Messages from afar: Rotterdam

Messages from afar: Rotterdam

TransArtists reached out to artists in residence who are stuck. How are they coping with the situation? What’s their story?

Who: Erik Tlaseca, Mexico
Where: Motel Spatie, Arnhem / Rotterdam

This is the story of artist Erik Tlaseca who arrived as an artist in residence at Motel Spatie (NL) on March 12; right at the moment when the public health crisis began in The Netherlands and severe measurements were being taken.

Week one

We call in via Skype. Where are you?

Erik: “In the city of Rotterdam; not Arnhem!” He sits behind the computer and shows the small and cosy apartment in Rotterdam. He and his residency host Claudia Schouten who runs Motel Spati decided last minute to pick up everything at the residency in Arnhem and move to the house of Claudia to be safe “ Just in case things would get really bad.”

How did things evolve for you the last days?

At the moment we are all adjusting and trying to come to the reality of what happened. This is my first visit to the Netherlands and I was prepared to work really fast and productive. But now everything has changed and we have to adapt and find a new form for day to day life. This is not a fast process; things are moving really slow because no-one knows what is going to happen. We are all waiting.

What’s your daily routine at this moment?

These are confusing times…I try to remain busy and productive but mostly feel the need to take time to make sense of everything. In my small room I try to occupy myself with writing and drawing… and working on projects that are pending. If I need some time to reflect I go out to take long walks through the city; basically there is no-one out there and I am all alone. It’s been like that for a few days.

How does this crisis effect your work?

There where a lot of questions going around my head like; “What kind of decision should I make if things worsen” in these first moments of total uncertainty. It has been difficult but I am trying to remain positive. I come from Mexico city; a city that is in a cyclic state of crisis, that is in a permanent state of rebuilding itself. It has collapsed in many ways. Flue; a viral crisis; the comeback of the old regime; protest, the disappearance of students, the big earthquake…. you name it. I guess I am used to crisis. I am not saying it in a cynical way. Finally there is always some light at the end of the tunnel. Of course it is the incredible sadness of all the lives lost. And after there is the economical crisis. This will hit the people who are struggling financially the most. Like artists.

In my body of work I try to reflect and react on these dynamics. It’s tiring and energising at the same time; being in a crisis and at the same time feeling the urgency to reflect on it.

As for now I am trying to make sense of the importance and meaning of it all. A virus swirling all over the globe is a reoccurring thing in history. Will the implication of this create a global state of solidarity? I do not know. The worst is still to come so I cannot react to this as we speak. I was in contact with friends in Mexico and they told me there is already a lot of fear in the cities; the social isolation is increasing. On the other hand- in the small villages on the countryside- nothing seems to be going on.

Will you stay or go back?

My initial idea was to stay here for 90 days. The limit of time my visum allows me to be here. There was a clear moment when I wanted to go back but I decided to stay and stick to my initial plan. How things will evolve; I don’t know but I found it interesting to experiencing this European moment of crisis. I think there will be something good coming out of all of this. But we don’t know yet. We live on fast updates as things shift rapidly.

It will be uncertain if I will be able to fligh back in June or not. The politics of Mexico are slowly starting to change and right now there is a lot of speculation they will stop all incoming flights from Europe. But…I hear that there might be a possibility to apply for an emergency flight from the Netherlands to Mexico. As you can see: a lot of uncertainties. What to do? Probably the virus will hit Mexico a month later because the virus is only starting there now. The state of emergency hits cities at different moments in time.

Is there something positive coming from all of this you think?

It is interesting to see that at these moments of crisis there are also moments of lots of energy and urgency to reorganise. There is a need for a community and I think that is wat happening right now in the Netherlands.

What do you do to keep your spirit up?

There is a moment when the media is all around you and you stop realising there is life around you and in you. Therefore I do not read news about the virus the whole day. In past crisises I remember having moments of ‘Ah I wish I had done that!’ but at that time I was too paralysed. I was in a state of emergency and forgot about life. Now I trie to meditate. That is also something I do in Mexico. That has helped a lot and I can think clearly about what it is I should do.

Week two

How are things now?

Reality evolved quite fast. However, this week seems less tense and everyone seems to slowly accept and adapt to a new world. You can see people taking social distancing more seriously and there is caution on the streets of Rotterdam. I'm in contact with my family and friends in Mexico, also there it seems people are starting to take the pandemic seriously. Nobody really knows how things will evolve, but certainly applying social distancing in Mexico will be a challenge, considering more than half of the population lives from an informal job, and the economical crisis for them will be even worse. I worry about this.

Are you able to work?

Yes. At the moment I am developing a collaborative podcast with some comrades in Mexico. In this project we reflect on the crisis as it happens and will work on streaming platforms, We plan to share our common anecdotes and differences from two different realities on the same virus.

I'm also working on a zine as a diary on the crisis, as a reflection on how pandemics have shaped the world and marked deep moments in history, beginning on the exact 500th anniversary of the first pandemic in America in 1520. Strange enough, even in the risk of contagion, it seems to be an important time to be alive.

> The podcast is now online, listen here!


In this series

Messages from afar: Bucharest
Messages from afar: Rotterdam

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