Dispatches from the Quarantine 02: Alina Lupu

Dispatch from Alina Lupu, Romanian Artist Based in Amsterdam

[This dispatch is part of a series: read the previous one here.]

As a generally resistant person, tending to be first and foremost critical of every situation as well as hard to engage in the first stage, I find it fascinating that this reorientation towards online education in the arts has been so far reaching and so quick. When I entered art school in NL, 7 or so odd years ago, bringing a computer into a fine art environment was considered blasphemy and prompted ridicule. I had one teacher that used to do net art. Yes, net art. In the ´90s. No, as fine artists we work with our hands, we experience the material, and the material tends to be wood, clay, paint, fabric etc. I had no choice in carrying a computer with me since I was videocalling with clients (US, Australia, UK) that needed to have their websites done via some Romanian outsourcing company or another. And here we go, now we´re all digital natives and don´t frown at it. Is this evolution or the death of critical thinking? Or maybe we´re just tired… I can´t quite say at this point.

A letter of dissent started being drafted by the students of the Sandberg Institute, the Master program tied to the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. In it, the students, supported by their teachers and by the student unions that popped up over the past couple of years, demanded accountability from the administration of the institution after the closing of the academy and the rushed move of many of their in-person meetings and classes to open source and proprietary online platforms (Zoom is overall popular in these cases). They asked for participation in the handling of the crisis, they asked for a postponement of the academic year and refused to see their graduation show moved online. They asked for refunds of tuition fees in light of lack of access to facilities if that lack of access extended well into the summer vacation. They asked for an empathetic understanding of their condition, affected as it is by the limitations the government of the Netherlands has put on education, public gatherings and various jobs – Horeca (Hotel/Restaurant/Café) is a field in which a large swath of students was employed in order to support themselves, and much of it has been suspended. They asked for understanding in the face of the international character of the academy and the fact that many students have had to leave to their countries of origin to be close to their families during these trying times, and for an understanding of the fact that focus is hard to come by in a crisis triggered by a pandemic. These are not normal working from home conditions. Education should not be rushingly transferred into online mode, pretending to forget what triggered the move and working on the premise of “business as usual”.

The letter was signed on March 30th, 2020. It reached my inbox by mistake. It slipped through the cracks of a stuffy newsletter, due most likely to the exhaustion of whoever put the newsletter together. It wasn’t meant for public consumption, but the mere fact that it existed signaled some form of solidarity in the face of hopelessness. The letter illustrated a bottom-up change of pace.

On March 31st, the Student Council of the Rietveld Academie and Sandberg Institute went one step further, this time publicly, and took responsibility for providing what was needed during the crisis. It issued a short guide with resources for international students, artists and art workers in the Netherlands. It surprisingly broke a taboo by acknowledging the type of support needed by students in a time of crisis, practical information such as: what is a freelancer? What is a zero-hour contract? What support does the government provide in times of crisis? What should one do if their contract is not being renewed? What is unemployment and how to apply for it? How to get legal assistance? And so on.

Because it´s perfectly well to offer solidarity in the abstract and draft encouraging video speeches, but people have been plunged into the land of terminated contracts, no income, and even homelessness and under these conditions knowledge is absolute power.

But then came April 1st (sly sense of humor maybe?). The timeline that I’m building is idiosyncratic, but it´s worth maybe asking if the administration of these schools had also kept an eye on the student initiatives that went counter to the need to adapt, keep one’s head up and keep up productivity. On April 1st the Sandberg, or rather its press office, sent out a newsletter towards all of its followers, I’m guessing students and teachers included, in which it announced its “Homemade Routines”.

“How do we clean, paint, administrate, chat, prototype, stretch, cook, read, watch and dream during a period of social distancing? A growing accumulation of activities by artists and designers, live-streamed for free on Wednesdays on Sandberg Instituut Instagram, echo a different pace and concentration for our homemade behaviors.” It covered:

  • 08:00 – Cleaning
  • 10:00 – Painting
  • 11:00 – Administrating
  • 13:00 – Chatting
  • 15:00 – Prototyping
  • 16:00 – Stretching
  • 17:00 – Cooking
  • 20:00 – Reading
  • 21:00 – Watching
  • 23:00 – Dreaming
  • 24/7 production.

Despite the crisis, despite the confusion, despite resistance, despite solidarity, it seems the post-autonomous artist cannot catch a break, endlessly fucked as he or she or they are by the neoliberal need to be present, to be flexible, to adapt to precarity with a smile.