While it is very unfortunate that the current epidemic situation does not allow us to host writers and artists  in our beautiful San Servolo, we nonetheless decided to take the situation in our hands. We thus decided to contact artists that have previously spent a residency period with us students in order to answer some food-for-thought questions around the topic of residency and art during these challenging times.

On the 24th of February, we had the chance to meet Christina Viragh again, although this time through the lens of the computer camera. Graduated at the University of Losanne, the writer has presented her last work “Eine dieser Nächte” (“One of those Nights”), nominated for the 2018 Deutscher Buchpreis, within the 2020 Waterlines project.

How important is the issue of residency for your work?

As you maybe know, I have lived in Rome for 27 years after being “stuck” in a residency period at the Swiss Institute, so you can imagine how important the word “residency” is for me. I believe it is realy interesting and enriching to have the opportunity to write in a different context.

So does the residency really affect your work? If so, in what way?

Of course, everything affects my work. It is not always easy to write in a new place and context (at least for me), because you are actually being distracted by the new surroundings and all you want to do is go explore! I have been in Berlin once, for example, and I used to go to the theater every night: this definitely affected my work, maybe not immediately and all at once, but progressively, in time. I believe it is really inspirational to live for a certain period of time in a different context: my residency is Venice has been an incredibly rich and “dense” experience, on which I am still working on.

How did the recent pandemic affect your work?

It is a good question: on the surface, it might seem like it didn’t affect me at all! I am just going on with my routine and working at home, so where is the difference? The biggest change is definitely the atmosphere: the rhythm of things has changed greatly. I feel like it is more difficult to be motivated to write, there is somehow less energy around and in myself.

So how did you manage to overcome this?

The routine! I have been a writer for such a long time that I now know that I can’t just give up at the first difficulty. I try to abstract myself from my feelings: it might seem a bit strange, but I attempt to ignore my lack of motivation and just focus on the dynamic of the text I am working on at that moment. 

We have experienced during the pandemic that everything is constantly changing; has this somehow reflected in your personal work as well?

I truly feel like I need to digest things first before working on them, so I can say that my recent work has not been affected yet. I am not a journalist, so I don’t need to react immediately to things happening. I am sure, though, that this situation will find its way into my work: I just don’t know how yet!

Do you reckon that Covid has affected creativity?

I can just talk about myself: it has definitely affected my creative energy. I have to push a little bit more to be able to “inject” the same amount of energy into every sentence. That is my process of writing: to be very present and close to the things I write, so it is a much more intense process at the moment.

Let’s talk about the limitations we are experiencing: museums have transferred online, as well as the majority of artistic performances and expression. Do you think that people will perceive art in a different way?

I hope so! I hope people will start to be more grateful towards the presence of art, and that it will bring a higher level of attention and mindfulness. I am, on the other hand, not very optimistic: the moment we get back to our “normal” life, I think the attention level will return to normal as well, so generally very low. The positive effect might be, thus, just a short term effect.

Let’s get back to your last book. It narrates of human beings and their stories mingling on a flight from Bangkok to Zurich: it is a mosaic, an “artful mesh” of human nature. How do you think people will perceive travelling and interpersonal connections after Covid?

I personally believe it is still an interesting experience; while we are not able to have close contact with strangers, we feel extreme gratitude when we are able to connect with other human beings even on Zoom! We are perhaps perceiving simple things with more appreciation, even a simple walk outside. But I am still not very optimistic about human nature, but we will see!


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