“Not every artist is a chess player, but every chess player is an artist.”
“Play Chess alone and you will always win.”
Splitting her time between Cologne and Washington, DC, Devine was separated from her German partner for over six months of the Covid pandemic. In many ways, this historic moment has forced the world into a reconsideration of confinement, movement, travel, borders, and the tensions of our relationship with self and responsibility toward others.
Now reunited with her partner, from the city center of Cologne Devine’s piece is performed in their Souterrain Wohnung (below-ground apartment) during Germany’s second lockdown. Although the apartment was originally a nineteenth-century wine cellar, Devine cannot help but think of its possible use as a Luftschutzbunker (air raid shelter) during World War II when many of the city’s citizens would have used such spaces for safety. In contrast to single nights of intense terror during a war, Devine emphasizes its present purpose as a long-term place of shelter during a pandemic to amplify the space’s potential for the solitary activities of contemplation, reflection, meditation, imagination, and even joy.
Devine’s practice is informed by parallels between past and present. Her performances are installation-based and site-specific, designed from the histories of the locations where she performs. Here, the double barrel-vaulted space of the apartment recalls the long history of Cologne, dated to the Romans, and the white walls and furniture lend it an ascetic monasticism, even while recalling the lounging women-as-objects of art historical painting. Her attire blends her into the space but her “crown” references the city’s vibrant tradition of Karneval, the Queen persona in the Chess game and, of course, the new “luxury leisurewear” of current Covid fashion.
In this performance, Devine positions Chess as the central arrangement for meditation, creativity, and individual attention as a kind of endgame. She makes a homage to the many artists who have celebrated Chess as a superior mental activity, while denoting the game’s emphasis on strategy and social hierarchies by reading from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. In Chess, the move 0-0-0 is known as “castling,” a safe yet active position in the game, and the number has obvious reference to infinity; signaling a metaphoric need to envision the current moment from a broader perspective, one perhaps less combative and more reflective, less individual and more collective.
Erin Devine is an artist, writer, and Professor of Art History. Her performative and installation-based works have been shown at Venice International Performance Art Week, Pittsburgh International Performance Art Festival, Cité Internationales des Artes, as well as commissions for Art All Night-DC, Hillyer Arts Space, NYU-DC Art Gallery, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center. She has been a contributor to Washington City Paper, Art Papers, and Woman’s Art Journal. Devine received her Ph.D. in Art History from Indiana University, and specializes in Modern and Contemporary Art.