Performance was the perfect medium for me to translate my emotions.
May 24, 2020

As an artist, I value my time alone for clarity of the mind and creativity that comes out of it. But this was another level! When I think back to the months of March and April, I see them as a kind of a thick fog, dense with anxiety, isolation, anticipation of grief. It rendered me restless, unable to concentrate on anything. I didn’t care for those early quarantine time-fillers, like Zoom happy hours, virtual D.J. sets or yoga classes. In a way, I figured, if I’m going to be alone, I’m going to be alone.
Accept Your Penance, 2018
Weltkunstzimmer, Düsseldorf, Germany
Photo: Rote Liebe
Performance was the perfect medium for me to translate my emotions. It is physical and immediate. The first performance I ever did was at the end of 2018, when I recreated an episode from my childhood in post-Soviet Russia. For two hours I sat at a school desk with my left arm tied to my body with a leather belt while continuously writing with my right hand. This was the way my elementary school teacher tried to convert me to be right-handed. She failed. To this day I remain a lefty.

This time too, I used performance to work through a trauma.

Only this trauma was not from the past, it was unfolding in real time. It was also not personal, it belonged to all of us. The first piece I did, Confronting Oneself, Unrecognizing Oneself, Accepting Oneself, was me looking at my own reflection in a full-length mirror for one hour. It was a variation on Mutual Gaze, an exercise I did during a week-long workshop by Marina Abramović, when two participants look each other in the eyes. In isolation there was no one to look at but myself, nowhere to go but deeper into my subconscious. This gave me the framework for consecutive performances: simple actions, each lasting one hour, using objects only from my apartment. A month later, I followed up with Facing the Shadow where I sat motionless looking at my own shadow on a wall. The week when nearly 800 people were dying every day in New York had just passed and this was my way of facing this darkness, letting it inside and grieving for my city.

Confronting Oneself, Unrecognizing Oneself, Accepting Oneself, excerpt
60’00”, 4K video, March 25, 2020

Facing the Shadow, excerpt
60’00”, 4K video, April 20, 2020

The death toll of the pandemic was constantly on my mind. Every morning I looked outside my window and saw a large refrigerated truck parked outside a hospital across the road. I also passed it on my way to the grocery store. It used to haul goods for Walmart. I could still see the ghostly outline of the giant letters on its sides: Walmart Save Money. Live Better. Somehow, in my mind, this added insult to injury.
Refrigerated truck outside NYU Langone Health-Cobble Hill. Brooklyn, NY, March 31, 2020

Refrigerator Truck, excerpt
60’00”, 4K video, May 6, 2020

For me, this truck has become the symbol of the pandemic. Its white rectangle is forever burned into the back of my mind.

It took me a long time to find a way to translate it into a performance until one day I read in the NY Times that a large truck, like this, can fit 38 bodies. The next day I stood in my empty bedroom looking at the truck through my window and slowly counted up to thirty eight. I tried to give each number its own space and weight. After all, there was a person in that number. About half-way through I felt a tingling in my fingertips and a pressure on my spine. Then everything went white. I had to sit down and catch my breath but I didn’t stop counting. Eventually, the dizziness wore off and I got up to finish the performance. The truck, like an emotional black hole, took every ounce of my energy and focus. This was my way of confronting it, letting it go and after this it no longer drew me in.

The truck is gone now. I didn’t catch the exact moment but sometime in the past couple of days it went away. Even though the pandemic is not over by a long shot and the dangers of it are still very real, I couldn’t help but feel fireworks inside. This was definitely a cause for a small celebration!

Index of works from top left:

1 Facing the Shadow,
60’00”, HD video, April 20, 2020
I look at my own shadow.

2 Reading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ to a Blue Buddha
60’00”, 4K video, April 2, 2020
I read 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel García Márquez to a statue of a blue Buddha.

3 Shelter-in-Place
60’00”, 4K video, April 1, 2020
I hide behind the American flag.

4 We’re Sorry
60’00”, 4K video, May 1, 2020
I repeatedly dial the New York Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance number.

5 Refrigerator Truck
60’00”, 4K video, May 6, 2020
I am counting up to 38, the maximum number of bodies that can fit inside a large refrigerated truck. I am looking at one outside my window, parked near a hospital across the road.

6 Ventilator
60’00”, 4K video, April 23, 2020
I inhale and exhale to the maximum capacity of my lungs.

7 Confronting Oneself, Unrecognizing Oneself, Accepting Oneself
60’00”, 4K video, March 25, 2020
I look at my own reflection.

8 It's Okay to Touch My Face, Now
60’00”, 4K video, April 11, 2020
I wash my hands with soap and water for 59 minutes then, for the last minute of the hour, I touch my face.

9 Racing Against the Clock
60’00”, 4K video, March 28, 2020
I watch time go by.

10 Cage Within a Cage
60’00”, 4K video, April 8, 2020
I create an even more restrictive space in my apartment to pass the hour in.

11 Metamorphosis
60’00”, 4K video, April 13, 2020
After one month of isolation, I become a plant.

12 Non-Essential Worker
45’00”, 4K video, April 4, 2020
Referencing 'The Thinker' sculpture by Auguste Rodin, I question my role as an artist in the midst of the pandemic.

Stas Ginzburg is a Russian-born artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Ginzburg graduated from Parsons School of Design, NYC where he studied photography. Since then he expanded his practice to sculpture, installation, and performance to explore his interfaith background, memories of growing up in Post-Soviet Russia, and his life as a Jewish refugee in America. @stas.ginzburg︎︎︎
© 2021 this pandemic thing