“A sense of reality drowned in theatre” began to take shape in October 2020, when I spent two weeks as an artist in residence in Porrentruy, a town in northern Switzerland. As my travel was between countries, right before Europe entered a second lockdown, I followed the self-isolation measures: I worked most of the day inside the studio and left the building only at night when the streets were empty. Being a foreigner in a new place, I began to unfold the city through its dark remnants.

How does one become familiar with a new place, seeing it only at night? What kind of relations does this lead the eye to make? How to construct an understanding of the context in which one is?

The title “A Sense of Reality Drowned in Theatre” refers to the atmosphere during Europe’s second wave and especially its beginning. Life became curtained with layers one could scarcely make sense of. Thus, this photographic series is not only a testimony of a specific town- it also testifies an emotional landscape. It could be approached, in turn, as a meditation on the pandemic’s repercussions.

The piece’s name is derived from the film “Blue” (1993) by the experimental film-maker Derek Jarman, who died of AIDS in 1994. Jarman’s intricate reflection on living with the disease transcends beyond its context: it is a rare portrayal of society during the overwhelming times of a global pandemic. It is a document about loss and fear, placed intermediately between nation-state politics and individual autonomy. Twenty-seven years after its creation, these impressions reverberate in the current context of Covid-19.

How can the pandemic be seen in photographs? What are possible manifestations of such a venture, and how subtle can they be?

A Sense of Reality Drowned in Theatre | Who is Renen?

“I shall not win the battle against the virus - in spite of the slogans like ‘Living with AIDS’. The virus was appropriated by the well - so we have to live with AIDS while they spread the quilt for the moths of Ithaca across the wine-dark sea. Awareness is heightened by this, but something else is lost. A sense of reality drowned in theatre.” – “Blue” (1993), Derek Jarman