Quarantine Diaries °

Quarantine Diaries

In his current project, artist Roberto Uribe Castro invites people from around the world to photograph soap bars in their private environments. This collective work in progress runs now on the Instagram account of the Irish gallery Artlink.

Round, oval, angular or freeform; delicate like a pebble on the beach, perfect like an egg; bulky, cuddly, ugly, and beautiful. Whole bars, chunks, and leftovers of soap lie on plates, tiles, sinks, shower and bathtub rims, and in hands. We encounter the intimate everyday product in the collective Instagram artwork in any and every style and shade. We anticipate, know, and see that its outlines change and dissolve over time through its use.
“You think it’s particularly insignificant, but it says a lot about you,” explains Uribe Castro during a meeting in his Berlin studio. It shows, he says, “how human we all become through an even small act, and that we’re all connected.”
The Instagram pictures of the soap bars are captioned with the photographers’ names and their date and place of creation, and they are posted in any quality without exception. Depending on the submitted quantity, a series up to ten images will be featured in one post or several will be posted throughout the day.

Quarantine Diaries points to Uribe Castro’s interest in the ephemeral, a concern he has previously explored in his artwork in public spaces. He particularly identifies with Walter Benjamin’s thinking that suggests that the smallest everyday rituals contain a larger meaning and, like simple objects, constitute traces left as a result of dwellingand serve as an impulse to remember. These bars of soap, to which we have an intimate relationship, whose scent accompanies us and awakens memories, are indeed different and ephemeral, but in the repetition of the motif coming from different places and environments of life, it is the lasting aspect that takes priority. “They are at the same time general and individual, but in essence they are part of an ongoing whole.”

Towards the dialogue via the traces left by the quotidien

The traces left by the quotidian take art away from its preserving, instructive museum aspects. By placing the pencil in the hands of the spectator, the artist establishes an exchange between him, the spectator(s), the images, the texts, and the algorithms. What happens is what many institutions try in vain, says Uribe Castro. They don’t succeed in having any dialog because they remain stuck in the Romantic notion of the artistic genius. He himself identifies more with Baroque art, as described by Octavio Paz in his biography of the poet Sor Inés de la Cruz, which penetrates human feelings and existential questions dynamically and passionately. After all, says Roberto Uribe Castro, it is not about being the one who is able to “move mountains, but to understand mountains,” not to invent a world, but to describe the existing one or to give voice to it. That’s why the Colombian artist likes to work in public spaces, “because here I can hear what people have to say.”

“We long for poetry now. It is filled with the humanity all of us need so much right now.”

In Quarantine Diaries, art emerges right here and now. Every posted image of a soap, viewed individually or one after the other and among others, opens up some space for dreaming and reflecting, or even seduces us to connect with others spiritually. The soaps put us on a trail. Like a poem. Though perhaps some image evokes a certain feeling, reminds us of something, or might inspire us to wonder who washes their hands with the honey-colored oval soap? Does it really look like that in that bathroom or is it staged? What happens outside the bathroom, in the hallway behind the door, in the rest of the house, outside in the street, in the village where the house is located?

“There are also pictures from Morocco, Thailand or Iran. Maybe you feel a certain tension when you see them. Through Quarantine Diaries, you will imagine something and can investigate it. Doesn’t art invite you to keep looking?” asks Uribe Castro, “Anyway, it doesn’t just leave you standing there.” It’s nice when it catches us up like the poem of young Armanda Gorman at Joe Biden’s inauguration, the artist enthuses.
As the intimate product of everyday life comes into the spotlight through Quarantine Diaries, it reaches the consciousness of the individual. However, this is not just any product. In fact, it gives us health and security. This is why, during the pandemic, the spectators’ eyes are more receptive to the image of soap. Uribe Castro’s collective work picks them up out there in the wide world and draws them to where identity-forming commonality develops, where the other is revealed to be one’s own.

We’re all the same on Instagram

In times of social distancing, Quarantine Diaries silently creeps out of the mental boxes of the market, galleries, and art houses and into a new public, social community. Instagram gives the artwork this freedom. In this case, it does not exhibit the art object, serving as another exhibition space, but rather it is simultaneously the site of the event and the tool that determines its existence.
The posts of the soap contain traces of what we leave behind. As a collection, orchestrated by the artist Uribe Castro, they illustrate how humans adapt to external circumstances. The fact that we see them today and not tomorrow does not diminish their importance. Through the new visual artistic expression, viewers experience themselves as social beings. As such, they have access to art on a level that is common to everyone. The lines between the public and the private are blurred. “Even institutions now have to use Instagram to show their art. In doing so, they subject themselves to a kind of super-institution. But the interesting thing is that the opportunity to flourish is the same for everyone there.”

“At some point, the pandemic has made us connect.” Uribe Castro welcomes this process. And nothing more and nothing less moved Uribe Castro to now continue the project together with ArtLink. Put simply, “Quarantine Diaries can only grow if many people participate.”


The Story

“The story begins with the fact that I do not live in my native country, Colombia, and I wondered how I can keep connected to my family when I am not there. The soap bar for me was like a revelation that you suddenly have. I realized that solid soap is something that is just disappearing from the market, and yet it has such beautiful properties. I noticed that especially because here in Europe they use a lot of liquid soap. Once I had been in Colombia, I asked my mother to keep bars of soap that she used and I did the same thing without realizing what was going to happen to them. Then, when I was stuck in Bogotá in March 2020 because of the pandemic, my mom pulled out the bars of soap she had collected and I thought it would be nice to share them on Instagram. I played with the idea of making a project out of it, and just like that, Quarantine Diaries was born.

I believe that as artists we should read, research and observe a lot and sometimes what we succeed in is capturing a moment and a feeling. This artwork (Quarantine Diaries) happened through people’s reactions and on its own. My role in it was and is more that of a kind of medium. Sometimes I feel like something metaphysical about the process, like it was already there. Some art carries this magic in it that had to come into life.”

Berlin, April 2021


How to participate:

To participate in the #quarantinediaries project please send your pictures to info@robertouribecastro.de or info@artlink.ie The pictures will be shown on the robertouribecastro and artlinkfortdunree Instagram accounts. If circumstances allow there will be an analog show at Fort Dunree in May 2021

Although more than a year has passed since the beginning of the pandemic and the first lockdown, the reflections and possibilities for dialogue which Quarantine Diaries invites are still relevant and necessary. Artlink would like to extend the invitation made by Roberto Uribe-Castro to participate in this project. On one hand, soap as an object that can hardly be thought of as a work of art, because of its private function in the bathroom; cleaning oneself is an intimate act. On the other, there is the new evocative material life that soap has acquired through the pandemic. It is precisely this dual status and the possibility of opening up the collective participation of Quarantine Diaries in a virtual platform that has motivated Artlink to host the exhibition in 2021.
The project raises awareness of the overlapping spaces between the personal and the collective, the intimate and the public, the hygienic and the infectious, the material and the digital, and is an invitation to consider everyday life in the midst of a pandemic, and reflect on what this past year has been and its implications for our future.

Artlink, Fort Dunree, Linsfort, Buncrana, County Donegal, Rep. of Ireland, F93 C424
+353 83 869 6513

Author: Sandra Ellegiers