‘I can’t be creative if I don’t have time to get lost a little’: An interview with Céline Gillain

Céline Gillain is a musician, video and performance artist living in Brussels. Her work is a hybrid of corrupted pop songs, feminist sci-fi, storytelling and dark humour.

Where are you and how are you doing these days?

I’m at home in Brussels, my apartment is small, but I live near a public park and have been feeling very lucky about that these days. I’ve found myself paying a lot of attention to the weather changes, to birds (are there more tits and robins than usual or am I just more aware of them?), I’ve been staring at trees, listening to the wind, smelling leaves, that sort of thing. Other than that, I exercise, watch cartoons, teach online, listen to music and podcasts, and I walk a lot. In a way, all the wandering around has helped me find my way back to my desire, a path I had lost these past few months. To be completely honest, this forced interruption is kind of a blessing to me. I’ve enjoyed not having deadlines, not having to make plans six months ahead. But then again, I’ve been counting my steps and obsessing over it like I’m some kind of robot, so I guess my mental health isn’t that great after all.

Are you affected by the current situation in terms of your work & art?

This crisis is reconfiguring many aspects of my life, the way I interact with people, of course, and how I feel responsible for them, how I organise, how I tend to put pressure on myself, and most importantly, it has given me space to think. This crisis has reminded me that I can’t be creative if I don’t have time to get lost a little, to kind of drift; imagination is linked to randomness, to something that is beyond my control. It’s like I’m reeducating myself how to think. And I know I’m not the only one experiencing this right now. Everyone I know is. Which is why I think we have to radically reject the idea of going back to normal.

There’s no way we can go back to business as usual. It’s not just a sanitary crisis, it’s an imagination crisis. Our sense of purpose is resetting. And, as a consequence, I sense that self-expression has become irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong: art, in its broadest form, is more relevant than ever but it has nothing to do with self-fulfillment. It has to be larger than that. The social value of music is huge, and that’s what I’m willing to explore even more from now on. But of course, I’ve only been able to question my existence because I haven’t got sick or haven’t lost any close ones. Every morning at around 7am I can hear my next-door neighbour leaving for work (she’s a social worker) and while I go back to sleep, I realize that my self-isolating, even if it’s complicated, is a luxury.