The Quarantine Question

How has the past year's quarantine affected your professional life?

Apart from the typical woes of canceled shows and indefinitely postponed artist residencies and projects, I actually grew to appreciate the respite from professional activity that ensued during the pandemic. At first it was hard to be in my studio while staring at a calendar suddenly cleared of shipping deadlines and installation periods. But then an inner space opened up. This space has, I think, been blocked for a while by all the noise of professional life—with its never-ending to-do lists, responsibilities, and obligations. I started working on a series of oil stick drawings that kept me tethered to myself by enabling me to witness inchoate thoughts made visible and physical in front of me. Over the course of the year, I made over one-hundred drawings, developing a new iconography of Ionic columns being bent or stretched by limbs, eyeballs, eggs, and breasts. Rather than leading the drawings with a preconceived direction, the ideas poured out of the drawings themselves.

Continuing to codirect the artist-run gallery Ortega y Gasset (OyG) Projects was also fundamentally different during the pandemic. We had to close the doors of our brick-and-mortar gallery at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, while still having to pay rent for the entire year. That was difficult and felt wasteful, but we (the nine artists who run the gallery) rallied to provide new virtual events and opportunities for our community. Additionally, in the summer of 2020, OyG ran several Instagram art auctions to raise funds for nonprofit organizations. First, we auctioned artworks by the current codirectors. Then, for our second auction, we asked former codirectors to donate works. For the third auction, artists in our community volunteered to donate artworks. One-hundred percent of the funds we raised were donated to these three organizations: CovidBailOut NYC, The Black School, and BTFA Collective (Black Trans Femmes in the Arts).

LEEZA MEKSIN, artist and assistant professor, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University