Correspondence: A Global Reflection on our Moment
In recent months, the world at large has felt the effects of the global COVID-19 Pandemic. In our lifetimes a crisis of this magnitude is unprecedented. The loss of life itself incomprehensible. Though the virus’ impact has varied from location to location, nothing can assuage the pain that has affected countless people around the world.
Our response to this urgency shown us the connectivity of our lives. Where once our minds pictured the globe as a setting for free movement, now each of us has had to contend with the stark realities of quarantines, border closures, isolation, and social distancing. Our international bonds are severed. Turning towards a regional community, our neighborhoods, or even deeper within ourselves, we isolate.
In light of this new normal, Each Modern presents “Correspondence” a collection of reports, dispatches, journal entries, works and works in progress, and reflections by artists from around the globe. Many share different aspects of the changes in their lives, or lack thereof. Others share strategies for coping, or express frank acceptances of their circumstances. Grief can also be read in their words, whether on personal, professional, or greater existential levels. Some look towards what the future will bring, cautiously.
From New York, Antone Könst shares with us memories of life before the outbreak, and a hope-filled, large-scale sculpture work in progress. In his studio in Tokyo, Hiraku Suzuki adjusts his “antennae” in hopes of receiving a message, or finding the genesis of some new language. His new series captures the fluctuations that formed our cosmic origins. For Chinese artist Xu Jiong, isolation has never been a foreign word. In his poetic reflections, Xu tracks the passing of days in his room, tracing light, feeling the seasons change in his home in Beijing. His abstract shanshui sculptures and collages capture his timeless perspective, with one foot in the contemporary, and one in the traditional.
In the relative safety of Taipei, Lan ChungHsuan ponders the sea-changes to come from all this chaos. With a series of paintings of mid-launch missiles, he asks if Taiwan has missed its mark. Wu MeiChi, another Taipei-based artist continues her practice through this period of uncertainty with her photography-based works, offering us new views into her personal and imaginative world. Ling Yong’s experience has been a turn towards interiority. The artist has found a reconnection with her mind and body. A new awareness of this quiet relationship is seen in her recent photographs and paintings.
Like many Taiwanese people, artist Huang HaiHsin returned to her native country to avoid the risks of staying in New York City, her usual base of operations. Choosing to address the global crisis in her uncanny style, her recent large pencil on paper mixes the absurd with the terrifying, the humorous with the dangerous. Berlin-based Taiwanese artist Wu ChuanLun’s recent artistic practice pulls from his urban environment. A familiar train station between his home and studio becomes the central focus of his new works.
Others look to great artists of the past to make sense of the present. In Sāo Paulo, Brazil, Lin YiHsuan professes the guidance one can find in the great Klee, or even in a metaphor. As seen in Lin’s new paintings, abstraction has always been a universal language, even in the face of great calamity.
In whole, what we get from these disparate voices from across four different continents is a pulse on our present moment. Through their art, their words, and their thoughts, we detect the seismic shifts happening across the planet and within our hearts.
I was in Paris when I first started making this piece. I planned to just simply draw the park nearby, the plants, the birds, and daily life of the Europeans, and to create a contrast with my previous work “Daan Forest Park.” Then, COVID appeared and I was one of the few wearing a mask. I walked on the street and people looked at me with strange stares. Taiwanese people who live abroad always talk about this situation, but when I was confronted by it, it was hard for me not to feel anger. Even as the News continued to report things getting worse, the situation in Taiwan is so different. I lived in a very beautiful place, but also an absurdly discriminating place. I decided to bring my thoughts on this into this ongoing work. The spring had come, the contradictions between people came too. After I started this piece, I escaped Paris to Taiwan, just half an hour before the city shut down, and I finished it here on this wonderful island.
Since February, New York has totally transformed from it’s vitalic apotheosis to a site of isolation and anger. I keep thinking back on parties and openings, BBQs in my back yard, how free it felt to talk about the future with friends over a beer and walk home late in what felt like the center of the world. We had pain, but it seems trivial. Now, New York is faced with the chronic pain our larger society feels, an underlying condition that is bigger, more constant and structural, than we were willing to confront until we were forced to. Covid-19, which I’m glad to have survived, brought the fear of death, sickness, and poverty that a large minority have always faced, to the majority. Then the video of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests brought the constant and violent oppression by our own government to the attention of the masses. What might have prompted a heated discussion in the past now demands action that feels long over due, and I think that many of us who are not black feel embarrassed not to have fought harder before.
This winter, before my show at Each Modern, I started a series of Vulture paintings that were in direct response to what I felt bubbling beneath the surface of our apparent utopia – large corporations buying up family real estate to develop, collectors buying work just to flip the next month, the American president allowing his friends to pillage our earth for quick profit… it all seemed unsustainably greedy, and the motif of the Vulture served as a clean allegory for that culture. I put them away after making them, not knowing how to finish, but I pulled them out recently to keep working on.
Mostly I have been working on a monumental pigeon sculpture – Love Dove – which I’m making for the Lighthouse Works Public Sculpture Commission. It’s a 20′ tall pigeon whose wings form the shape of a heart from behind, which is being covered in over 2000 copper disks wired into a tapestry on a concave steel armature I built this spring. The front, which references 70s minimal figurative sculpture, is concrete slabs and steel. The piece was inspired by a park bench, oddly enough, but has come to represent so much of what is happening right now, our desire for love and compassion to win out, the gritty reality of the process of loving, the nurturing and protective qualities of a hen, etc. I’m installing it the end of June/ beginning of July, on the edge of the ocean in New York.
I believe that destruction brings new life, but this time, we’ve still missed it here. Taiwan is relatively safe, however, I can’t help but think how will this pandemic change the lives of the people who live in the areas severely impacted? Meanwhile, will we have a chance to change as well? Now we’ve come to the middle of the year, and I think of the worldwide riots. From this, we are absent again. In fact, the chance is always there. It did not happen but it’s been there for a very long time, so sometimes we neglect it.
In these months, I’ve tried something new besides images and installations – I painted a group of missile launch trails. You can’t tell who launched them, and you can’t tell their destination. But the trajectory of these 23 missiles is the same. have also collected photos of V2 Rocket from World War 2, and implanted them into my childhood.
Lan ChungHsuan in his studio in Taipei
“The more horrifying this world becomes (as it is these days) the more art becomes abstract; while a world at peace produces realistic art.” said Paul Klee in 1915.
Art is like music, they are from a different world – they are beyond retreat or entertainment, they are powers strong enough to replace the intolerable reality.
Nothing is still in life. Everything must go through different stages, such as the reaction to the news, painting, or daily life. A friend told me how depressing the situation (pandemic) is and I know what she meant. I was going to share my thoughts with her but I gave up. There are already too many thoughts and criticisms on this world so comfort would not help. However, a life like this (quarantine) is easy for me. I make art calmly. It is hard to have days like these for many years.
I made some notes on how the older generations described their life. They have been through more horrifying world wars, restricted freedoms, and death. So, complaining is just for releasing emotions. But the pathetic thing is most of the people complaining have no experience in dealing with a survival crisis. I have my own way these days, and I know my friends do not really agree with me.
The strength, warmth, and authenticity of Klee’s work see through the essence of things easily, you can find your true self. When kids pick up sharpened pencils and move their hands to “wherever makes them happy”, that is the primitivity left in us. However, it won’t last for too long. That is the reason artists must find ways to refill the drying creativity but also avoid the clarity of sketches being erased or destroyed. When teaching in Bauhaus, Klee often used the basic aspects of daily life and the fundamental elements of art making as metaphors. In the other words, artists should try to understand what are the elements that make Giotto’s religious painting so different from Cézanne’s landscapes, but at the same time containing the infinity of beauty. Another metaphor of painting is food. If food makes people sick, we shall find the toxic ingredient, same goes for defected paintings.
Artists must not lose their instincts, meanwhile, artists need to have the ability to organize what they seHow is an image composed by brushes? What combines the colors? What is the destination?
Strength and durability live in the works. Forms and content become one, boxing with itself in its face.
Why paint this? Why that?
Landscape and still life are still attractive. They are simple, but always attractive. For most of the times they don’t’ move, they do not interrupt, they just stay there quietly. Once you emerge to it, it is different every day. Start with the fundamental landscape and still life, observe it. That is the only way to avoid rigid, and the process of making will not be interfered. There will be no façade, formalism, pretty, and fake poverty. Therefore, I do not “making special things in special times.” Not during the residencies, not during the pandemic. There is no need to change at all. People are anxious, depressed, or bored, but all of these and the reactions are natural. When artists rush to collect and utilize the states of people and society and see themselves as distinguished social-observing artists (approprialists), that is boring, in my opinion.
In these months, I’ve been learning to communicate with my body and rebuild our relationship. My body is the best teacher of life. It is me; it is not me. We enjoy operating the same organism, and we can feel how we are operated by the other.
Artwork is like a body. It is a diversification extended from self, but the meaning it creates is far beyond self. It can even realize how tiny the self is. I made some immature art before, but after some time, they become an invisible pressure that swallow up my present life. I throw them away with no hesitation. Both the artist and the work need a space that can flow and rest. The result can only be positive once the artist and the works are relaxed. Feel it, and be part of it, that’s life. This is a small step I try to understand nature and human.
Experiencing from the personal behavior to the group notion. The pandemic reminds us of our life at a loss. No matter how it happens in the future, we all hope we can be more awake and immersed in to everything’s flow. Will Posthumanism lead us to another world? Evolve or die, we are still lost in space in the 21st century.
This is one of the signals I was sensing during the pandemic situation in May 2020. I rarely went out, but I was moving my hands on a daily basis at my studio which is close to my house. It was like straining to hear the unknown sounds that were happening, or stretching my antenna into the darkness of the future, literally exploring the invisible world with my hands.
In human history, drawing has always been a way for humans to correspond with the world, to translate and understand it. This can be said to be a process that generates traffic between the world and the self, and transforms both.
In my closed studio, there is a blank canvas which is also closed, but I try to open the tubes like wormholes in space and time. As I extend the blood vessels and nerve circuits that run through my body. Even into the non-human world, or rather to a dark blue deep sea or outer space where there are no living things.
What kind of language can exist there?
It is said in astrophysics, that a small “fluctuation” gave birth to the universe. I want to capture the moment of the beginning of a new language which is wriggling around the fluctuations in space and time.
Hiraku Suzuki working on his new work in his studio in Tokyo
Landsberger Allee is a normal train station in Berlin. It is also the transfer point between my home and studio. Every time I arrive here, I feel like I am switching from “about to work” and “almost home.”
Usually, I pass by this patched and dirty station quickly. Sometimes I go with excitement and sometimes I come back anxiously. Sometimes I linger here for a while because of frustration. The station wipes out all the added stains and debris, and it becomes the marker of the busy days.
I photographed the vestiges of the station and use these as my material. Chronologically, each one retains a bit of the previous one. Seven pieces, one week. Train ticket for scale.
“Chromosomes” is a project from two self-developed series, XYX (2017 – 2020) and YXX (2019 – 2020). In these two series I attempted to experiment with space in photography. The two Xs in the title represent reality (object) and the virtual (reflection), while Y stands for the change caused by light (medium). I studied the cosmic dimensions of space and time, but the pandemic makes me rethink the relationship between species/ object and humanity. Then, I reformed the states of our current surrounding.
Another series is extended from the collage work “Baby’s Baby”. I saw a picture of the Eiffel Tower behind the clerk when I was at the counter of a convenient store. I was stunned, the scene made me sad. It was ironic, agitating, and sad. Arh… Paris! I can see it everywhere but it seems that there is no way back.
Life, for many people, can be divided into “before 2020” or “after 2020”. However, it has not changed that much for me after 2020. I stay at home, I read, I write, I drink tea, I grow flowers.
I envy a friend who lives in the west (you can see the mountains from the west of Beijing).
I say she can see the mountains every day. The high northern mountains are always fascinating to people. She says mountains are just like that. If we don’t excavate, they will always look like that. She says she envies me, for I was born in Jiangnan. It is a humid city full of accents from Wu and Nong in the air. It is just like a movie. I say Jiangnan is great, but I am not moving back.
My lover lives beside the sea. Sometimes I ask him if he goes to the beach before it gets too hot. The answer is always no.
The house I am living in now faces the East and the West. When the sun fills my room in the mornings and evenings, different lights and shadows appear in my room. They change and disappear in seconds. Sometimes I look up and they are gone.
Although there is mourning, and grief, the spring has come. Seasons are still distinct, and now the spring is leaving.