Life in Lockdown

Lockdown Fever: Painting across Distance

Maruška Svašek
Reader in Anthropology

At the start of lockdown, having to miss out on life drawing sessions and driven by ongoing research into transnational family dynamics, communication technology and emotions (Svašek 2007; 2010; 2011; 2012; 2018; 2020), I started using Skype and WhatsApp to paint relatives and friends in their home environments. I am a migrant myself, who moved in 1998 from the Netherlands to Northern Ireland to take up a position as anthropology lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast. The act of painting across distance does not only offer the opportunity to spend time with distant people, but can also be used as innovative research method, resulting in insightful conversation and visual outcomes that can evoke  further comments and exchanges. In addition, the material outcomes can be gifted and recontextualised in all kinds of displays, and create a new visual world that captures the affective movement between different locations.

2007    ‘Emotions and Globalisation’, theme issue for Identities. Global Studies in Culture and Power (eds M Svašek and Z. Skrbiš).

2010    Who Cares? Emotional Interaction, Support and Ageing in Transnational Families. Report for Changing Ageing Partnership, Belfast: Queens University Belfast. 

2011    ‘Who Cares. Families and Feelings in Movement’ In: Robin Cohen and Gunvor Jonsson. (eds) Migration and Culture. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, Pp 89-106.

2012    Emotions and Human Mobility. Ethnographies of Movement. London: Routledge. (ed. 
M. Svašek).

2018    ‘Ageing Kin, Proximity and Distance. Translocal Relatedness as Affective Practice and Movement’, in: Röttger-Rössler, Birgitt and Jan Slaby (eds) Affect in Relation. Families, Places, Technologies. Essays on Affectivity and Subject Formation in the 21th Century. London. Routledge.

2020    Filmed conference presentation ‘Materiality, Proximity and Distance: Covid-19, Mobility and People-Thing Dynamics’, Digital conference ‘Materializing the Transient’, University of Goettingen, Germany. See:

Talking with my sister on Skype, April 2020 
A photograph on WhatsApp, sent by my brother from India, April 2020
A photograph of my neighbour on my mobile, April 2020. This is part of an ongoing game, started during the second week of lockdown. One of us takes a picture in our neighbourhood on her mobile, and the other person has to guess where it is, taking a photograph as proof that they have found it. 
One of my best friends in the Netherlands on Skype as we are chatting about craft and art. In the background one of the pictures she sent me of herself to my mobile phone, May 2020
Unfinished painting of one of my Dutch cousins, painted during a WhatsApp video call, May 2020

4 replies on “Lockdown Fever: Painting across Distance”

Thanks Tricia, that’s very kind. The process of drawing does of course not need to end in aesthetically pleasing work (in itself a highly subjective evaluation) for it to be valuable. Drawing as an alternative way of sharing time across distance, without the need to communicate through constant verbal exchanges, can be soothing irrespective of the visual outcome. I am still trying to think through the possibilities and limitations of drawing (and mutual drawing) as a research and teaching method at a time of physical distancing. This is all very much work in progress. Any thoughts, especially from (prospective) students, are very welcome.

Very lovely drawings indeed Maruška. Also, approaching creative interaction as innovative research method is something that I am interested in.
I am also from a migrant background and living away from my family, but it is only during this lockdown that we have really started to embrace some of the creative possibilities of technology. For example, I Skype daily with my grandmother. As my grandmother started to feel the loneliness of the Covid-19 restrictions in her care accommodation, we started to include activities in our Skype calls as well: We would drink coffee, look at maps from where she used to live, write poems, play with words and make picture collages from old newspapers. It started as a way of spending time together and to get my grandmother to do something creative. However, as Maruška wrote it started ‘resulting in insightful conversation and visual outcomes that can evoke further comments and exchanges.’ It feels almost like we would be in the same room and while we are both occupied with crafting or writing, we talk about all kind of topics or discuss about what we had just created. It is exiting to get to know a person differently through this style of interaction, learning new sides and skills about the other person whom I thought I knew so well already. Also, I am hoping to bring all the materials together next time I am able to visit her. Maybe we can co-create something beautiful out of it.

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