Talena Sanders: “Every Day is an Ongoing Process”

We invited artists from Duke’s MFA EDA community to share work they have made in response to the coronavirus crisis. See the full “Home & Away” collection here.

Talena Sanders: “Every Day is an Ongoing Process”

Artist’s Reflection

I went into shelter in place mode with some optimism about how much work I could get done. My ideas of what resilience looks like have shifted in the past ten weeks. I live alone in rural northern California and spend a lot of time in contented solitude. I figured isolation would feel familiar to me. But this extensive, total isolation, this lack of structure, this yawning future with no set end date – this is not my everyday isolation.

I have been making work, but at a very different pace. It feels and moves in a different way than my usual approach. There is more play, more vulnerability, and more self consciousness all at once in the process. I am very online, posting and looking at Instagram constantly, my little lifeline. I am self conscious about that, too, but this platform has been where I have been most often documenting my experience.

I usually have strong self discipline, full focus. Now I work best when I have a quick turnaround assignment (like this one). The ultra short form makes sense to me in quarantine life. None of us have great attention spans at the moment. Knowing this text will live somewhere in the world, I would normally work it over and over, but this is a first draft only. My phone is lying on the table next to me, lighting up with pictures and texts from my family in Kentucky as they attend my nephew’s high school graduation car parade. I want to be present with them through my phone, the way I pour my focus into being present with any one reaching out to me. I also want to be productive and come out of quarantine with so much new work. Every day is an ongoing process of striking some kind of balance between these tensions – being gentle and human, engaging with the shape of life in the pandemic and also being an active, ambitious artist. Some days it happens and some days it’s suddenly 2AM. That’s okay, too.

Postscript – June 17, 2020

Since writing this piece in mid-May, so much has – necessarily and correctly – changed in our world.

With gratitude for the examples set by Black leadership in this current uprising, I have come to realize I have been complicit in upholding systemic racism by resting in my privilege. As an educator, I have continually focused on decolonizing my own mind and my teaching practice. I am far from perfect, and this will be a lifelong process. However, I have not been putting in the work in the world beyond the classroom. I’m out in the streets in the Bay Area now, and looking toward how to support organizing for the long haul beyond the news moment. Sending love and power to everyone supporting in every way that we morally and ethically absolutely must.


Talena Sanders makes moving image works that explore the development of individual and collective senses of identity in affinity groups. She pursues expansive, exploratory ways to present and interrogate materials from the real.