Part of our series Artists in Quarantine. We talk about the lives, interests and concerns of artists during the lockdown, based on ‘interviews’ with some of the artists we work with – some conducted by email (with a list of questions), some on the phone.
I live alone. The hardest thing is that the print studio where I work, East London Printmakers, is only a ten-minute walk away. This makes it even harder when you aren’t allowed to go there to print and meet people. I have started making smaller prints with bits of paper I have at home – I work with lino, and I find that carving is like a conversation for me. When the loneliness gets unbearable, I start carving. When I’m done, I look back, and I can suddenly see the funny side of everything.
Recently, my downstairs neighbour decided that my ball-bearing baren (a hand-held printing disc) is too noisy and asked me to stop printing after nine pm. She said to me coyly that her husband and her were wondering what kind of ‘exercise’ I was doing.
I miss touching people. When you realise that you haven’t touched anyone in weeks, you forget what it feels like; you think you remember, but do you really? I miss seeing my family and friends and being able to hug and touch them. My parents have a running joke about moisturisers. My father was secretly using my mom’s face cream for years until my mom bought him a bottle of his own, now he proudly jokes ‘I’m really 95, but with this moisturiser I look barely 65!’. When I visit, I always start by washing his face and putting the moisturiser on, I miss feeling his skin.
That’s partially why I made ‘Horror Scroll’ – the only thing that I touch so intimately every day now is my phone. We are forming an emotional bond, even though there is a lot that I don’t understand about it. (I don’t even know how to add text on Instagram Stories!) Today, the data on my phone stopped working, I feel like I lost my only connection to the outside world.
I’m fortunate to still have my job at the Centre for Fine Print Research at UWE, and I’m saving a lot of time and money now that I’m not commuting. Even though it’s not spoken, I feel under pressure to work even harder, and I worry that I would get made redundant if I was any less productive – because, of course, I don’t have any ‘family commitments’, such as a partner or children, I don’t feel like I can take any time off. With remote working, I feel invisible. You go to a webinar, everyone’s voice is muted with their video turned off, and even if you ask a question, nobody will see you. It makes you doubt your value as an artist and also a human being.
I find it particularly sad when people run away from me in horror because I am ‘the wrong ethnicity’ – your value is now based on the colour of your skin.
Speaking of running, one thing I did pick up is running. I’m an active person and enjoy swimming – but that’s not possible anymore. I joined Strava and enjoy running virtually with the women’s running group in E14: every week we encourage each other. I am also getting to know my neighbours, and have started to exchange food with a family three doors down for Ramadan. Although I failed at my first few attempts because it wasn’t Halal, they kindly said that I should perhaps stick to sweet things. I will try again.
I have been making a lot of new work. I can’t fully relate to those who say that they don’t feel creative during the quarantine. For me, making work is my only outlet, and the only way for me to survive this.
Photo of Wuon Gean working at home by Jo Moon Price.