Petra Maitz started her crochet installation The Lady Musgrave Reef in 2002 with the aim to raise attention to the gradual diminishing of coral reefs around the world. One of the curators of the exhibition Slow Life, Zsuzska Petró interviewed her about life in the quarantine, as well as her work.
How does the corona pandemic and the resulting social isolation affect your everyday life and work?
In a way, not very much, because for years I have been working in a small office in Hamburg where I coordinate my work: when/what/how. As I am also a curator for art and science projects, I work in cooperation with science institutions. Of course, the studio work isn’t big today, I prefer to stay in home-office to work.
How do you see the world after Covid-19? In your opinion, will our life, or even the art scene and art market change in any way and if so, in what way?
Well, there will surely be a change, everything will be coordinated via electronic messages and screen projects as we are not allowed to visit exhibitions. Museums and galleries are closed.
How will your working conditions or even your own attitude towards your practice change? (If you think it will change at all.)
My life hasn’t changed that much, but there is one thing I find very difficult: I can’t travel from Germany to Austria and to France, where a lot of my volunteers live. They work for The Lady Musgrave Reef Part II. It will show all the bleached corals, the white and yellow band diseases of corals. Corals die out when infected by the high nitrate levels in oceans. We have been working on it since the beginning of February for the “Budapest Colony“ that will be integrated into the rest of the ‘reef’. Covid-19 appeared in the midst of this work, disrupting my schedule for Slow Life.
Could you pick one aspect of our lives, which, in your opinion, will be permanently transformed by the pandemic?
The fear of getting close to people will not disappear for a long time, this is an unnatural shock, it will destroy human love.
Did this social isolation inspire a new project? If yes, could you briefly tell us about it?
I don’t feel isolated as I have been enjoying a kind of self-isolation for years now in a small hut near the beach of the river Elbe. If I crave human contact, I call my friends from around the world and I enjoy pottering about in my garden, planting new flowers or just hanging out. A new project was inspired through an emergency call from Düsseldorf, a friend’s wife, a dentist, needed operation hats for her lab. So, I created a cap designed in 10 minutes in my hut. I began to sew 5 caps a day.
One of your artistic objectives is to bring art closer to nature and vice versa. With your own words from your artist statement, “the cultural disconnection with natural environments in modern arts” started to bore you. That’s why you started to crochet and sew natural objects in your studio. With The Lady Musgrave Reef you also wanted to raise attention to the diminishing coral reefs around the world. Do you believe that art can positively influence our society? In what way can art achieve a lasting positive effect?
Art is an essential kind of thinking and working, it is a system that defines its own rules, the artist is a fountain and I always felt full of visions and ideas for creating new worlds that inspire me. Well, crocheting is a heritage of my childhood, I was raised in Vienna and Graz, my 12 aunts used to do needlework at every family gathering. It was so weird, but they were the soul and brain of the family: sitting there, talking and organising the household. The men were not present, so I developed a sort of affiliation to this curious behaviour –– the aunties were the ones who ruled. I studied medicine and microbiology, and did not want to work in labs, so my resistance towards the commercialised art world was to sit and crochet.
In your opinion, how does the corona-situation add to or re-evaluate your work selected for the exhibition Slow Life? Do you see it in a different light at all?
Well, it fits perfectly into the situation, but it is not funny at all, we have a sad coincidence happening, the content of the show is overwritten by reality.
As humans retreated into their homes, animals appeared in their habitats, e.g. dolphins in the canals of Venice, or deers and foxes in empty cities. Do you have a new-found hope for the survival of coral reefs?
Yes, but it will take a long time…
The way you organised the work of the volunteers for The Lady Musgrave Reef (e.g. sending the materials via post and receiving the crocheted corals later) might resonate with current working methods that we had to embrace during social isolation. Even with the work done in the volunteers’ own homes, this process still feels very social. Do you think it built up a sense of community within the team? Can you tell us about your experience with this method?
Normally, the team meets at the show, but this is not possible now… but who knows, borders will maybe open in summer, we will be able to travel in masks.
My team works in their homes and they are let free and could work whatever, however and whenever they want.
My method was always freedom of creation and freedom of body. It sounds anarchistic, but it’s the way how evolution goes, and now we have to follow in the footsteps of evolution, while looking at the bigger picture, a global picture. Staying home also means survival of the fittest and not risking the elderly, and so conserve the wisdom they possess.