Instructions for when self-isolating (sic)

  1. Find a space in your home where you do not spend a lot of time. This could be anywhere from a whole room, to a corner, to a windowsill.
  2. Make a change to this space so that you want to spend more time there.
  3. Document this change and record how you have spent time in your new environment.

I received the email on 21 April. The instructions are anonymous, it’s part of the game. They come from another artist in need of a challenge in these times of confinement. Mine have gone to another participant. We have a week to create an artwork in response, it can be anything as long as it can be shown online. This is the first deadline I’ve had in weeks and I’m really excited.

I walk around the flat in search of a space I don’t often use. I start in the living room. There’s not much I could change here. There’s a comfortable sofa, a dining table, artworks on the walls and lots of plants. It’s colourful and functional, every object is in the right place, any shift would create disorder.

I need a new perspective. I sit on the armchair in the middle of the room, I never sit there unless we have visitors as it doesn’t face the television. My mind starts drifting. I think of Joanna Piotrowska’s photographs of people making dens in their homes using furniture and blankets. I could tip the sofa over and use books, magazines, plants and lamps to build a small fortress around it, and hide there pretending that I’m the queen of the castle. I smile when I think of the look on C’s face if he was finding me there.

Next, I move to the studio which is used as a workshop right now. C. has been furloughed and he is making doors for us. I’m thinking about reclaiming part of the desk, I need a space to work from home and this is where the best light is in the morning. I could lift up the tarpaulin cover, attach it to the ceiling and create a partition, one on each side, we can share. Pointless, I can’t work surrounded by dust and power tools noise. The only thing that could make my environment better at this moment would be to own ear defenders.

I move on and sit on the bench outside the front door. If we didn’t have the bench, the bench would be the perfect idea for this project. We’ve been in lockdown for nearly a month now, the weather makes me feel I’m in the South of France, the bench saves our lives every day. Our flat is at the end of an open walkway and we’ve reclaimed that space as our own, added a few plants and a retractable bench. We now have a balcony. We get the sun in the evening and it’s a great way to stay in touch with the other residents on the estate. Real people in the flesh: little Djianne on her scooter declaiming to the moon or ‘doom and gloom’ El on his way back from the corner shop, a connection with reality.

I’m going around in circles. Excitement turns into frustration. I decide to bend the rules, to think about how we inhabit our home instead, and how we could change the way we live within these four walls.

I could really do with a break from the new routine, even so slightly.

I could sit on the left side of the sofa or facing the wall at the dinner table or away from the door in the kitchen. Too subtle, I need something more drastic.

I wrote:

I always sleep on the same side of the bed, the right side if you look at the bed, the left side if you lie in it. I’m not sure how it became my side. Maybe it was when I moved into your flat, two flats ago. You already had your side so I had no choice.

I don’t think we even discussed it when we found the next flat: you got the door, I got the wall and the same happened here, except that I’ve got the window now.

I sleep on my side even when you’re away, remaining between the edge of the bed and the imaginary boundary in the middle.

I try to remember what happens when we’re staying somewhere else. Hahaha, of course we replicate the pattern without even thinking about it. Remember Margate, Marseille and all the places in Mexico. Religiously.

Today, I’ve moved my clock, my books and my pillow to the other side. Let’s swap for a few days.

It’s bedtime and I inspect my new environment. I want to believe that less than a metre shift will not make much difference but the strangely off-centered ceiling light looks even more misplaced from your side.

I always fall asleep on my left side, facing out of the bed. I now fall asleep on my right side. It seems like facing out is what matters in the end. I wake up in the middle of the night, reaching for water, finding your face instead. I’m confused and disoriented for a few seconds then I remember where I am, on the other side.

It’s day three and I still don’t like standing so close to the wall when I get up. I miss the view from the window too.

I will move my clock, my books and my pillow back to my side today. I hope you don’t mind.

I was happy enough with my response to send it for publication on the project website. I didn’t like the idea much though so we didn’t swap sides in the end, not even for a few days. Creature of habits, yes I guess we are.

As for my own instructions, just a simple question: Where do you draw the line? My forced collaborator took a rather radical approach and simply crossed my words. I liked it very much. Simple, performative and powerful.