This interview is part of an Art Spiel xCultbytes content collaboration to learn how artists are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liz Jaff photographing one of her street interventions. All images of Liz Jaff’s works and street interventions are courtesy of the artist.
Liz Jaff creates installations, objects, outdoor interventions, and drawings using formal structures, patterns, and repetitions to talk about permanence and impermanence, perceptions of time, and the role of memory in shaping experience. Poetry, storytelling, Flamenco, Butoh theater and personal narrative are important influences. She lives and works in New York City.
During the pandemic, Jaff has been let go from her position in collections management at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, although she spent her birthday researching unemployment benefits she is reaching clarity and finds solace in her artistic practice.
How are you coping?
I spent the first days arranging a workspace at home and getting organized for the foreseeable future. A regular schedule adds to a sense of order. I get up early each day and take long walks. For many years, I have casually been making some urban interventions and sharing them on social media. This keeps a connection to the bigger world, beyond the small one I now maintain. I have elderly parents and check in on them throughout the day. It is crucial to stay healthy to care for them. Regular exercise and eating sensibly is a priority. I take dance classes through Zoom. The psychological component of all this is more complicated. I like quiet and there is a lot of it now so I am feeling I can think clearly. Trying to be smart with art-making decisions is more challenging so for now, I am concentrating on mechanical and process-oriented tasks, making small studies and experimenting with materials. A thoughtful group of friends helps with feelings of isolation.
Liz Jaff. Study: Decoy. Hand-cut paper on board.
Has your routine changed?
During my entire adult life, I have gone to a job every day. For 23 years I have worked at The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum caring for the works on paper collection. After April 12th I have been told I will no longer be paid by the Museum. This has been the biggest change logistically, financially and psychologically. My birthday was spent researching unemployment benefits and healthcare insurance options, pertinent during the pandemic. I am used to having every moment of my day scheduled, being with the Museum collection, working at the studio, exercising, sharing time with family. Now that there is no prescribed schedule, I have time to think and with the quiet I am beginning to find more clarity. Daydreaming and making art have a beautiful prominence.
Liz Jaff. Street intervention, 2020.
Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
It seems strange to say this, but I somehow feel prepared for this emotionally and logistically. Whatever I do not know can be figured out. There is community out there, so even with the social-distancing I feel like we are here to help one another.
Liz Jaff. Trouble, 2018. Hand-cut paper on board.
What matters most right now?
The well-being of family, friends and those I do not really know very well. Each of us thrives when the entire community does. It has never felt more important to be careful and specific in what we choose to do each day and its effect on others.
Any thoughts about the road ahead?
One of the lessons for me so far has been about giving care to people, being thoughtful and deliberate in how we communicate with one another. I look forward to seeing how people come out of all this and to hear what they have learned. It will be great to share art and thoughts and smiles without being online or six feet away. The first hug is going to be great.