Lookback: Who Am I Becoming Residency

In these trying times, we reach out to the participants of ‘Who Am I Becoming’ to see how they are coping with Rotterdam in quarantine. WORM’s 2019 summer residency by Natalia Papaeva focused on being an immigrant in The Netherlands. Nia Konstantinova: “I usually work in the PR department, but what I love in our organisation is that you can expend your skills and interests. This is how I became a producer of Who Am I Becoming. Last summer was spent with the small community which ‘Who Am I Becoming ‘ formed. Long, but fruitful hours which resulted in friendship beyond the project.

During quarantine, you go through many different moods and modes in a day. My phone is ringing constantly.

I am speaking on a daily basis with my relatives (not only my immediate family, but also aunts and cousins). I am also the one who calls my partner’s parents to check on them.

Meanwhile, you try to go about your day as normal as possible. Johanna is graduating so she is doing her last online classes and working on her graduation project! I am creating content for WORM’s social media and emailing and Skype calling with colleagues and collaborators. We are also devoting time to things we have neglected before. Natalia’s presentation at Supermarket Art Fair (Stockholm) was cancelled, but she continues developing new performances. In Japan, Yasunori’s live is also upside down. As a travelling artist and event photographer, his work is on pause. The official cancellation of the Olympics is only confirming that the situation might continue longer than we expect. Yasunori is seeking some peace of mind in the hot springs and on the pages of Dream by Kepler. Similarly, Larissa is going through her list of “I will watch/read it when I have time”, you know the list which you actually never get to go through in a busy lifestyle.

However, the truth is that none of us knows when and if we will see our family members again, especially our parents and grandparents. How can we help them? How can we protect them? Natalia is channelling this urge into chasing away old people who get too close to her in the supermarket. She asks them: What are you doing? What if I am sick? Do you want to die? Keep your distance!

In many of our countries, the quarantine has turned into military heaven. Police and military have the rights to arrest people on the streets. This is scary! For example, Bulgaria was under a dictatorship only 30 years ago. Will democracy be restored after these months? Would the government give up the new control they have established? What if some of the policeman and military officials are racists, homophobes and misogynists? In a dysfunctional legal system, who will protect the civilians from them?

When we speak with our families we also understand the privilege we have to live here. The safety net which the government has established by giving 90% support to the financially hit sectors, and the new help for the ZZP’ers. Our relatives don’t have that. Some of them already lost their jobs and others are soon to announce bankruptcy. Some of them don’t even have health insurance. So, what do you do then? – We will manage – my dad says. I convince myself he is right. When I think of the group of ‘Who Am I Becoming’, collectively our parents have survived genocide, camps, revolutions and natural disasters. We surely will beat corona. I know in any case we will be next to them somehow to aid them with what we can.

We, participants of Who Am I Becoming share a spoken and unspoken understanding for one another. Natalia and I called with Nash to check on her. She is in Curacao now. We finally saw the amazing balcony she has told us about during the project! She doesn’t know when she will be back. Many students and many young people live in rooms smaller than a storage unit. Being confined in a tiny unpractical space seems like a recipe for depression. We told her to stay home as long as she can! Her dad is a firefighter and he needs to work. So, does her mom. Fortunately, there are not so many cases there. We hope it stays that way!

Johana’s dad is also healthy! She said that they still talk every day, but now they also video call. Richard is also talking to his 81 year old father every day or so on the phone. His father got through the Blitz on Newcastle upon Tyne in 1940-41. He’s baking his own bread and having a cigar in the garden. It’s knowing small facts like that that keeps Richard hopeful.  It seems like the pandemic has helped us boil down life to its essence! There is just nothing more important then to see the people you love well and healthy!

I don’t think life will be the same after the quarantine has been lifted. Not for me.