“On Being Ill”: A COVID-19 Diary

Artist Ane Thon Knutsen introduces her homage to Virginia Woolf´s “On Being Ill.Using her letterpress, she printed one sentence a day from March 23rd to August 29th, shaping a diary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about her work here.

Since 2016, Virginia Woolf has had a tendency to guide me through the more difficult aspects of living. I know many have the same experience, hence her eternal relevance as life is, as she writes in “The Mark on The Wall,” like being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour–landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! What better way than letting art and life entangle, and work my way through “On Being Ill,” letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence. Every day, for five months I went down to the letterpress studio in the basement of my home and typeset and printed one sentence from “On Being Ill” by Virginia Woolf. I was obliged to follow though with the daily routine as I had promised to post a new sentence every day on social media, inviting others to take part in a very slow reading of the essay. (Still on my instagram @anethonknutsen.) Often – but not always – the sentence was followed by a short reflection, sometimes with references to research on pandemics as a topic in art and literature. This work was created out of frustration and worries about the future. The need to make something meaningful out of the situation beyond my control became strong. 

In the early weeks of the corona crisis, I – in my naiveté – thought that the state of emergency might be over from one day to the next, but now I realize that the timeline and normal state will not be as clean cut as I wanted, with a kind of liberation day that marks the end. Being in the middle of a pandemic as we are now, with environmental threats and unruly leaders, it sometimes feels as if the reality we knew is disintegrating. Uncertainty about where we are going, what the narrative is, and what the future holds, gives us a different ability to relate to modernist experiments with texts that (to me at least) are utterly confusing, chaotic and surprising without clear narratives and directions; just like life at the moment.

I am still worried, and I am tired, but this too shall pass.

Ane Thon Knutsen (1984—) lives and works in Oslo. She has exhibited and presented work in Norway and abroad. She owns and works in her private letterpress studio in Oslo, and does freelance lecturing. Thon Knutsen has a PhD from the Oslo Academy of the Arts, where she researched Virginia Woolf as a printer and the impact this had on her ability to develop artistically and become a writer on her own terms. She has done extensive research on The Mark on The Wall, and is now working on the last two of the three texts Woolf wrote, typeset and printed herself. Thon Knutsen has a unique knowledge of letterpress and is one of the few who uses this technology in an artistic context Norway. Through conceptual work, she researches activism, self-publishing, experimental approaches and marginalized voices in the history of printing. Thon Knutsen’s practice is characterized as hybrid as she develops and mixes traditional technology with digital tools.

Published by International Virginia Woolf Society

The International Virginia Woolf Society is devoted to encouraging and facilitating the scholarly study of, critical attention to, and general interest in, the work and career of Virginia Woolf, and to facilitate ways in which all people interested in her writings— scholars, critics, teachers, students, artists and general readers—may learn from one another, meet together, contact each other, and help one another. Find out more about our organization, activities, and Virginia Woolf herself by following the links on our home page.

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