Date of the interview: 10th March 2021

Waterlines 2020-21: Interview with Guadalupe Nettel (written version)

Today we continue with our series of interviews with another guest, who has been in Venice with us two years ago: Ms Guadalupe Nettel. Her narrative often concerns the fragility of the body, and we tried to relate this topic with the current pandemic, which is certainly changing our way of living, as well as the way we feel about what is around us. We are very glad that Guadalupe Nettel accepted to be again our guest in our project, and we hope to see her soon, hopefully in Venice.

Covid has made us more fragile than before. Has the pandemic affected your perception of the fragility of the body? And if so, how?

Well, yes. I think that the relationship with our body has changed. Everything we experience, we do with our body. So if we stay at home, and we start to think about our body, our health, it feels like making a big “zoom” in our bodies. And also, I have been thinking recently that everything we touch (and I think it is a common experience during this pandemic) comes from somewhere else, that someone has touched already… who has touched the objects that I bring home, for instance? Or the food I eat? Which hands have touched it before coming to me? Perhaps the guy who works in the supermarket, or the one who cultivates it. You can reveal an entire chain of production, and realize the conditions in which these people were working. And it is the same in the hospital: which hands are touching me? Where have they been before my body? All these questions are new, but very important, as they are related to everyday life, and something really tangible: our body. But at the same time, it shows how society and the world work. Especially essential workers’ conditions, and those in which every human being lives.

This is very interesting, because I always think about the same when I am in a museum for instance, while touching or seeing art. Who touched it before me, who was here before me? In the place where we live, the environment around us can affect our emotions, it can influence our motivation, creativity… How would the environment, or the place where you are, can play a role in your work, in general?

I can think about several things. I very much like animals and the vegetation. All the species around me, either plants or animals, are influencing my work. This happens because I think about different things when I see an iguana, a monkey, or when I see a very educated French Poodle walking on the streets. It changes a lot. So, if it is wild, it influences what I imagine, especially the surroundings of my stories. Society influences me too. For example, if you are in a place where everything works correctly , you imagine different things from being in other places, for instance in Mexico, where there is a lot of hunger, a lot of discontent, and misery as well. You think about different things. Even if you are not an engaged writer, which is my case (I do not consider myself as someone who writes engaged literature), I think it influences us and it changes the way we see the world, and obviously the way we show a universe we imagine.

This leads us to another question. Indeed, Covid locked us in one place, either a city, a house, or for some people only a room. Being surrounded by the same environment all the time, doing the same activities every day… this definitely affects us. Some people find it inspirational, others boring. How did this affect you, and your work?

On a personal level it was very hard for me, as I was finishing a novel right when the pandemic started, and at that time I could be very focused: I could dedicate more time for myself, and I just continued to work on my novel. But of course I could not realize that this would last for so long. So, I was happy to be like this for a short time, but not for an entire year. We are allowed to go out now, but the situation so really bad, that nobody even wants to go out. I also have my children with me, who are doing homeschool, side to side, at the same table where I work. And it is difficult to concentrate and work when the entire family is inside. Plus, when you finish writing a book, normally you want to spend time outside, partying, travelling, etc… And I was not able to do so, and I was really frustrated because of that! The book went out, and I could not even go to all the presentations, either in Italy or in Mexico. So I did a lot of Zoom interviews, promotions, and Zoom became another dimension where I was living. In the end I was very bored, and I did not want to do anything. It is like having everything you do (school, the house, your private life) in the same place. It is like a brunch, where everything is mixed. You can’t even taste any food anymore. So, to have all my life inside a small place (even if mine is not that small) gets very claustrophobic in the end. Especially because it is not voluntary. When it is voluntary, solitude can be very enjoyable, but this was not the case. And it was really long.

Coming back to your work, the COVID-19 changed our minds in how we perceive things. We used to take things for granted, such as taking a coffee in the morning, going out with friends at night, etc. Now, we see everything differently. Thus, we were wondering if this can somehow be noticed in your work…

Maybe something will be noticed in my work in the future. At the moment, there is a huge blockage. I tried to force myself to write, and it is a nasty experience. I would not say that I enjoy at all. I meant to write a short story about the pandemic, like a dystopia, ten years of lockdown for instance, and how society would be. I don’t know if will do anything with it, if I will publish it or not. It was a huge catharsis anyway! I also think we are changing our paradigms. Even our tendencies in literature are changing: it is very strange, and interesting to see. We are craving for “crazy” stories, since what was once possible has now changed. Before this, we were thinking about a limit, and now we realized that this limit does not exist, and we are looking for more science fiction and fantastic stories. And I am also a little bit in that mood: I am reading more of that kind of literature, which I used to love when I was a teenager. I am sure we are going to see this kind of changes later on, but it is difficult to say precisely what it is going to be. I think science fiction definitely will play a big role in this “pandemic literature”.

And actually this is related to another question, on the way Covid has made us more creative, pushing us to do something different. How do you think that art has been affected by Covid in general, especially in the field of creativity?

Creativity comes after a very difficult period, such as a war, or an economic crisis. You can see it in Argentina, or in general when you compare Latin America with Europe. You are more effervescent, shiny in creative arts. And it is not just me saying it: everybody says it when they come there and experience the atmosphere. Even if you go and look at the publishers’ catalogues, you will see a lot of Latin American, and African authors, from countries where things are not that easy.

So Covid will also be a trigger for creativity, I am sure of that. It is already, but it will be more when it will be over. There is a lot of pain in this moment, a lot of people are dying. Lots of people are losing their parents, and maybe this will trigger creativity, or maybe it will lead to it. And also, we are asking a lot of things to ourselves, such as: what is important and what is not? What kind of relationship with the environment do we want? Also regarding the abuses of power as well: how are governments handling things? Do they really care about us or not? All these questions are going to lead somewhere in a creative manner, and I hope it is going to manifest not only in arts, but also in a very huge social change.

Related to this, do you think it will change the way we perceive arts? Because for now, we are feeling that art is pretty far away from us. Do you think it will keep happening like that, or not? Not only paintings, but also other types of art, such as plastic arts or performances…

I was thinking about it this morning, while listening to a museum’s Director talking about her plans on everything going virtual. Thus, I was thinking about how far art has become from us. But also if you think about music, or other kinds of art, maybe a lot of people will start to dance or live in small places, coming back to dance, or movement. Maybe also theatres, nearby their place. Or they just go to the park and they want to relate with other people, starting to do physical exercises with unknown people. In that way, I think that art is saving us. For me, music is really important in these days, because it is a great company, and all big emotional states can be expressed with music. So, it depends on what kind of art you are considering.

Woul you like to come back to Venice?

I would love to! San Servolo was so quiet and beautiful. I wrote my last novel there, and I was very happy!

And regarding that, what do you think about the experience of residency, in general?

Well, the place (San servolo) is wonderful, and for me it was a place where to focus on my novel, having also that beauty around me. Also, at home, we have so many engagements and responsibilities, especially when you have a family and children. And that time was great to focus, to have some distance, to look at my work. I was so happy that I almost did not visit Venice as I would have done if I had been there for a holiday. I have discovered the beautiful islands around San Servolo, and that was really inspiring. I wrote sketches for a short story there, and it was wonderful. I really enjoyed the festival at the time, and the opportunity to talk with young people!

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