Love In the Time of Coronavirus

Francesco Vezzoli and Emanuele Coccia talk about love as part of Prada's Possible Conversation series.

This week, Prada brought together the artist Francesco Vezzoli and the philosopher Emanuele Coccia to discuss "Love in the Time of Coronavirus." Part of their Possible Conversation series, the brand is hosting two people in conversation every week on their Instagram account. This is an excerpt from their conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity.

Emanuele Coccia: How did your actual sentimental life change because of the quarantine? How does this quarantine affect the way we love, the way we perceive our other person, our sentiments?

Francesco Vezzoli: First the answer is first a personal answer. It has affected my life a lot because I'm single—and let's say I was even a bit of a libertine—and this situation has locked down, locked out, locked me, locked everything (laughs). I think on a more serious note, I think now the world is divided between people who do have family or have a stable relationship and can rely on this relationship for emotional support and people that have chosen to be alone and thought the world was fine. When the moment of closing everyone's door came, we remained locked inside all alone. I'm not complaining. There are people in way more complicated places, but certainly it's a weird reflection. It's a weird punishment we are getting for all the freedom we got before.

What is interesting is that this situation you are describing is close to what economists call the Matthew effect, so the richest get actually richer and the poor get poorer. The name of it is based on a passage of the Gospel of St. Matthew. We think that the population is divided between the people who have love and can deepen their relationship, and people who are in lack of love, and they cannot do other than continue their desperation. This is not [a] financial, economical, or cultural divide. It's another way of producing differences within society.

If there weren’t so many people dying and suffering, it would be such, such and interesting topic of conversation. It could occupy probably a universe... but [that's] a very oblique vision. Normally [the differences are] between rich and poor. Even if I had $50 billion in the bank, this would get me nowhere, I would be still here alone in my bedroom watching melancholy movies. Instead, normally where power and fame can somehow buy you whatever kind of fake type of company, now this highly dramatic situation has brought us to some sort of very forced form of truth.

Who is in a truthful relationship can, to some extent, enjoy the pleasure and the challenge of a situation like this. As we said, we that are alone are really, really alone. I think that [this] will be something that will force all of us to look for true love because we cannot be libertines anymore. We cannot flirt day and night with people that we don't know if we're going to meet or not. I think we will all feel the compulsion to look for some realistic form of sincere affection, and it's very weird. The world outside is dying, and you're looking for love because you're afraid of being alone. It's like one of those really, really, rough Fassbinder movies.

What is interesting is the fact that in a way, what you are saying is that home is not just this architecture or this cabal of walls. Home is all that we love. People are now thinking about the transformation linked to the effect of a lot of people leaving the city. In a way, I was wondering, listening to you, if in this search for real and substantial love, we change also our way to conceive cohabitation with others, the way we conceive home as not just a collection of things, but also as the person we want to live with for a long time.

I've lived all my life in hotels, and I don't always always choose the best hotels. Sometimes I choose some really good hotels, sometimes I choose some really tacky ones, and everybody asks me "Why did you choose this hotel?" I always answer, "I have an obsession. I'm alone in my bedroom. I don't see many people, but I like the idea that downstairs there's a whole crowd having fun. It makes me feel less lonely."

That says a lot about my feelings, or probably that says a lot about other people's feelings, too, that anyone who lives in New York, and lives in his cubicle or in one of those big cities, but is aware that there is a whole community around and places where to gather. However, with this kind of, in this specific moment, this mechanism has proven completely... The urban dynamic is a total failure during a pandemic. The countryside is the only option to survive this tragic moment.

We all hope that there will be a vaccine, that there will be medicines. But in any case, [right now] it's a suggestion for reflection. I have never craved a love nest in the countryside as much as I have in these days.

Now we're at the end of our conversation, we have some questions that people have asked. Is it possible to seek a new start during this time? Or is that something actually not possible?

Maybe this answer is unexpected, but I think it's the opposite. It's impossible to have sex. It's not impossible to start a relationship. For me, if you are a sensitive person and you get in touch with a sensitive person, you can start building the base of a feeling through conversations. I always remember my grandmother. I was maybe a bit of a naughty kid, and I would ask her what were you and grandfather doing before getting married? She had a way to answer in Italian, and she would say che parlavamo, which meant, "We were just talking to each other." I never understood what that meant, and obviously she never wanted to tell me what che parlavamo really meant. However, in this moment in history, we can talk a lot. It seems that those relationships of the past century where people have spent a lot of time doing che parlavamo before rushing to bed had more chances to survive longer, so who knows? It's really time to fall in love and talk.

Francesco Vezzoli