Blog / Texts

Performing a Lockdown: The Self and the Camera

by Krasimira Butseva

POSTED: 06 May 2021

Writer and educator Krasimira Butseva reflects on how the actions performed in isolation became rituals for survival in Silvia Rosi's new commission Neither Could Exist Alone.

When lockdown descended across the globe in March 2020, Autograph's curatorial team Mark Sealy, Renée Mussai and Bindi Vora started conversations with our community of artists, about how to respond to the crisis. This dialogue coalesced into our commissioning project Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, with Autograph supporting ten UK-based artists to create new work exploring the wider context of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Silvia Rosi responded to the project by building a life-size room, the set for her series Neither Could Exist Alone  (2020), expressing the isolation, boredom, and fear experienced during the beginning of lockdown. For each artist's work, Autograph also invited a writer to contextualise the commission in a short essay. Here, Krasimira Butseva considers forms of isolation in Rosi's new photographs and film.

She moves through, in-between and outside, but remains still. Silvia Rosi leans against the wall, reads a book on the floor, comes into the room, changes her clothes, covers her body, covers her eye, looks through and from the window, opens boxes, turns off the lights and flees. Her body is seen stuck, resting, unsettled, breaking through, escaping, engaging, performing and disappearing.

In the past year, we all have departed on such infinite journeys in our own living spaces. The actions performed in isolation have become rituals. The everyday endeavours have turned into performances. In the midst of the first wave of the global pandemic in March 2020, Rosi found herself in her apartment in London, completely alone. It was then as the anxiety and distress of the pandemic began to overflow throughout the whole world, that navigating daily life appeared to become a challenge for many.

Months later, after seeking refuge at her parents’ home in Italy, the artist constructed a life-size model of a room which held the feelings of solitude she experienced in London during lockdown. The state of being alone manifested in the work is also intrinsic to both Rosi’s practice and to the creative process of artists.¹

"Rosi pushes the performative dimension of the self: she stages her own lockdown"

In this square room measuring 2.3 by 2.3 metres we perceive Rosi moving around. She is locked both by the apparatus, and in the space. The interior of the small room changes across the frames – objects appear and disappear. Stillness and movement are intertwined; time is stretched, accelerated and paused. The artist takes an endless walk in the compressed room. At times she looks out and observes us – the viewers. The cut-outs allow a bidirectional sight: to look from and to be looked at.

It is the gaze that forms the site in which the subject, object, self and other manifest, and that constructs a relational understanding.² Our eyes move through the scenes, composing different connotations, seeing only as much as we are permitted.

With every entry, the space begins to turn into a catalyst for revaluation. Here, Rosi finds herself in absolute control – she decides when and how long to stay and discovers a repository for any overwhelming thoughts. The camera, alongside the fabricated space, offers comfort and reflection. The act of photographing becomes an instrument of empowerment and healing. It is an aid to claiming authority over one’s feelings. It helps Rosi to let go, to depart elsewhere. It offers the sturdy control missing from the past months.

In her practice to date Rosi has been occupied with retelling the stories of others, delving into inherited memories, staging and re-enacting images and narratives. But in this new commission, Neither Could Exist Alone (2020), she adopts the role of the storyteller, the author of the account that unfolds in front of the lens. She is the only one performing; there are no other features or attributes but her own. These self-portraits entail introspection and a presentation of one’s self to itself. The photographic works awake a shared sense of being stuck in a period intensified by desolation, loss and struggle: previously unknown, but currently agonisingly familiar.

Through her work, Rosi pushes the performative dimension of the self: she stages her own lockdown, recreates her loneliness and rediscovers coping mechanisms. She also reminds us of the impossibility of enduring these circumstances alone, and the indispensable human touch we all need to survive.

¹ James Baldwin, The Creative Process’, in John F. Kennedy, Creative America (New York: Ridge Press, 1962).
² Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1958).

about the author

Krasimira Butseva

Krasimira Butseva is a Bulgarian-born and London-based writer, researcher and educator. She has previously written for eep magazine, The Calvert Journal and Art Licks. Butseva has previously presented her academic research in the conference 'Truth, Reality and Imagination Interpretations from Eastern and Central Europe' at University College London, and is to participate later in 2021 in the conference '(Counter-)Archive: Memorial Practices of the Soviet Underground' in Technische Universitat Dresden, Germany and in the 10th World Congress of Central and Eastern European Studies in Montréal, Canada. Butseva is also an associate lecturer at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

You can follow Butseva on Instagram and Twitter, and see more on her website.


See the full artist commission by Silvia Rosi

Read an interview with the artist and Autograph's Bindi Vora

Renée Mussai introduces the new artist commissions in a curatorial essay One (Pandemic) Year On...

Read the introduction to the Care | Contagion | Community project

Visit the Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other exhibition at Autograph's gallery


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Image captions: 1) Silvia Rosi, Neither Could Exist Alone, video, 1' 22" [detail], 2020. Commissioned by Autograph for Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other. © and courtesy the artist.

Other page images: 2) Courtesy Krasimira Butseva.