Nissan Art Award
A Report from Wuhan K11 Art Village, January to March, 2022
I have participated in several artist-in-residence programmes abroad, but my recent residency at Wuhan K11 Art Village was my first in China. This opportunity gave me a sense of returning home, but at the same time it also brought me a sense of heading somewhere for the first time. I decided to participate in this artist residency programme supported by K11 Art Foundation at Wuhan K11 Art Village to understand this sense of ambivalence. Wuhan is a city located in the heart of the Yangtze River, in the Hubei province, and because of its proximity to the river, it has a long history dating back more than 3,500 years. Many renowned poets have been inspired by the city, and it is, in fact, the site of several notable battles recorded of the Three Kingdoms period. For many of us, perhaps, it is known above all as where the first outbreak of the pandemic took place in 2020.
Up to the last minute, I had to maintain flexibility and adjust my itinerary amid constantly changing circumstances, but this visit allowed me not only to interact with the locals and immerse myself in the history and culture of Wuhan, but also to spend time exploring my artistic practice. As the entry requirements to China were strict, I had to quarantine myself for three weeks after arriving in Shanghai before moving on to Wuhan. It was mandatory to take a temperature check twice a day and a PCR test every three to four days under hotel quarantine. Meals were delivered to my door in the “knock and run” style, and online food delivery services were only allowed for milk and fruits. On the other hand, fresh towels and other amenities were provided, at least upon my request.
It was a very rigidly controlled space—a visual projection of our fear of invisible beings. But to my surprise, as my stay was during the Chinese New Year, I could see fireworks set off outside every night. During this quarantine, I drew from old photographs every day, as if to write a diary, and spent my days thinking about how to deal with visual images in this enclosed space. I also made lanterns by wrapping the lunch bags around the lights and recorded their glow on video.
I finally arrived in Wuhan on 22 February 2022. It is a much bigger city than I imagined. The initial plan was to visit museums and temples, and give a talk during the stay, but local lockdowns began around where I was staying on the second day of my arrival. All citizens had to take a PCR test, and unfortunately, tourist attractions such as museums and temples were closed.
However, through friends and Wuhan K11 Art Village, I was fortunate enough to meet local artists, listen to their stories from around the time of 2020, and see their works during studio visits. All of the works expressed their lives powerfully and gave me courage as a fellow artist. I want to continue our exchange in the future as well.
The positive vibe I had gained through this beautiful encounter was overshadowed by news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine which broke out on 24 February, and I became a bit hesitant to use social networking services (SNS), which I had intended to update daily. We live in a world of information spurred by SNS, but the prevalence of such over-stimulation of people’s lives and circumstances led me to feel SNS was a means to imagine we have experienced what others are. So I spent many days just strolling around the city in agony.
It was during this time I came across a Chu Opera called “Dǎ Dòufu”, which is a traditional opera in Hubei Province and is on a par with Peking Opera. The story is about a couple who decides to celebrate the New Year by making tofu, but the husband who has gone to purchase soya beans spends the money on alcohol and gambling, and on his way home without the money and without soya beans, he tries to cheat his wife by putting sand in a bag. Such a trivial and mundane story like this made me feel happy once again to appreciate our lives and relieved to know even in hard times, comedy and humour can bring about joy and allow a moment of escapism. So, I covered the lights in my studio with a shopping bag to make another lantern; the idea was to use that light to make a video piece inspired by the Chu Opera “Dǎ Dòufu”.
Half of the time I spent in this residency was under hotel quarantine, but nonetheless it was a valuable opportunity to reflect on our current social situation. While participating in an overseas artist-in-residence programme is very rare under this pandemic, this experience made me realise that our movement, encounter and imagination are the sheer energy for our expression. It truly is a case of Chiko-Goitsu: awareness comes only through practice. I was convinced during my stay that many things could only be known and understood through action. Even now, after I have already left Wuhan, I feel the journey continues.