter waiting to take part in, a meal to be shared among the participants and a conversation to be continued which is not interrupted by the next online meeting or by time difference or by lack of access to the internet.

CM: The instability that each one is feeling makes us aware of our fragility where the future is acquiring a new meaning. We have stopped together, and we are in a “waiting” time. How has this present been manifested in your work?

SS: I have never felt that we are in a «waiting time» although I can understand that it might be perceived like that. The known rush, hustle and speed we are used to have has paused and slowed down for a while. For me personally and in relation to my artistic practice it is and was a different mode of how time can be experienced and to become aware of the fragility on how we build our schedules, our ambitious plans, programmes and projects. For sure, things had to be put on hold, postponed, rethought, maybe even cancelled but immediately new striving formats were created, some of them in the heat of the moment, some appearing and disappearing within a short time, some of them constantly searching for adaptation of the moment. I feel no one was actually «waiting» but rather trying to catch up with time, to do something, to relate somehow to this extreme situation or to change the known habits into unknown domains. This shows rigorously how our need to productiveness is profoundly anchored. I was somehow surprised about all that efficiency and kept wondering if we missed the moment to focus more on the monetary and precarious conditions in which people are living in and which became visible all over the planet. Being born and living in Switzerland I know about my privileges. But even so here the pandemic and its economical consequences is showing us the fragility of the system (in which we are used to live in and meander through somehow) and who can or can not get support by public and state-run funding. On one hand we are in the beginning of it (and who knows what the next year will look like), on the other hand we have always been in this (precarious) condition and therefore the need for an alternative structure or redistribution (for example an unconditional basic income without the pressure to produce more and more) should absorb our thoughts and be our ambition for the time to come.

CM: Your main way of working is, as you declare in your statement, in collaboration, and from there, in relation to water in its political aspects, hydrofeminism and fluidity. Has the point of view to address these issues changed within the context of a pandemic that has exposed so many other political, ecological and social issues?

SS: By the end of February 2020 I was back in Switzerland, Basel, coming from a three month research trip to Chile. At this time there were almost no cases in South America and the pandemic was just about to start in Europe. I was investigating the water(politics) in the Atacama desert and I had the chance to be in contact with so many interesting people with different backgrounds during my travels, so coming back and being confronted with the pandemic and its interconnection through our bodies, our tangency, our air, our waters immediately put all the research I had done in connection with the current situation. But I think the point of view to address this issues is still and even more one that defines and investigates water not only as a resource not only as a quantifiable and instrumentalized substance but furthermore how water can also be a lively collaborator on our ways of knowing and acting and how we are all connected through the waters (in and around us). Being inspired by the text «Bodies of water» by Astrida Neimanis – where she describes the pathway of a glass of water and how this glass of water we drink makes its way to the filtration plant towards hydroelectric power to an aquifer until it ends in a bottle of water from which we may drink again – it becomes clear that water is not only a resource and that fluids are not only inherent in our bodies but moreover share parts of each other between them through water. And in the situation of the pandemic this «sharing» gets of course another significance and concern which needs more investigation in terms of its consequences (for the future).

CM: Do you think that with your artistic practice you can make society more aware that this crisis won’t pass – is here to stay- and that we need to change our deepest habits? How do you plan to incorporate your thinking and work with social organisations? What new forms of cooperation may you imagine in order to reach those who decide and have power over the issues you work with?

SS: In Chile I had the chance to be in touch with «Modatima – Movimiento de Defensa del Agua, la Tierra y la Proteccion del Medioambiente», a NGO which is working for example in the province of Petorca to promote water rights. (Petorca is highly affected by the export and plantation of avocado.) In conversation with Camilo Mansanilla who is a geologist and very active in this region, I was able to understand a tiny little bit of the complex situation, its history and gain some access to the restricted information around this discourse. This is an ongoing exchange and not only interesting on the level of content but also in terms of how artistic, scientific, legal and social knowledge can collaborate in the future and reach outside of their inherent perspectives, their surrounding and sectors. Being in Chile during these intense times (before Covid19) made me learn and realize again that social movements, politics and art are genuinely connected whereas here in Switzerland I often feel like they are treated apart from each other. In October 2019 (the beginning of the protests in Chile) the independent space «Sagrada Mercancia» immediately changed their art space into a centre to help the injured people from the protests, to collaborate on protecting shields for medical emergencies within the demonstrations and to create a place where safety was given in a time of governmental violence and oppression. So the focus in my artistic practice and research centers around collaborations which can reach this issues on a larger scale but my work and more importantly my exchange is seeded in friendship and complicity.

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