Isolation in the Antipodes
Thankfully, the situation is getting much better in Australia and looking back while I wrote those entries in earnest a while ago, I'm thankful things have not escalated to my very grim predictions.
A Time of Connection
Amidst the cries of anxiety and cabin fever, there is another voice. It says, “Hey, I know it’s been a while. I’m just checking in, are you doing ok?”
This is a time of social distancing yet in the past few days, I’ve probably been more connected than I have in a long time. With acquaintances I’ve probably met only once at an artist talk. With an AirBnB host that I befriended a year ago. With friends I haven’t talked to in years. We are constantly checking in and reconnecting. It’s times like this when faced with a common problem, even huddled in isolation, we find that we are not in fact alone. And we find out how many people in our lives we do actually care about.
This is not a time of isolation but a time of unity. A time of caring.
In the buildings of Italy, neighbours are singing together. Across the balconies, they’re getting to know each other, perhaps for the first time. One of the problems with living in the city is that sometimes it is at the expense of community, of neighbourhood. How many of us know the people who we live next to? Maybe we’ll remember their faces as we pass each other by in the mornings and nights, but like ships in the night with a quick greeting then gone. Time is a luxury in the city and time is necessary to get to know someone and to build community. This epidemic is no blessing but it has made time somewhat affordable to the city dwellers.
And as we grow to know our neighbours, maybe there will be those who don’t feel as alone as they did before. Maybe as we connect with each other more and more, we will find that we are not surrounded by strangers but that we are surrounded by neighbours.
Being an Asian Australian artist I worry. I worry about the tension between China and America regarding where the origin of COVID-19 was from. I worry about Trump calling the coronavirus a “Chinese Virus” and China accusing America of manufacturing the virus as a bio weapon.
I worry about the figure pointing because it does not come without consequence. Already I see the rising racial assaults in America and I do not know if Australia will soon follow or has already started following America’s lead.
I worry it won’t be just individual cases either, but that the racial hate of innocent Asian Americans or Asian Australians, who have nothing to do with the origin of the virus, will turn two of the most multicultural countries in the world into something else. That intolerance would be fostered and that camps would be built. Does it seem far fetched? But it’s happened before. I also worry about war breaking out. Maybe it’ll happen when the epidemic is over, and so many lives have been lost, and fury has taken over and people just need someone to blame, they’ll blame each other with or without evidence. Then where will the Asian Americans and Asian Australians stand?
In times of conflict when we’re often made to choose sides, what about the children who were born in between, belonging neither wholly to one nor the other. How can these children fight against the country that raised them even if it were to turn against them. Not when they love their country so much and it is theirs, they grew up there, they made their home there. Yet, how can they fight against their family? The country of their uncles and aunties and nieces and nephews and grandparents and great grandparents and all their ancestors who they never knew but are connected by blood?
How can they choose? How can we choose?
We must choose humanity. We are all fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch, the flowers of one garden.
Art in the Age of Social Distancing
Funnily enough, for many artists their daily routines haven't changed very much. Maybe they need to pick up more groceries than usual and take less walks outside but the creative process hasn’t changed. Isolation hasn’t really impeded the creative process, it has only made us artists more aware of how isolated our lifestyles have actually been. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been affected by this age of social distancing. Positively and negatively.
With the growing fear of this super infectious disease, many galleries have temporarily closed, exhibitions have been cancelled, performances have been cancelled, art fairs have been cancelled, graduation shows have been cancelled. While it is understandable and many people lament about the loss of events they were looking forward to.
A cancelled opening night could mean the one social night artists look forward to as a culmination of months or years worth of effort in creating a body of work. It is not just a night of appreciation but a night of human connection. For new graduates, their graduation show is a platform to make important connections to galleries and other artists that may become pivotal in their career.
For art and performance organizers, who have paid their artists and installers and venues, it is a loss of income and ability to finance the event. For all the people whose salaries were reliant on the ticket sales that were sold and yet have to be refunded despite all the expenses and months of efforts already put in, it is a big blow to these people.
It’s easy to despair about all the things we’ve lost but that doesn’t mean we can’t open our eyes to the new opportunities in front of us. With the advent of lockdowns, more and more people are turning to social media for their connection to the world outside the four corners of their room.
For them, it’s a chance to explore new things, seeing art they’ve never seen before, trying new crafts they’ve never tried before. In a time of anxiety and isolation, art has an ability to not only bring hope and beauty into people’s lives but also new perspectives. While the physical platform may have been stripped away, art has never lost its power. In fact it may have more power than ever, as our audience finally has the quiet necessary to really contemplate and listen to the whispered questions in each artwork and performance. And when we listen to each other, we connect.