Stories of Social Distancing 3: Edgar Leciejewski

During this temporary postponement of FIA residencies and programs, we have invited former artists-in-residence to submit texts, images, stories and thoughts exploring how they are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; how their daily life or community has been disrupted; how they are dealing with isolation and the concept of social distancing; as well as how they are looking ahead to healthier and undoubtably transformed times. Thanks to all who have contributed to this ongoing series and stay safe.

Edgar Leciejewski, March 26
FIA artist-in-residence, 2014, 2015

Turning Point / Social Distancing 
Since Monday, March 16, I am in Switzerland. I got one of the last trains out of Germany just before the border closed.

Social distancing. In February, during the first weeks of the coronavirus (in Germany), I was still shaking hands, saying as long as it isn’t forbidden, we should keep direct social contact. Then in March the politicians told people to not shake hands, to keep a certain distance. 

Social distancing. The German train I took just before the shut-down started was reduced to half its length, which meant it was packed. Every seat was occupied. The Swiss train company (SBB) declared that they wouldn’t shorten the length of the trains so that people can maintain the proper distance from each other. Now I am in Switzerland with my partner, in the town Baden near Zurich, and now there are no international trains in or out the country. 

Social distancing. I am in contact with a lot of friends around the world via my phone. I try to stay inside; I just leave the house for walks in the woods and to do my grocery shopping. Outside on the streets, in the woods, in the supermarkets, people keep distance between each other. Entering a supermarket here feels like going through a security check at an airports. First you have to queue. There are signs on the floor, which tell you how much space to leave between each other. Then there is a station for disinfecting your hands. At the next station you take a plastic bag as a glove, so that you are not touching things directly. After this, each person gets a card with a number, which you have to give to the cashier before leaving the supermarket. Then you are allowed to take a shopping basket and only now are you allowed to enter. 

Social distancing. I am a news junkie. Reading a lot of different sources from different countries but mainly from Germany, the US and the UK. Reading the news of the last week, I am asking myself if social distancing also means that the main news is only from ‘the socalled Western World. If you want to get news from Africa, the Asian Pacific, South America etc., you have to google them and often you just find news which is several weeks old. All the big newspapers mainly report from their own countries or from the Western World’. Have all the journalists left for home? Don’t they keep track through their friends and colleagues? 

Social distancing. Reading each morning and each evening the coronavirus infection numbers is a bit like looking at the sport league results. Who is leading? Who is relegated? 

Social distancing. All the exhibitions I have right now are closed. Fürth/Nuremberg closed, Vienna closed, Houston closed. The show at the MOCAK in Krakow cancelled. 

Social distancing. When my show opened in February in Fürth/Nuremberg some works sold. Now, one month later, the buyers have stepped back from their purchases due to financial uncertainty caused by the coronavirus. 

Social distancing. I wasn’t able to pay my rent last month. Next month I probably wont be able to pay my health insurance.  

Social distancing. I am a lucky one, I live in a rich country. Right now in Switzerland, the Swiss Post has stopped sending mail items to a lot of countries around the world. Excluding money and items of worth such as gold, silver and diamonds. 

Social distancing. I was supposed to take care of my 97year old grandmother. She hasn’t left her apartment in two years. My mom sees her every day. She hasn’t had a day off in two years. Now I am not allowed to help her out. And no trains leave Switzerland. And if could leave, I would have to selfquarantine for two weeks. 
Social distancing. So I called my grandmother and asked her: Granny, for two years you are in a kind of selfquarantine. How does it feel? Oh Edgar, you have to be calm, humbled and you shouldn’t ask for too much in life. 
Social distancing. I am supposed to hold a lecture and connect with students at Folkwang University in May. Will the University be open by then? What will the students show? What have they been working on? What are their thoughts? 

Social distancing. I am now in Switzerland. I tried to connect with the neighbourhood-help-WhatsApp group. I am not allowed. I do not have an official status here in Switzerland. Right now I am kind of illegal. 

Social distancing. In terms of society, economy, and legislation, we seem to be at a turning point. Everything is moving so fast right now, from day to day. What will my thoughts and feelings be in a week from now?  

Photos by Edgar Leciejewski.