Slow processes for long-distance exchange: Lindiwe Matshikiza reflects on being a ‘critical friend’ for Jessica Huber
In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic that closed national borders and grounded international travel, Pro Helvetia and the liaison offices developed the ‘Home Not Alone’ residency format as an option for artists scheduled to go on residency in 2020. While unable to allow for first-hand experience of a different cultural environment and social world, the home residency aimed to provide many of the traditional objectives of a residency: the possibility to explore new directions artistically, to engage with a new context, and to develop new professional networks. Central to the Home Not Alone residency framework was the assignment of a mentor or ‘critical friend’ deeply embedded in the context that the artist had originally intended to engage with. This relationship was intended to be generative and stimulating on a professional and creative level for both the artist and mentor.
Zurich-based performing artist Jessica Huber opted to take part in the Home Not Alone residency, and was paired with Johannesburg-based multidisciplinary artist and dramaturge Lindiwe Matshikiza. The artists share an interest in open processes and exploratory collaborations. After some initial technological challenges, Jessica and Lindiwe soon developed a rapport that was both intimate and generous. Here, Lindiwe shares insights from her experience working with Jessica as a ‘critical friend’ and the creative quietness they found through their exchanges amidst the turbulence of lockdowns, physical distance and great uncertainty.
Jessica Huber and I had a very poignant and warm first meeting during which we discussed our artistic processes, and described where we found ourselves in what was then the beginning of national lockdown in South Africa and a very different kind of response to Covid-19 issues in Switzerland. We compared contexts and found much in common in terms of organic artmaking processes and intimate and experimental approaches.
Initially we had a frustrating time trying to establish the best means of communication, and in a way that would feel the most natural given that we are both relatively analogue in our methods and were needing to rely on digital technology as a substitute for a largely physical and contact-based practice. We eventually found a way, using the shared online work space application that I use with other, similar collaborations. Finally finding our feet, we made playful creative proposals to each other within this space and were able to visit it both separately or simultaneously which proved much more sustainable and generative, and allowed us to be more fluid and more flexible with our time. The proposals took the form of writing or drawing exercises, reflective tasks, and the sharing of references related to the various topics and themes that came up during our regular virtual meetings. For example, at some point, we shifted the discussion to the sensation and challenges of doing a residency ‘in’ a country without actually travelling to that country. This conversation led to an ongoing creative practice where each attempts to provide the other with regular written or illustrated diary-like entries detailing the physical sensations in either place, as a way to give the other clues into geography, social setting and emotional landscapes.
Our working relationship was highly sensitive and without a hierarchy of status or ideas. I found our encounter to be relatively disengaged from the notion of a specific country or region, and more focussed on finding mutual creative ground and expressing this in a variety of ways. I would speculate that this is also specific to our shared thoughts around people-based process, and is a direct result of the deeply personal and authentic nature of Jessica’s creative inquiry around care, loss, tenderness and vulnerability.
We both identified strongly with the idea of slow artmaking processes and stretched our time far beyond the initial three-month period. I believe this was useful in allowing for processing time and individual reflection time in a way that is important for this kind of long-distance work, particularly as it gave space for the fragility and uncertainty of this historical moment, and released us from the pressure of quick outputs, allowing us to define those outputs as we went and in forms that made sense to what Jessica wanted to achieve.
Jessica shared her ongoing research project called I lost*, which led to my participation at Gesnerallee in Zürich in September 2020. Through several discussions we settled on a video performance that had elements of improvisation around the writing I had previously generated for I lost* and an aesthetic move between a formal concert setting and an informal micro-tour of the Troyeville rooftops. The result was a ten-minute video created by myself and one of my creative partners, João Renato Orecchia Zúñiga, using sound, music, text and a mini-dv camera. This was an unexpected and welcome additional collaboration which came directly out of our unique engagement with each other around shared, exploratory creative exercises. It will be interesting to see and hear what comes of this quite abstract experience of performing for an unknown audience, both in the specific context of Jessica’s project and engagement with Gesnerallee, as well as in a general sense as part of (my) broader research into new or revisited ways of transmitting performance, exhibiting intimacy, and long-distance creative practices.
With regard to future possibilities for the residency format, I felt it was fantastic to be trusted to construct the residency on our own exploratory, unfolding terms and at a pace that made sense to us. While I was not always able to attend the larger group virtual meetings, I was excited by the possibility of exchange and collaboration across the different groups located in different regions, and wondered whether this is not also some interesting element to pursue going forward, either in addition or alongside the smaller groups. In general, anything that might make the time feel less abstract would be very helpful, although I’m aware that the time in which the residency was launched was also very bizarre and certainly many of the other professional engagements I had at the start of the Covid-19 crisis took on a similar tone of chaos, confusion, improvisation and strangeness, both real and imagined. In this sense, it was a lifeline to have such a gentle, honest, creatively generative encounter with a like-minded artist on the other end of the world.
All images are stills from the video for I lost* by Lindiwe Matshikiza & João Renato Orecchia Zúñiga