Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between writers and artists. Here, Jesi Khadivi considers how external circumstances—from our ongoing "state of exception" to the unpredictable sleeping patterns of infant children—changed the way she related to, and wrote about, the work of Tatiana Trouvé.

Hermetic, inwardly focused, private. These are all terms that have been used to describe Tatiana Trouvé’s practice. I’ve used them myself. In fact, I picked them out of a quick skim that I just did of the essay about her work I was commissioned to write for TextWork in the Spring of 2020.

Looking back, I realize that they are also words that I would have used to describe my writing practice until the Covid-19 pandemic. For me, writing has always been about claiming space. Or perhaps more accurately, opening a space: finding a point zero where there is nothing but myself and my subject. This isn’t easy, even in the best conditions. There are fluctuations. The space expands and contracts, other things seep in: external stimuli, a phone call, unrelated thoughts, hunger, boredom, fatigue. I saw this mingling with the world as an irritation at best and a failure at worst, a reflection of my own inability to focus or to tune out distraction.

I was thrilled to receive the invitation to write about Trouvé’s work. A nanny had just started to look after my daughter, then six months old, during the day and, although I had never really stopped working since her birth, I was looking forward to tackling this new commission with ample time to think deeply and to write outside the constraints imposed by an infant’s napping schedule. Writing according to biological rhythms was a pain in the ass. Or so I thought.

“Rites of Passage, Connecting Worlds” was the most challenging text that I have ever written. And not only due to the nature of the work. There I sat, confronted with catalogues and jpegs full of desolate spaces, devoid of human presence yet containing traces thereof, trying to unlock some of their mystery while still preserving the enigmatic quality of the work. The actual space around me, however, was teeming with people, noise, and need: a baby, a toddler, my boyfriend who was also working from home, a dog. I quite literally wanted to enter Trouvé’s works. Not to elucidate them for my reader, but to find a space for myself amidst the chaos and uncertainty that surrounded me. To seek refuge, to browse the pages of the elusive books and documents that populate many of Trouvé’s installations, perhaps even to take a well-deserved nap. They were a portal, an invitation to another world.

A state of exception creates a rupture in our sense of time, an uncanny zone. Here, elements of normalcy might blur with an underlying sense of dread. A day might seem like an eternity, or what was once familiar might bristle with strangeness. As I wrote in my essay for TextWork, my encounters with Trouvé’s works—as this commission was not the first—had always seemed to unfold in such states of exception. Yet this state of exception had much to teach me in terms of writing about art. The pandemic may have kept the artist herself, libraries, cafes, friends, and my customary routines at a distance, but it brought my domestic world closer. And this produced a different form of attentiveness. I was socially distanced, but not alone. My normally solitary desk was now surrounded by people: my family.

Writing in community rather than isolation underscored the urgency of writing with and not about art. Something that I had always known and tried my best to put into practice, but now deeply felt. And now, in retrospect, I see how the extreme proximity of my children seeped into the essay. Writing, at times with another person draped across me, some of their freneticism, languidness, or oddball fixations permeated the text—and perhaps for the better. Their world touching mine reminds me of Jean-Luc Nancy’s assertion that writing can be a form of touch. “I know of no writing that doesn’t touch,” he claims, “because then it wouldn’t be writing, just reporting or summarizing.”11
Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 11.
Parents often talk about being “over touched” and wanting to reclaim their bodies (and their minds, lol). In my case, their touch pushed me to the furthest edge—“the furthest edge of writing,” where, as Nancy notes, nothing but touching happens.