Interiors of people locked among themselves

By Jakup Ferri

I tend to ignore events of such magnitude. I think the same thing happened with the pandemic and the lockdown that followed. Firstly, I don’t have a television and I don’t read newspapers, so I wasn’t very informed about the panic the people had. So I read it on people, but I didn’t read about it anywhere. In some way, I had some pain about what they’re preoccupied with. Especially in the beginning, the first two or three months, we were panicking, even though there were no cases of infected people. I continued with life as always.

During this time, I started to connect with nature much more. There were no coffee shops in the city, you couldn’t go out. I remember early in the morning I went to the National Library to lay down, the police sent me away. I started to connect with Matiqan, there in Badovc. I went out for walks, but I always paint, draw wherever I am. So, I took my small drawing block, I would take some pencils, some cushions, and I would spend my time there. Whenever I wanted to go out, I did.

Something good that happened during this time was an apartment, in the time we were isolated, I got an apartment as a gift from my aunt. In a way I started to be preoccupied with that, to build the kitchen, to lay the tiles, to buy the bedroom. But at that time, shops weren’t working at all, the workers were scared to come measure the space. In a way, I was focused on how to build my apartment when everyone in Kosovo was dealing with the mess of the virus.

But, I wasn’t preoccupied with the virus, I don’t want to brag that I wasn’t scared. I could end up really bad from this virus after a while, so I don’t want to brag. Yesterday, I went out with two friends, I hadn’t seen them in seven or eight months. They had three—four sprays, “Give me the pink one, give me the blue one.” All that caution seemed a little too much to me. It’s exaggerated, over exaggerated.

Online learning was completely different during the lockdown. The first semester was very active with students, we would make flags, protests, flag parades. The second semester was all online. Until we figured out how to approach it, how the professor should talk, how the students should talk, it was hard for a few days, weeks actually. I had to talk much more. I hate talking, I don’t like it, especially when forty students are listening to me express an opinion. I definitely don’t practice this way.

The first semester worked in a different way. I would give them a topic, they would work on that topic, and they would start working together, so there weren’t lectures. There weren’t lectures in any of my classes, I always worked with them. I noticed that those students were interested in fashion, they talked about fashion, the other one was interested in interior design and they talked about interiors. I had students from four, five different departments.

When we started working online, I had to do more research. For example, fashion, it was good that I researched fashion, because I found out some things I didn’t know. Some of them seemed more interesting to me than what I’d known in music or contemporary art. For example, I didn’t know Martin Margiela before, as a character and how he had started… very interesting. Craig Green, Angus Chiang, many new designers.

I teach three, four courses. I taught different courses in the first semester, and different ones in the second semester. So, always improvising, if a professor who teaches a course is absent, they give it to you, but I don’t follow the syllabus much. I was more interested in what the students need, and in a way, I was focused there. They worked a lot, some of them were very good. I know their work, I know it immediately, I know if this work is a continuation of other works, but it was a mess with the names because there were four hundred students. I wasn’t keeping records, but I graded them based on the work I saw.

What I liked when I did this research on interior designers, different architects, I gave them homework to research and present. The students who did the presentations made a PDF document which would be seen by all students. I would let the students speak, I would only add or ask something. There were six students doing presentations every class, they had presentations about fashion, visual arts, video artists, and so on. We discussed different topics and students started to like this in a way.

The lockdown was one of the topics I told them to explore. So, at the end of the semester, they were supposed to make a video, I would suggest to them very directly, “Make the lockdown your topic, but in a positive way, don’t get deep into sad stories.”

I was interested in their interiors. I still like going into someone’s home and just looking at it, the walls, the furniture, the cabinets. Maybe I got this habit from Amsterdam, because there are no curtains in Amsterdam. During my walks at night, especially in Jordaan, a neighborhood in the old part of the city, I spent all my nights looking at their walls, paintings, furniture, floors. I really like this and I wanted to see that from my students, to see their grandfather, father, their mother cooking beans, to capture these moments. The drawings were very good. I saved them. There are different interiors, everything.

I lived with my parents the first month of the lockdown. I was there the first month, then the second month, I went to my apartment. I was still close to my parents. I lost the connection with my parents after the second phase, when things started to get worse. Now we keep our distance, wear masks. When we were living together, we weren’t scared of one another. My routine with them was different.

For example, I cleaned the second floor of my father’s house, I took all the stuff I had there, I took them to the apartment. I turned that floor into a studio for him, and I took out some work that was closed for twenty, ten years in bags and opened them, and it was like something new was born out of his old work. My mother saw it, my sister saw it, we saw some work that we hadn’t seen in years, maybe we’d seen it as children.

He started to look at this work from another angle, and he started to be more active in painting, he was doing little things on paper, and my father was very productive these last few months, he was writing but also did big paintings. Actually, he painted two very big paintings.

I thought about doing some things together, but both of us are some way in our territories, but maybe we will collaborate, it wouldn’t be bad, especially if he would give me his unfinished paintings. You can’t finish all the work, half of my work is unfinished, I always give them to Rron [Qena], or someone.

This collaboration with Rron started a long time ago, before I went to Holland. I think we have collaborated on our first painting in 2005. We had some ateliers where we worked together, we scribbled together. I like it when I work with Rron, because he gives me a whole other work vibe. The work that I have in the exhibition at the National Gallery is some kind of obsessive art, because you are obsessed with something, a detail, and you’re stuck on it for hours on end. I don’t have that feeling with Rron at all, it’s the opposite with him.

You explode there, some kind of explosion you can’t control anymore, but that you need to have both. For example, Richter made very realistic paintings, very hyperrealist, but he also does abstract art. Now I understand why Richter makes those. I always thought, how is it possible that this person can have two or three completely different styles? But sometimes you need to unload on one thing so you can do the obsessive art.

This happens everytime I hang out with Rron, we don’t plan these things, it doesn’t happen like, “Let’s go paint.” We hang out, while we’re talking, maybe we even are mad at each other, we take everything out of proportions and start creating together.

Definitely nothing is organized in my life, I’m the most unorganized person ever, but I am happy that I could bring some order to this lack of organization. When I organized everything, I said, “Okay, I’m not lazy, I do work in a way.” I never knew at what time I work, because I don’t have a set schedule. Most of the time I feel lost. Because in a small room, you forget you did it, you put it in a book, a flower there and here, but, when all of these things gather that you worked for ten, 15 years, it starts to make sense.

I was isolated before the lockdown. This became a habit. Maybe it’s a thing that comes from art, because maybe, if I had a daily job, it wouldn’t be like this. You wake up in the morning, you eat breakfast, you drink coffee, you don’t know where the day starts and where it ends. In time, you start to make some rules for yourself, you notice you are more productive around twelve or eleven at night, but I always dreamed of having a regular job. I always envied people who had jobs. If I was a bit more orderly, I think I would be much more productive and happier with the work that I do.

I liked the way Allen Ginsberg told the story of how Naked Lunch was written, I didn’t know about it and I really like the way it was written. When William Burroughs went to live in Tangier, he wrote letters to his wife in New York. They were written so beautifully, three—four pages long, and Ginsberg gathered all those letters and talked to Jack Kerouac, he said, “Let’s go to Tangier, look at the beautiful letters this man is writing.” He wrote them because he was in crisis, trying to quit heroin. They went there, Kerouac and Ginsberg convinced him to write the book. It’s good to know how to bring order to these unorganized things. Sometimes you need help from someone else to be able to see them.

After the lockdown, I went to see my son, we hadn’t met in four, five months. The first flights were in the beginning of June and I insisted. I said, “Whatever happens I will go, I haven’t seen my son.” There my extensive caution stopped, I went there with sprays, with one hundred thousand masks, and the Dutch had taken it very lightly. People wanted all the small rules to be dropped, so the state could function how it’s supposed to. A different flu from all the other flus, but nothing more than that. People should grow immune to it, some people suffer bigger consequences from it unfortunately, but it isn’t so out of the ordinary to close down everything.

For example, my son was never vaccinated. His mother is anti—vaccine, putting new things into his body. He’s never gotten any vaccines, not even those you’re supposed to get. She lives in the village, in nature. She’s never worn a mask from the beginning of the pandemic, and she’s doing this as a way of protest. You can’t get on the bus there if you don’t wear the mask. So, she hasn’t gotten on buses, trains for a long time, stuff like this. She wanted to come to Kosovo, “I’m not coming because I have to wear a mask on the airplane.” She is very against it, and when she talks about it, she would convince me she’s right, but then again, I would see sad stories on the TV, sometimes I didn’t know…

In the gallery, there is work with interiors. While teaching about interiors, researching, I decided to make a painting with interiors, I was studying perspective. This started before the lockdown, but during the process that lasted about three, four months, that painting became a complete set of different interiors of people locked among themselves.

I never wanted to communicate directly through drawing. Actually, it has happened to me to draw something and then see myself doing that thing after two days. So, it was like prediction and I started with interiors because I was interested in the perspective, but then I started to live in those interiors, but I didn’t want to connect it to the current situation, but it was definitely connected.

Jakup Ferri (b. 1981) is a contemporary visual artist. Educated at the Art Academy in Pristina and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, Ferri has earned numerous prizes, including the “Europe’s Future” art prize from the Museum of Contemporary Art (GfZK) in Leipzig and a first Buning Brongers Prize for painting in Amsterdam. His work has been featured at numerous international exhibitions and galleries such as the U—Turn Quadrennial for Contemporary Art in Copenhagen,  the Istanbul Biennial, the Ludwig Museum in Budapest, Artists Space in New York, and de Appel in Amsterdam.