1 May 2020 to 30 May 2020
Sheila Ghelani (UK)

In these delicate times when it is necessary to be attentive to ourselves and to others, we would like to invite several artists to propose an artistic action/reflection starting from our common situation of confinement and its consequences on the notion of public space.

Sheila Ghelani is an artist whose work spans performance, installation, participatory event and moving image. She is very interested in the practice of medicine and care and the relationship between art and science with particular focus on hybridity.

We had invited her in 2015 during the Urban Academy devoted to "Art Facing Terror", and this time we proposed her to reflect on our new world in crisis.

She starts her reflection by taking several starting points: the idea of care, her instinct around her reluctance to respond to the present moment through art, the public space in relation to gardens, and perhaps her dreams, because even if she is confined, she still finds herself in the public space and interacting with others every night while she sleeps...

She describes her process:

Making the piece. The process…

When the CIFAS invite first came in I wasn’t sure whether to say yes or not. I wanted to spend my time with my parents - whom I’d come to help out during the pandemic, to do the chores and just be present with my already unwell (but not from Covid) mum.

Care, something I make work about often, was either everywhere I looked (at last), or lacking in such a monumental and profound way that institutional change or all out revolution was what was needed, not me and my art… I was reluctant to contribute to the noise.

Plus I could feel in amongst it all that turning to my practice would make me face some things that I, for the moment at least, wanted to pretend I could keep at bay - death, grief, the imminent collapse of the delicate arts ecology I was part of (most of my work had been cancelled, but not all).

But then outside in the garden, whilst tending to the ‘forget-me-nots’, a new space in my thoughts seemed to open up. A reflective space. A rehabilitative space:

What were the consequences of confinement on the notion of public space?

If I went slow perhaps… split up the ten days I was being invited to spend on the subject… only worked when I could (because caring for ourselves and caring for others takes up time, expends energy), perhaps I could say yes…

And so that’s what I did.

At first it felt every bit as complicated as I’d thought it would be. I wasn’t in my own home and so I didn’t have any of my stuff - my camera, access to my studio, my materials. My usual patterns of making were broken.

But then Mathilde from CIFAS said something about starting small, and I found myself typing up a list of my daily actions (making a kind of diary I suppose) under the title ‘some small acts of care’…

The list felt like a counterpoint to those heavy feelings I was experiencing now the art-making had begun. It simply described the care and maintenance of life, another type of essential work and labour, but one that happened daily behind closed doors. Perhaps what I was doing with this piece was making public a series of everyday acts of care (usually performed in private)?

The one art-making tool I had brought with me was some carbon transfer paper to complete an idea for another project (now suspended), and so I turned to that. I started tracing out my words and thinking about how they might be arranged… I imagined them on a white tile, hospital-like.

Looking around the house for something similar (to hold in my hands and stare at) I ended up in the garage, and to my surprise found some exactly like I’d imagined - some old bathroom tiles.

I’m not sure how I first decided to trace onto the tiles directly, but I do know that it was immediately really pleasurable. A non-permanent action without the right chemicals and certain processes of course, but slow, contemplative and much better feeling than doing it straight onto paper.

But the white ones didn’t photograph well - they were too shiny - and in any case, maybe weren’t quite ‘right’.

I went back into the garage again as I’d also seen a few spare kitchen floor tiles lying about. At the time I’d rejected them as they weren’t white, but perhaps they’d photograph better? Plus what better place to trace out my daily actions than onto a kitchen floor? The very room which I myself had walked over, prepared meals in, washed up and wiped clean, over and over and over again… Just like what I was going to do to the tiles at the end of my ten days (wipe them clean).

And so that’s what I did.

I think this piece, which exists currently as a set of photographs (the only trace of my words and actions), could one day also perhaps become a set of cards - moving through public space in another way. Passing lightly through many hands, containing private messages sent from one person to another.

Or equally still be reproduced as tiles to be placed somewhere in public. As a kind of memorial to an experience, that took place in the UK in an unremarkable house, in an unremarkable suburb in March, April, May and June 2020…(where I still currently am)… an experience replicated in lots of other households across the country, over and over and over again.

Making the invisible visible for a moment. Before once more returning the tiles back to the garage where I first found them…

Casting a circle to protect my parents? casting a circle to protect us all?


Confined Public Space

CIFAS has been interested by artists working in public space for 10 years, thus investing the city as an open space for reflection and action, organising workshops, debates and artistic interventions.

In this public space, the role of the artist is complex and varied: disrupting our aesthetic habits, developing tools for social cohesion, contributing to urban renewal projects, etc... The artistic strategies to be deployed in the public space meet necessities and constraints that are very different from the spaces usually reserved for art (theatre or exhibition spaces).

Today, however, with the COVID-19 crisis, public space is suffering: it is no longer possible to move around, cross each other, or get together. A social shock that we all experience, confined to our private spheres. So how do we make art at a time when everyone fears for their health and that of their loved ones and wonders when and how it will be possible to return to urban life? Is there an art of confinement? What artistic strategies should be deployed in order to create in this context? What has become of public space today?

In these delicate times when it is necessary to be attentive to ourselves and to others, we would like to invite several artists to propose an artistic action/reflection starting from our common situation of confinement and its consequences on the notion of public space.

If you do not receive an email confirming we have received your application, please contact Cifas: