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A Series of Letters

8 April 2020

6 April 2020
WhatsApp Image 2019-10-25 at
6 April 20

Quarantine Exchange - alys longley and Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira

Dear Alys


I return to the letter that was detained, it is possible that there are things that we have already discussed and that may be expressed as redundancy in this letter, but I feel determined to finish it.


My head keeps thinking about our work, today while organizing my workshop an idea occurred to me that I would like us to evaluate. I thought a lot about the trajectory, in the real time that people move and with them the virus inside them, I thought about the equation of people infected per second, but above all this, I thought that what we have in front of us is a problem physical, as is evident.


It is for this reason that it occurs to me that the exercise that we propose, must be able to be touched (with the safeguards that the context deserves), I thought then that we should intervene an image, perhaps a world map that can fold -like the aeropostal works of Eugenio Dittborn- to put in an envelope and send it by physical mail. In this case it is not a single author, as it is with Dittborn, this could be an exercise where some artists confined in other places on the planet receive this envelope, which they will surely have to disinfect and then add a small intervention, turning the exercise in a collective work that counts the time, the difficulty of crossing borders at this time.


In some way, I also think of this work with a bit of rebellion, we cannot let the coronavirus be the “Everything”, this by the way, does not mean that we are not taking care of ourselves, what I think is that we have to resist, because this is alienating us. For example, if television was bad before, today it has become disgusting, in a kind of COVID 19 reality show.


I think of the panopticon of Michael Foucault, in Byung-Chul Han and then again I return to Foucault, as the DNA ellipse, as a symbolic figure (for me) of history, history repeats itself but never in the same place.


We are told that we move from a disciplinary society to one of self-control, but before us we are seeing how the societies of the “civilized” world fail to contain this virus, making societies more precarious. Today we put on Han's shoe and we put on the old shoe again, left behind by Foucault, producing a new rereading of the I must be able, if it is possible, because, I wonder, how we surrendered now, suddenly we become the delinquent who breaks the quarantine, the madman who cannot bear to live locked up with 8 or 11 people in a 35 m2 apartment or the patient who carries the virus and who we all want to isolate… Apropósito, a very close person, who is a psychoanalyst and who is helping doctors and nurses to lower their stress levels and fears, he told me that one of the most recurring comments among them, was that they felt with a brand, as a sign of death, that people when recognizing them in their neighborhoods, buildings, etc., escaped from them with great fear, some even reported that they live this in their own houses.


After the dismantling of health systems, in the vast majority of neo-liberal countries, the United States, today is a sadly exemplary case, we see how this virus takes over everything, there is no room for people who have other diseases, also terminally certain Although, to be fair, it must be said that they are the consequences of a pandemic, but we also know that today is the moment where the cases of covid-19 are being counted in a kind of race to demonstrate the management of the disease. Without going any further, in Chile dead people are counted within the “recovered cases”, although it may seem crazy, from the close vision of the health minister, Jaime Mañalich, the practical conclusion is that these people are no longer a source of contagion.


We must resist dear Alys, because this virus came to give this government a break. I think that the political dimension of the coronavirus is very powerful, in Chile it is very evident because the government today can again say that nobody goes out and we all stay home and reproduce the speech.


Now our president has the power to do what he wants, that is, Piñera regains power, so much so, that he decides to go one Friday, the day that the protesters took Plaza Dignidad to tell him to resign, not only that our president He decides to go even when the call is made to be at home, in quarantine and take a photo of himself at the monument, which, incidentally, is full of writings and insults against him. But for me, more than a stupidity of our president, which is clearly, it is also a sign of power. In this act Piñera unconsciously, he tells us, today I can go to the place where you met, I go and take a photo of myself, while I have all of you scared at home.


Well, but going back to our work, I think that this time in suspension allows boredom, as a virtue, boredom is the bird of sleep that hatches the egg of experience, says W. Benjamin. It is an undeniable advantage to have the time to find new spaces for creation. It is a mistake to assume that the more active, the more productive, the better you are. I think this pause that makes us give the virus, gives us freedom of contemplation, before the virus it seemed that there were no spaces for interruption to stop, there was only time for time turning everything into a prolonged present. Hence so much depression ...


Well I return to our idea, I think it should have, as I said at the beginning, some instructions such as: you must disinfect the envelope when it reaches your destination; You must take a photo of the envelope when it is at your house and send us an email advising us that the map is in your possession; carry out intervention on the map considering that it will continue traveling; Once you have finished taking a photo or video and sending them to our emails that to start with there will surely be more ideas on the way.


Hugs dear Alys

Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira

15 April 2020

8 April 2020

8 April 2020

Dear Max,


This morning, as it has been ALL week, the household was up extremely early due to the change of the clocks on Sunday. I don't know why this makes my family get up SO MUCH earlier but I just refuse to get up even though I'm awake, and this morning I took your advice to read Blindness by Jose Saramago. My reading was interrupted by Jeffrey who wanted to talk about an article in the Guardian about Trump's insane recommendations for people to take anti-malarial medication based on quack testing methods, for the virus. In flicking between the Guardian and my novel, I ended up reading these two passages right beside each other:


"Wilson, who works for Air Canada and asked to use a pseudonym, had recently completed a return flight from Toronto to Frankfurt and back. Accustomed to occasional discomforts caused by her job, she waved off the symptoms.“I’m not really a hypochondriac. I didn’t honestly think, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got the coronavirus’ or anything.”That evening, however, a fever had set in, and her chest became tight, as if “someone was yanking an elastic from either end” of her lungs. By the next morning, with her body weak and racked by chills, Wilson’s calmness had given way to fullblown panic ... Meanwhile, Wilson’s family also began developing symptoms – fevers, breathing difficulties and body pains. As she battled a fever and aching body, she was also overwhelmed by guilt – believing if she had acted sooner, recognizing the symptoms as the coronavirus – she could have spared her two daughters and husband. While the family’s symptoms are mild compared with thousands of cases that require hospitalization and intubation, the virus nonetheless also took an immense mental toll."

Immediately after reading this in an article in yesterday's Guardian, I came across the following passage:

"No sooner had he uttered this last word than his expression changed. he pushed his wife away, almost violently, he himself drew back, Keep away, don't come near me, I might infect you, and then beating on his forehead with clenched fists, What a fool, what a fool, what an idiot of a doctor, why did I not think of it before, we've spent the entire night together, I should have slept in the study with the door shut, and even so, Please don't say such things, what has to be will be, come, let me get you some breakfast, Leave me, leave me, No, I won't leave you, shouted his wife, what do you want, to go stumbling and bumping into the furniture, searching for the telephone without eyes to find the numbers you need in the telephone directory, while I calmly observe this spectacle, stuck inside a bell-jar to avoid contamination." (Saramago, p. 63)

So i'm in that state where the border between fact and fiction becomes spongy and pliable- somehow Saramago's novel feels so much more true than the idiotic edicts of various Presidents, and the truly idiotic Prime Minister of England is in intensive care with the virus. It's very hard to process reality and 'reality' enters life in surreal fragments. Jeffrey returned from supermarket shopping full of stories from podcasts about New York, which he listened to while he stood in the very long line, a 2 metre gap between each shopper, wearing his mask and gloves. To stop the paranoia and xenophobia coming in. Honestly, New Zealand is feeling more like East Germany during the reign of the Stasi every day - with something like 13,000 people reporting others who are breaking the lockdown ban. I find it really chilling. 

 And it seems that the megalopolis of a city I visited last year is now a fiction. That NYC is broken. Apparently the damage is worse than 911. It's so hard to reconcile, from here, from where we are - where it is so very quiet, the light is soft, the city so empty.


Yesterday, we listened to the National Radio station, this is a relatively conservative station, with many older listeners. The topic was people who are in isolation alone and how to stay calm and well while alone for an extended period. During the segment, this woman started giving masturbation advice to older people, and I thought - Shit, Arundhati Roy is right, we really are in a portal to another world!


I'm giving advice on how to manage anxiety to PhD students stuck in not-ideal living situations - and obviously, I am no therapist. We talk about gratitude for a public health system. Quite a few of my students are interested in our project. Like them, I'm continuing an artistic research project at this time - and they want to know more. My first years (60 of them) loved me talking about how we don't know what we are doing.  I am working with nearly 100 students - and I think it could be important somehow to share our work with them as an example of process at a time of constraint - also to get some of them to think beyond NZ - to think about how this situation is impacting other places, the issues beyond the small shores of this relatively protected little nation. My first year students are enrolled in a university course I lead that is called 'Introduction to Dance and Creative Practice' - it is a course about interdisciplinary creativity - but the students no longer have sessions in a dance studio making performance experiments together - I'm trying to get them to treat their houses as studios and to find artistry in the little details of life.


To cross the portal dividing art and life, to take the jump where meaning floats a bit.


To hold this intangible space of support - to make it safe for these students to make new things, amongst the destabilisation.


I have this fear that this project will become a burden for you - in this time where the exhaustion of the attempt to process our worlds / in the blur between disbelief and understanding, mourning and hope - that it will add to the weight of the day. In which case we should re-orient the method. The point of this project is to continue the mapping porous borders project into the current moment/ future moment. Which was always about sharing process for the sake of connecting space between worlds - whatever is made is the result of what our circumstances afford.


 As val smith and Richard Orjis would say in their bttm methdology - which I think genuinely questions and resists the neoliberal infections of the contemporary art/academic world:


"#4. It’s not about off the grid. It’s about IN the grid

#5. Tribal leader. rotting the system through fungal power

Meeting / Meating friends over plant-based drinks

Learning to love shame, plastics and viruses


Yes to sculptures that float and disperse

Yes to half baked ideas 

Yes to incomplete methodologies

Yes to underdeveloped performances

Yes to bad planning

Yes to confusion

Yes to an insignificant piece of garbage named Art

It takes two to bottom 

Move to a comfortable position

Or move to a position that

you may have gotten into


– there is an awareness of being complicit, a give and take. and a muddiness. Because to work with others you need to work within other systems. There is a complicit complexity. slop

Bttm methodology is half done, 

half-conceived, half baked."


Producing anything / producing almost nothing

So let's produce anything, taking all the time we need.




6 April 2020


Dear Máx,


We were supposed to be talking now but you are feeling unwell so we have deferred to next week. I quite like the feeling of stalling, of time extending itself. It returns you to the materiality of the world. Coming back toward the horizon of my little bubble world, my attention is at the window ledge, the light moving through things and upon things.


I was reading/listening to you on the podcast El Arte No Calla, talking about making art for the social movement in Chile - and the importance of anonymity - of


"actions without authorship and without personal interest other than working collectively. In this sense, this way of working awakens you. We cannot hide that we were following a very individualistic and neoliberal logic in our work - and this new situation shapes you as an artist and makes you work and think from another place, another perspective".


To work and think from another place.


That's where we are, again, untethered. But quarantined.


I am wondering about this project of ours, if it is more about learning from each other, just practising language, having conversations in solidarity, following each others obsessions a bit, acts of care... maybe the resultant work is a series of documentations of conversation - drawings, maps, fragments of talking. I also agree that the pañuelo a really fascinating symbol right now. The trade wars for face masks between the US and the rest of the world are really wild.

I liked Beradi's writing about hope and biocontrol. I like how he contradicts himself. The future is up for grabs.


"What the political will has failed to do could be done by the mutagenic power of the virus. But this escape must be prepared by imagining the possible, now that the unpredictable has torn the canvas of the inevitable."


I'm thinking about the small evidences, the place where the extremity and the banality of this situation (for the majority of us in quarantine) coexist.


You sent me that link about the situation in Equador, where people are unable to dispose of their dead. I think about the problem of a body's weight, when a body becomes heavier, without buoyancy, without breath, without any elevation where the torsion has dissolved from the structure and the weight falls further and further into itself, and into the community unable to deal with it. The weight of unmanageable bodies. The pressure becomes exponentially disturbing. Entire cities fall into a void.


I have been thinking about how neither of us are clear how to proceed. I was thinking that if we were not confused, if we felt clarity about how to proceed at this time, then we would a) probably not be responding to the situation we are in and b) probably not really be collaborating - we'd just be repeating something from another time. I'm heartened by our sense of being on unstable ground. Arundhati Roy writes that :


"Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could... in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.


Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next."



I also feel that the social movement in Chile was a portal from one world to the next - with work still to complete. I think of precipices, edge states. The fear of returning to the status quo. The fear of losing the very ground of our world.


Since the lockdown here, the girls have been very committed to their imaginary horses, they ride them around the house, practice jumps in the lounge. Elena's horse is Prince (kind and reliable), Rosie has Speedy (fast, confident, scared of the dark) and Whisper (very nervous, very sensitive, but very smart and good at jumping). I love how responsible they are with all the imaginary bits and pieces - saddles and bridles and reins. The level of detail. The texture of a world within a world. They cross together through portals, all the time, with methods that Donna Haraway or Arundhati Roy would love - the capacity to imagine new worlds, to appreciate our multi-species world.


Well, this letter is sitting here unfinished, on April 7 at 10:38 am 2020. I guess I'll send it to you now before we meet.

A big hug.


8 April 2020
6 April 2020
6 April 2020

Dear Alys,


I am very happy to receive your letter, as I am very happy to be doing this project remotely together. I have sat at the desk several times to answer you but I am somewhat blocked.


How beautiful the thoughts of your daughters, we had a conversation at the beginning of the quarantine with Sol and Emilio, explaining why they will not go to class. Until now they have been very good, Sol much easier than me to communicate with his friends by Zoom, although he is very resistant when we do classes, Emilio, who has always liked being at home, plays and draws, was happy of not having to go out and have his parents with him all day, but yesterday he was already asking to meet some friends, - I don't like this virus anymore, when Dad ends, I want to see my friends? I wonder.


I remember the first time I paid attention to the coronaviruz, we were deeply immersed in the social problems that we still have unfortunately in Chile and that today, in this new scenario, will give birth, for example, to the dismantling that state health has suffered for decades. Unfortunately it is a reality of all Latin America, that is what the news coming from Ecuador anticipates. But going back to that memory when it became latent that the virus was not just paranoia to keep us quiet and leave us at home instead of going out to protest. There was talk of a "Diamond Princess" cruise ship that was kept with all its passengers parked on the shores of Japan without allowing them to get off. Inside the passengers were sawing in their rooms, some crashed by claustrophobia and the possibility of getting infected, I imagine the rooms with small windows, with little natural light and stale air; other sick with infinite coughs and other dead. Employees kept carrying food, knocked on the door leaving the tray on the floor, only after 10 seconds could the door be opened from the inside to remove it. The newscast went on to say, "It is the most dangerous place after Hubei province, where the virus originated. Despite the chilling news I could not see him close, he was still in Asia, rather I thought about it with cinematographic images and then Gericault's “The Raft of the Medusa” came to mind, that shipwreck that accounted for the sinking of all a society in romanticism. We in Chile were still thinking of the coronavirus, as a farce, that the president would use in his favor, that the virus would be mainly at the epicenter of the protests, however at this point, the conspiracy theories are falling and we realize that the pandemic is real and that thinking positively with this virus, what can be expected is that it will end the global capitalist systems, a change that many of us have thought until now but saw no way that it would take place, at least in the short term.


Like you, the projects stop, little by little I understand that it will be impossible to travel this year, I had an art fair in Sao Paulo, an artist residence in Gothenburg and the Vancouver Biennale. The first one that is canceled is that of Brazil, that of Sweden we continue to see what are the possibilities of doing it or moving it for later, but after a few days it seems impossible to think about the first semester, I have asked that it be postponed for by 2021, however, the bureaucracy works the same in all parts of the world, the assigned funds must be spent this year, I still don't know anything about Canada, I write to the curator and he still thinks that it can be done in September. Although it seems hopeless, this year will be lost for everyone ... or won from another point of view ... I don't know.


A few days after a quarantine was declared in Chile, I looked for the book that I had ever read by Jose Saramago "Essay on blindness" while rereading it I thought absurdly, -it is a shame that Saramago is dead, he would have to be alive to see this moment, moment so well described in your book, with the idea that we were all blind before losing our sight, only here the blindfold has come down to the mouth. I can't stop thinking about the paradox of the last moments of the social uprising when a law was pulled against the hooded man, where anyone who wore a scarf in their faces was criminalized, when the vast majority of people who went out to demonstrate He used the handkerchief or the mask because of the amount of chemicals that had the thousands of bombs per second that they threw against the protesters, and now, the chinstrap is raised as a symbol of the other first line, the one that is in hospitals trying to save life.


Yesterday, after asking for a permit, to get out of the quarantine to move my mother to carry out some paperwork, I looked at the empty streets and it was inescapable to see them full of animals and plants crossing the cement, it was like continuing to see the cars, the buildings, all the “human advances” like the reflection of a star that has already died, how will it be once the vaccine is found (or not found), will we learn the lesson?


Nor do I know how we will approach our work, although in some way we are already doing it. I think about your game with dice, it is a tool that we could use, maybe build a game. On the other hand, I also visualize the chinstrap as a powerful element to work with.


Well, see you tomorrow at our meeting with my precarious English.


Hugs to each one of you.


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