Being (T)here: lockdown exchange

TT Journal, Vol.1, ISSUE 2, 19th March 2021

by Alexa Wright & Tereza Stehlikova

Performed during an NSU winter (Dis)symposium Conversations on/with/as PRESENCE

18th March 2020 
Hi Tereza, it feels good to start this connection with you, even though it’s at a distance. Today the sun is shining. I made bread. The days roll by. In some ways I welcome this timelessness, this restricted life. Everything is localised. There are new routines. The rhythm is slow. There are good days and bad days and the frustration of my inability to be creative is mounting.

19th March 2020
Hi Alexa, yes, another day to get through. I am struggling to muster enthusiasm. I feel ungrateful for not being able to embrace these moments. I recovered from what I think was the coronavirus, now more than a week ago. Just ‘being’ was exhausting. But the world transformed in the meantime: queues outside supermarkets, people wearing masks, avoiding each other.

22nd March 2020 
I know it’s is very strange. In this timeless state I seem to have lost the ability to clean the house. I watch impassively as the dust and dog hair build up. Every day I start things that I mean to do, but nothing gets finished – I hang in suspended animation whilst each day passes surprisingly quickly. It’s not unpleasant, quite relaxing even, but how long will this last and what will happen when it’s time for life to start again?

23rd March 2020
I too feel that the usual sense of time has dissolved. Is it already a week since we began sending each other these exchanges?!The building works next door begun, adding another layer of claustrophobia and tension. A feeling of lethargy, a combination of stress and being trapped inside a situation. I am trying out a fish eye lens on my iphone. It captures the sense of being enclosed.

25th March 2020 
Just as I write this your last email and photo arrive. Thank you, now I can really imagine you at home, but I have to admit that I feel envious of you with your family around you. I’m feeling increasingly fragile and anxious. Outside I try to avoid being near anyone and I’m irritated when someone gets too close, but at the same time I feel the lack of intimacy intensely..

27th March 2020
Touch is on my mind a lot, at this time of physical distancing. I have my family who provide all the touch I need. These are the hands of my two daughters. We spend a lot of time sitting together on a sofa, with the little one climbing over us.

1st  April 2020 
That’s a beautiful picture, but quite difficult for me to look at. Being alone during this crisis I am very much aware of the lack of touch in my life, and I feel it intensely now. This morning I received an email from a friend who is a GP,  he wrote: ‘The bodies of the patients have largely disappeared from our working space’. Then I took an online yoga class. It feels strange to be doing such an embodied practice directed by a disembodied voice from far away.

2nd April 2020
Yes, our everyday habits have been transformed.
We have all been forced to step out of the daily rhythm and collectively made to confront a void. Could there be collective psychic space opening up because of this? I have been receiving emails from people I have not heard from for years.

4th April 2020 
It’s true, I am also hearing from people I haven’t been in touch with for ages. Today an old friend called to give me news that an ex-partner had died. It was sad, he was living in France, so there was no hope of going to the funeral.

5th April 2020
That is sad, I’m sorry. Here the home life flows on. We have run out of things to say to each other mostly, as there is nothing new happening. We talk of food and what to cook, or sometimes plans for life after lockdown. But we don’t dare to dream too much.

Day 21: 6th April 2020 
I’m also thinking about food more than usual, about where I can get what I want to eat, and whether I have time to queue. I’m baking bread every week, something I hadn’t done for years before the virus struck. What is this about? Is it a need to reassure ourselves with sustenance, or is it simply about the visceral pleasure of food?

7h April  2020
Today I set up my desktop computer on our dining table. I am preparing a short film about sharing a meal via the screen. Literally. We cooked food to play with. It was a lot of fun. Tomorrow is my birthday. Here is a picture my grandfather drew of me.

8th April 2020 
Happy Birthday! What a beautiful photo you sent yesterday! I have been sitting here at my desk all day, almost without moving. Earlier it was sunny and I was looking forward to going out for a walk , but now it‘s pouring with rain. This was not my favourite day – I feel frustrated and cooped up and I couldn’t think of anything interesting to photograph for you. Sorry to be so miserable on your birthday.

9th April 2020
It’s good to get out of the house. Today I got dropped off in a car in Kings Cross and walked back home, with Clementine in the pushchair. Kings cross was deserted. It was peaceful but there was also a sense of inherent drama present in these empty halls and public spaces. Like a film set getting ready for some sort of highly charged scene.

10th April 2020
Yes, it all seems very unreal out there. People keep talking about the ‘new normal’. And that made me realise that what was normal a few weeks ago is now illegal, and what is normal now was unimaginable then.

11th April 2020
Today I felt a moment of desolation, at the thought of this continuing for weeks…how much more can be squeezed out of the same routines? Our home is crowded, cluttered, full of toys, things, and maybe it’s because of this I often find myself escaping into imaginary worlds. Sometimes I feel like I am more in the inner world than the outer.

12th April 2020
I can see that your space is small, but it looks full of life. In a good way. Sometimes I feel quite lifeless in my empty space. I haven’t been anywhere close to another person for at least two months now.

13th April 2020
I do crave some personal space, but I can see it’s hard for you having too much of it. If only we could trade. Instead I look for momentary escapes from my reality: A few days ago I got myself a bonsai because I became fascinated by the idea of the miniature as a space for imagination to grow. I need these special doorways in my life.

14th April 2020
My imagination seems to be working hard at night! Last night I had a long and vivid dream about you – I dreamt that it was the day of your PhD viva and I had been asked to examine it at the last minute. It was all very chaotic, with people in painted costumes… This morning I have found it difficult to connect back to the “real” world where nothing much happens.

15th April 2020
What a strange dream! Apparently people do dream more vividly now. I heard that on the radio today.

16th April 2020
Looking back at what we’ve written in the weeks since we started this I realise that you found the situation difficult at the beginning, and now you seem to be in a happy place, whilst I started out quite positive, but now I’m really struggling.

17th April 2020
You are right, I do feel better now than at the start of the lockdown, but it is still a very up and down process. Now I am sitting at the dining table again (just listened to the government daily briefing), the bay windows facing west, so that there is a lot of light. I came to really cherish this spot, with my miniature garden expanding.

18th April 2020
I spend most of my days sitting here at my desk, which has become a kind of comfort zone, where I feel as though I am doing something but actually I‘m mostly just wasting time.  It’s a month now since we started this, and I’m still trying to get myself into a working routine, but it feels so easy to give in to just drifting from one day to the next.

19th April 2020
A month! We have come to the next phase of the lockdown, with no doubt only some tiny adjustments to our daily reality. Yet, it feels like things are not as intense as they were few weeks back. Something new is emerging perhaps, less dramatic. Not sure what.


Tereza: It’s 10th March 2021. Almost a year to the day since our exchange begun. I find myself no longer fighting or refusing the situation, but instead trying to go with the flow. I no longer see this as an interruption of our lives. I see it as a transformation. With it comes an acceptance. I am not just saying this, I really do feel this shift.

Right now I am sitting by the very same bay windows where I spent such a large part of the past year. The street below is unchanged. Just the tree is an indication of what season we might be in. And the light. Every morning I get up and open the blinds. This marks the beginning of the day. Every evening, when the light starts to fade, I close the blinds.

Our windows are full of condensation. And they cannot even be properly opened. When it’s windy one can feel the air getting through, because they are badly insulated.

The computer screen is another kind of window. I open this window each morning and it stays open for most of the day. It helps me connect with you, with the whole world. I am grateful for it. But it doesn’t let the wind through. That is the problem.

Alexa: Yes a whole year. Being shut in has become a way of life to such an extent it’s hard to remember life before. Who was I? Who am I now? Have I changed? The isolation is embedded now. It feels as though it’s part of who I am.

This does seem like the end of the world as we knew it – more and more of the texture of life has been taken away. The postal system has almost completely stopped working yet the noisy construction works next door are progressing as though nothing has changed. I remember that I wrote to you about metaphorical brick walls last year now they are brutally physical and surrounding me. The destruction of my beautiful peaceful home makes me realise how important home is during this time.

The days are cold and dark the air feels dead the ground is frozen. The weather is grim but fits the mood somehow. I fantasise like everyone perhaps of being somewhere else. Somewhere warm and sunny and quiet a big space where I can lie on the grass and stare at the sky or look out to sea somewhere vast. But when will this happen?

Tereza Stehlikova is a London based Czech artist who works across media, primarily in video and performance. Tereza’s work has been shown at a variety of film and art festivals around the world (including Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival in 2017 and Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, 2019, as well as in Tokyo, Montreal, Helsinki, Iceland, China etc.  She is currently involved in an ongoing long-term artist film project, 4 Generations of Women (capturing the relationships between four generations of women in her own family) which has been Shortlisted for BFI 61st London Film Festival Experimenta pitch, presented at Svetozor Cinema in Prague and selected for a solo exhibition at Alchemy Film and Art Festival, in Hawick, 2019. Tereza is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster and Royal College of Art

British Artist Alexa Wright uses a wide range of media in her work including photography video sound interactive installation performance and book works. She has extensive experience of working collaboratively with medical scientists and/or people with disabilities and/or mental health issues as well as with other creative practitioners. Alexa uses narrative and broken narrative in her work to explore human inter-subjectivity through qualities like vulnerability and empathy. Alexa’s work has been widely shown internationally in festivals such as: FILE SESI Art Gallery Sao Paolo Brazil DaDaFest International Liverpool UK International Women Artists’ Biennale Incheon Korea and Athens Photo Festival Benaki Museum Athens. Examples of solo exhibitions include: Toronto Photographers Workshop Canada Experimental Arts Foundation Adelaide Australia and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Edinburgh.