Stories of Social Distancing 9: Gabriele Langendorf

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.

Gabriele Langendorf, May 2
FIA artist-in-residence, 2019

I am doing well so far. My family and I are healthy and we do not know of anyone in the immediate vicinity who is ill with Covid-19. But nevertheless, the shutdown from March 13, 2020 has many effects on our lives, which are mostly not pleasant. You got to know me as an artist-in-residence on Fogo Island. This time was a great gift for me to finally be able to do something for myself and find peace. As you know, I also work as a professor of painting at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar and, in addition to teaching, I have been managing our university for almost seven years. About 500 art and design students study with us and our team consists of 17 professors and about 40 permanent employees in administration, central facilities and library. After the break on Fogo Island, the intensive daily work routine at the university immediately began again. 

The outbreak of the crisis therefore meant for me that we had to protect the members of the university within a very short time and therefore had to close from March 16 onOf course, this also affected all other types of universities in Germany. The German Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs decided that this semester is still valid and that students should not suffer any disadvantages in examinations. Since March 16, I have been at the university every day with a small emergency team, the crisis management team, and we are preparing for limited teaching starting May 4. I could also do some things in the home office, but it is important for me to be in the university to motivate my staff and to ensure a good mood.   

We have to change a lot of things: Postponing final exams from July to September, switching to digital entrance exams for new applicants. For the time being, teaching will only be done digitally and there will be many restrictions on normal studio operations. Our federal state has issued very strict regulations so far, we have to follow them and I am responsible for the implementation of the guidelines and the resulting consequences are extensive.  

My everyday work revolves around pandemic plans, hygiene concepts, compliance with occupational health and safety standards, regulations for employees and students who are prematurely ill, etc.  Not very funny. I have to work out and monitor the flow of information to the university public, design service instructions and think of hundreds of details. Our responsible ministry is a little overburdened with the situation and we receive the necessary information only sparsely or at very short notice. There is a shortage of staff in our administration and we are feeling this very strongly right now. The work is stuck to only a few people and unfortunately there is a lot of other work left because we are currently only busy managing the crisis. When the crisis began, I was looking forward to working on things that I hadn’t been able to do for a long time. Haha, that was probably very naive. 

We have to make the best out of the situation and make sure that we manage the balancing act between teaching and health protection for our university. Maybe a lot of new things will come out of it, we’ll see. On the positive side, the cohesion in our small team has improved. What saddens me more is that many students are losing their jobs. At least we were able to set up a small emergency fund and help at short notice. But that doesn’t replace income, of course. The artists in general are also very much affected, there are many initiatives regarding bridging money, but there is still uncertainty about how things will continue in the future. 

Despite the distance, I am in regular phone contact with my students and next week our lecture period will start. I am very curious to see how the meetings and lectures via video conferencing with the students will work. On my Instagram account I have set up a platform for my students, where they can show their pictures to the public and to each other, because everyone is currently working at home. @hbksaar_atelier_langendorf: KEEP IN TOUCH – Art students work at home. After six weeks the school will be partially opened on Monday and I hope that everyone will behave considerately and responsibly. 

Not much has changed in my personal everyday life, I am very much focused on university and all the work distracts me. At home on weekends I find it difficult to switch off, often I work for the university on weekends to get everything done. That’s why my own painting doesn’t happen at the moment, it’s missing, but I’m confident that this time will come again. I have few problems with being alone or isolated. 

Small free spaces at the weekend are going for a walk or cooking dinner with my family. And of course, there are the normal things to do in the household.  

Thank God I have no financial losses, so I really appreciate my privilege. But somehow the whole Corona crisis is already latently depressing the mood. 

I hope that something positive remains from the crisis, and above all that it will be over again sometime. For me, Fogo Island is a role model in terms of community cohesion. If this cohesion were to become more prominent in our own country too, I would be very satisfied. 

And I am currently enjoying the fact that there are fewer cars on the road, less hectic and better air. It is spring in our garden! 

Photo courtesy Gabriele Langendorf.