Jon is a London based artist with an engineering background. The lockdown interrupted some projects closely related to the building site where his studio is placed. However, he found a way to amazingly reinvent his work.
Jon can you tell me a little bit about the project you are working on?
So I’ve turned my attention to looking out the window and carrying on with the projects that I’ve been kind of doing for the past seven or eight years: the view from my window is East London.
It’s a scene, which used to be very industrial and now it’s changing to lots of residential buildings. There was a building across that caught my eye because the windows used to flap in the wind, and they used to move by themselves, and catch a glimpse of the sun. So I started taking photographs of the building. Lots of people used to graffiti. I kind of knew it would be knocked down at some point.
For the past seven years I’ve been photographing it fairly regularly. I produced a piece which was about the demolition of it, so it’s like the building had some kind of existence with the windows indicating its distress of its coming destruction. Then I created this video, which was kind of a mixture of some photographs taken over a long time period. And it kind of mixed in with the demolition photograph. Now they’re building on the site, so I’ve joined a kind of demise and resurrection story.
So you started this project seven years ago! Why did you decide to come back to the project at this moment?
I kind of considered it not finished. So this period when it is not possible going anywhere other than looking out the window seemed like a natural good time to restart it.
Can you tell me a little bit about the connection with the Phoenix?
The bird dies in a fire and then resurrects itself from the ashes. That it’s always been a metaphor for renewal and change.
I suppose the other thing that made me think of that association was also that we’re going into spring and we’re not generally allowed out. So normally I like going outside and walking and seeing the ducklings and the canals or the lakes and stuff and we are kind of missing that now because we’re stuck inside. So I suppose that’s kind of a naturalistic kind of symptom of circumstance type of thing to it.
It could be also seen as a parallelism to the current situation, where the world is stopped and slowly will have to restart again.
Yes, so you got that thing as well. I’ve always been interested in urban based art, and I was reading about an artist called Robert Smithson, who had a lot of interest in something called entropy. Strictly speaking is an engineering term for when you want to relate to the creation of the universe and thermodynamics of systems. You ended up with a lot of energy in one space, and then it was kind of spreading out as the Big Bang went off.
And the energy spreads and spreads, but over time, the energy equalizes so everything becomes the same. His thinking was that the art and society had a kind of entropy to it. It was becoming all a bit too much the same. I think he was using it it’s a criticism to his fellow artists that they’re all doing the same stuff.
Interesting. Can you elaborate on this?
So, where I live there used to be loads of industry. Also loads of people used to live around here; people were living and making stuff. It was kind of a derelict site, an industrial building where they used to do recycling and then that was taken over by some travelling group, I think. And then they kind of did their practice of going to collect people’s rubbish and then leaving it all fly tipped in the yard.
Now it’s becoming very residential and all the buildings are very much the same. They have no character. Whereas the building was nice to look at, although it was kind of old, it had a charming 1950s 60s kind of characteristic to it. It was all graffitied, some of it was very good and really intricate stuff. You could also see the walls inside the building and when the sun was in the right place you could see these light plays inside the building. It was quite an interesting thing to see.
Do you think that you will continue with this project for a long time?
There’ll be a point where the constructions are in such a phase that I can’t be seeing the difference, and probably for several years… So I might change the methodology a bit, but continue. It might evolve a bit as well.
Find more about Jon’s work at: https://www.jonfaragher.com/
Beñat es un artista vasco que vive en Londres. Con más de 44 piezas bajo el título de CAGED (enjaulado) realizadas durante la cuarentena, Beñat habla desanimado sobre esta época. Aunque para ojos ajenos parece estar produciendo muchísimo.
¿Me puedes comentar un poco sobre ello?
Para mí, hacer una pieza de esas al día es como no hacer nada. Para mí eso ha sido lo más doloroso. Aunque ha habido días que no he podido y he hecho 5 o 6.
Por practicidad me propuse hacer una pieza al día. Sino me iba a gastar todo el material que tenía en como mucho una semana. Mi mesa mide alrededor de un metro y tenía que trabajar ahí. Así que decidí que tenía que trabajar en tamaño pequeño, en papel y collage. Decidí darle al collage y aprovechar la situación nueva para hacer algo nuevo.
En una situación ya de por sí restrictiva, te has puesto todavía más limitaciones.
Pero yo siempre. Mi trabajo está lleno de limitaciones y reglas.
¿Me puedes decir alguna?
Por ejemplo, cuando pinto no me permito girar el lienzo ni borrar ninguna de las marcas que hago. Necesito limitaciones para que funcione, sino me vuelvo loco. Necesito limitarme un poco a mí mismo.
¿Alguna vez te quitas alguna de estas limitaciones?
Sí, de vez en cuando. Aunque hay algunas que llevan conmigo mucho tiempo y creo que seguirán. Por ejemplo, girar el lienzo no tiene sentido para mí. Yo siempre hablo de que yo lo que hago es el aquí y el ahora, y si lo giro y lo cambio me parece que estoy mintiendo. Para mí no es sólo el proceso, es mi presencia durante el proceso. Lo digo en inglés y no sé cómo decirlo en español: “It’s like a recording of the process of making; not just the process of making, but the recording of it”.
Pero el collage te da la posibilidad de antes de colocar, girar y ver las posibilidades que tiene. Y eso ha sido interesante. Cuando empiezo una obra normalmente no pienso demasiado: simplemente ataco y hago lo que tengo que hacer. Luego me siento, reflexiono y hago que funcione. Con el collage es diferente. Sí que cortaba las piezas sin pensar demasiado, pero colocarlas era un proceso más mental.
El tamaño de ellas es más pequeño y casi las puedes girar sin darte cuenta…
Sí, es cierto. En ese sentido ha sido liberador. El poder jugar, pensar y combinar… También veo un cambio en la composición de las obras. En mis trabajos normalmente todo sucede en la periferia, en los bordes del lienzo o del papel. Pero si te fijas en la gran mayoría de CAGED, todo está muy centrado, pequeñito y con mucho espacio alrededor. Yo supongo que eso será un espejo de cómo me siento, así, pequeño.
Sí, porque además yo me he encerrado en una habitación de una casa en la que ya estábamos encerrados. Es como un doble encierro.
¿Crees que adoptarás alguno de estos cambios para el futuro?
Evidentemente. En cualquier cosa que empiece a hacer a partir de ahora, los dos meses que llevamos encerrados van a afectar. Para empezar, estoy pintando con color.
Eso he visto.
Yo abandoné el color hace tiempo, pero de vez en cuando traigo algo de color. Esto es muy potente, y pienso que igual es el momento de probar cosas nuevas.
He visto bastante rosa, tonos carnes…
Sí, y eso es porque el rosa es el color que más me cuesta.
Y sí, es muy fleshy… Supongo que está hablando un poco de mí, de mi cuerpo. Pero me cuesta… Me da mucha vergüenza el color.
Si, no te puedes imaginar cuánto. Me he pasado años defendiendo la ausencia de color en mi trabajo y buscando razones, que son ciertas, por las cuáles no quiero utilizar color. Así que volver al color me da vergüenza.
¿Qué es lo que más has echado de menos durante este tiempo?
El estudio. El estudio es mi refugio, mi santuario… Cuando estoy aquí, si no estoy pintando, estoy haciendo otra cosa. Cuando estoy aquí el resto del mundo desaparece. En casa no, en casa es muy presente que el mundo está allí, que es real y hay que hacerle caso.
¿Tendrá esta época algún efecto en tu persona?
Creo que voy a ser más pausado. Normalmente, cuando empiezo algo lo tengo que terminar. Creo que esto me va a dar más capacidad reflexión mientras hago, me voy a dejar reposarlo más tiempo.
Su trabajo en: benatolaberria.com
Zheyi Zhou is a Chinese artist who just completed a Fine Arts MA at UAL. The lockdown struck her in the English capital just before moving back to China. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
I stayed in London until 23rd March and arrived in China on the 24th. Two months after the outbreak in China, Covid-19 was basically under control. People could already go out at their wish in most cities and most stores had already re-opened when I arrived.
At that time, the increases of cases were coming from people returning to China from other countries. The government requested people returning from other countries to isolate at a designated hotel for 14 days. I needed to measure my body temperature twice a day and meals were left outside the door 3 times. There were no other regulations except that I couldn’t leave the room.
In fact, not having to worry about what I had to eat every day solved a large part of my troubles! Considering the fourteen days of quarantine, half of my suitcase was filled with painting tools at the time, which was the same as going to a place for art residency. I basically didn’t need to consider other things beside of creating and sleeping in a month.
I’ve seen that you are working on a series of watercolor faces, a project that you have been working on for a while now. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Face to Face is a series of watercolor paintings that I have been creating for nearly two years. During a boring lecture I only found a sketchbook and a white crayon and I started to draw my classmates and tutor. As both the paper and the crayon were white, I couldn’t see what it was like. After returning home and filling with ink, I got specific images. It’s very interesting. It’s like drawing a feeling because it’s invisible; so you can only follow the intuition when drawing.
Studying in London was my first long-term contact with people from different countries. I found that people were quite different when expressing their emotions. Their facial expressions and body language were very rich.
Each facial expression of a person is conveying different emotions. There is a saying that the face is also a mask. The emotions under the mask are invisible to other people. That’s why I started to feel interested in the facial expressions.
Can you tell me a little bit more about this mask?
A literati in China wrote: “在羊面前显狼相，在狼面前显羊相.” - Act like the wolf in front of the sheep, act like the sheep in front of the wolf-
This means that everyone will have different face masks when facing different people. The same facial expression can express different emotions.
I’m a sensitive person and I can feel different people may have different attitudes towards me. For example, when people smile at me when I communicate with them. Some people really think it’s interesting, some are just polite and some are bored but still listening patiently… I find this very interesting: the same expression may originate from completely different states.
Public figures of all countries, especially famous stars in the entertainment industry, take a course called facial expression management. Professionals teach them how to show the best facial expressions in public. No matter the angle they are photographed from: they easily get perfect and comfortable expressions. Are their facial expressions showing their real emotions? - I don’t think so.
Since childhood, elders and teachers have taught us to be polite and modest. Sometimes these face masks protect us from showing timidity and fear in some important moments. Sometimes they avoid hurting other people’s feelings. It has two sides, positive and negative, it’s flexible and complex.
You previously compared this situation to a residency. Can you tell me a little bit more?
In 2017, I participated in an artist residential program at Ordos for a month. It was similar to this situation. Because of the unusually cold winter in that place I just went out two or three times during that month.
So I saw quarantine as another way of staying in inside the house to create art
fully. I was prepared before I left London. I even used GoPro to record the whole journey from London to China trying to make a video work about it. During this period, I didn’t need to think about other things, I just needed to create.
Do you think that the intensity of the time has affected your practice?
I had the necessity of creation. Previously creation was a way for me to express myself, but during that period changed to be a way to calm my anxiety.
Looking back at the works and the manuscripts painted in this period, I am more focused on soothing my nervousness and paying attention to the current affairs. I also recorded the data of Covid-19 in China and the UK during that period on the back of the paintings.
Her work at: @zheyizhou_art
Emily is an artist based in London and one of my Art Academy peers. She was working toward our Grad Show in July on a few pieces around the Academy
buildings. Although the lockdown means she had to leave these behind, she continues working actively from home, during these unsettling times.
Can you tell me what you are working on at the moment?
I started devising work that met the restrictions I’m living under, because I couldn’t really continue with the other work… I had to make work my kitchen table, and so it has to be possible to clear away all of our meal times.
I can’t remember what came first, but I decided to do an embroidery piece. I was thinking of doing a circle for every day that we were in lockdown… And then I felt like this was a bit limited, so I decided to record all the daily coronavirus cases of deaths through embroidery. It’s taking quite a lot of time because it’s quite a big project.
How are you finding this new situation of working at home?
Um, I think it probably has its peaks and troughs. But I think I’ve got into it more and more.
One of the things that I’ve really been thinking about is that people talk about creativity as self-expression. I used to think that that meant someone knew something about themselves and they wanted to express that. And for me, I feel like I make, and then I know I come to know myself.
And sometimes that’s caused me anxiety. I have one like completely unrealistic fear where I imagine that I’m locked in like solitary confinement and I don’t have access to make anything. And in that situation - I think, well - maybe I’d make marks on the wall or something. But I suppose that anxiety for me stems from the idea that I only really exist in so far as I can make. I suppose I’ve been thinking about that idea… And thinking that, well, in my case I make something, and therefore express myself and therefore come to know myself.
That part that you’ve come to know is always there, regardless of whether you access it through making. Making is just like a… like a conduit sort of thing. So this occasion I feel has given me cause to reflect on that because you are so much more restricted. This idea of being an artist who doesn’t have to make something… if you see what I mean.
I’ve been reading The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh. The pieces of work that I’m really interested in are one where he didn’t look at or think about or talk about or make art for one year. And then he had 13 years where he made art but he didn’t show it to anyone. And now he doesn’t make art at all. He’s an artist who doesn’t make art! I just really find it fascinating so I’ve been thinking a lot about that at the moment.
That is a very interesting idea.
I mean… most of us in our society we sort of put our wealth, our worth or our self worth on how productive we are. So we feel good about ourselves if we produce a lot and other people will approve of us if we’re productive and we feel bad about ourselves, if we aren’t productive and likewise other people will be critical if they think that we don’t do anything. But I’m really sceptical about this idea that our worth is dependent on what we produce. And I think it probably relates to a kind of Protestant work ethic, first of all, but it’s developed into more of a like a, like a capitalist kind of view that worth its product.
So I’m trying to think about that in relation to my work. So, not only think of myself as doing well when I’m very productive and not well of myself if I’m not productive. Just be aware of that and try not to base myself work from what I produce.
Can you tell me about the close-up photos you have started taking?
I’m trying to be aware of the ways that this situation affects the way I think about, what I make and how to make.
I suppose creativity as being something that you can do anywhere in any context. It’s a quite creative activity to say okay, I can only work with this one thing: how many different variations of things can I produce? And in this instance it’s just photograph in one room. How many good photographs of photographs that I like can I get out of this space?
It’s a good activity do I recommend it.
Her work at: emilyrussellthomas.com
Yesterday it’ been a month since I started taking a daily photo of the tree I can see from the living room window. The spring is coming and the nature is more alive than ever. The last flowers of March have been replaced by a thick green foliage. I have the feeling that, in between the green, a family of birds are working on a nest to welcome the ones who are coming.
The orchids in my kitchen have started to blossom again. They definitely have found their place at that window. The plants of the little terrace are shouting for water, as the sun is starting to hit with no rain.
We are in a lockdown and the human ecosystems are on pause. But aside of that, everything else seems to keep moving in its usual rhythm.
Carmen is an illustrator based in Barcelona who has recently completed a Masters degree in Education. After almost a month of strict lockdown at her family house in Majorca, with a severe Coronavirus case under her roof, her Instagram has flourished like ever. Posting new work twice or three times a day, she is using her time in quarantine well.
Today I could speak to her and see how is she dealing with the situation.
How is the lockdown affecting your creative practice?
Since the beginning I decided to view this time as a an artistic residency. Drawing is everything I do. I get up and draw, I eat, and - depending how inspired I am I maybe take some time off - but then I draw again. So following this routine, I end up with two or three drawings a day.
Although sometimes it is difficult to be creative… Because there’re no stimulus, so it can be difficult to find inspiration…So I often end up finding inspiration in memories…
The inspiration is sometimes a matter of training as well.
Yes.. and when I don’t find anything I just look for inspiration around my place. For example one day I didn’t know what to do and I thought, what do I like most in this house? - The lemon tree - I love lemons, water with lemon… so I used a lemon as the starting point. Any stimulus, as silly as it can appear, can be the excuse to start drawing.
Nice. It’s definitely working out well. Sometimes it is just a matter of making.
Yes. And there’s something else that affects my creative mood… I’m in love. So that means that I love life, I love my memories, I love love… so that helps me to find subjects to draw about. I’m so excited…
Fantastic! And are you using this time to experiment?
So without realising I think I’m actually trying new things. Every time I make a drawing the process is the same but things subtly change… I’m applying some different technical changes. But as well, when thinking about the relation between the written sentence and the drawing, I’m trying to go over and over this a bit more. I’m trying to be less literal… I guess as to trying to improve it.
And I guess then when pushing so much you can see a big difference.
Yes, sure. I also must say that I was really craving for this situation. For me the quarantine in that sense has been so beneficial because I had been looking forward to draw for a long time. During my Master studies I didn’t find time but was really looking forward start again. At the end of the program I incrementally started to draw again, some fast drawings… Actually the creative process I’m living now started before the quarantine. I started to self-isolate a little bit before it.
So you started to self-isolated earlier on?
Yes… I lived all this process drawing. Before the lockdown I was spending time doing other things, but when the quarantine started there was not anything else to do other than being at home. And, I’ll say in a way, drawing is like a medicine for me. Otherwise I would be thinking more about what is happening, less busy and more anxious..
Her work at: @sinoakid
Hi! Welcome to my new blog: ”Artists in Isolation: A residency”.
Most of us are facing a change of plans during these days. In my case, a self-directed residency in a little hob in the Majorcan countryside has been substituted by a self-isolation in a small flat in East London.
It’s quite interesting to see how my self-isolation has been translated into this unexpected global self-isolation. During this time I will write regularly on this blog. I will speak about my thoughts and my practice during these weird times, but I’ll also add interviews and conversations about how other artists are coping in this situation.
March 24th (extract)
Yesterday evening Boris Johnson announced that from that moment on, leaving ones home would be banned. Except for essential shopping, one hour of exercise and going to work if deemed essential.
Today is Tuesday. Last Wednesday I packed my materials and tools from my studio, not knowing when I would be back. I watered the plants of my art project and covered them with plastic to keep the moisture and protect them from drying-off. However I think that more time will have passed than I had anticipated until I will be allowed to come back. They will probably die, or not, who knows. Our Grad Show is going to be delayed until December. I have to start to get used to the idea that I’ll probably be spending the next few months in my flat.
To be honest, I’m quite happy of not being allowed, officially, to leave the house because previously whenever I did leave home I was feeling so bad about it. Expecting the lockdown to happen soon, I had the desire to maximize every second left in freedom. Like this is much better, and as the Spanish say says: “Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso”