An art project by Naho Kawabe
Jane Brucker x Setbyol Oh
Henrik Malmström x Miss Hawaii
Yohei Yama x Ziyun Wang
Camera Isolata Mix
Jane Brucker is an artist and professor at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. She lives in California and also has an apartment with her husband Jeremy in Bonn, Germany, because Jeremy works there eight months each year. This year they were separated when the pandemic hit. Jeremy’s flight from Germany back to the USA had been cancelled and the return flight was postponed.
For the past eight years Jane spent her summers in Bonn, but in 2020 she has not been able to travel to Germany to continue her life there. Jane and Jeremy renovated their apartment in Bonn and opened an art space called galerie PLUTO in 2019. In their salon-style space, they create an intersection for art and science by inviting artists, musicians, writers, and of course scientists to exchange ideas and complete projects and residencies. The program for 2020 could not take place as planned and Jane’s own exhibitions at a small Los Angeles museum and at the San Diego Airport also had to be postponed. Although her artworks could still be shown, it made little sense as the airport is seeing much less traffic. Currently, LA has half of all new SARS-Cov-2 cases in California, with the USA boasting the largest number of cases in the world (end of July). In addition, BLM protests and the surge in racial tensions are adding to the political unrest and the outcomes are not clear.
Jane stays home tending her vegetable garden except, once a month, when she goes shopping at one of the large supermarkets in the area. She feels like the world has become oddly small, reducing her normally long commute to the west side of Los Angeles to walking the short distance between her home and the backyard studio. Jane had been visiting Europe since 2000 almost every year, her continuous travels expanding her world and her circle of friends. We met in 2006 as artists-in-residence in at Schloss Plüschow in Mecklenburg- Vorpommern, Germany.
While the pandemic has put much on hold Jane sees a big potential in the online classes that began at the university in spring. After 26 years of teaching students face to face, she finds online teaching effectively excites and refreshes her. She uses the internet to try out new approaches, including inviting artists to talk with students in virtual studio visits taking place on Saturdays. As a result, her own conversations with her students have increased. When teaching online classes at her university, Jane includes experiences with yoga and the Alexander Technique. Of all the people I know, she is one of the most adept at using online communication tools. She also has reached out to old friends online and rekindled those friendships.
Setbyol Oh came to Germany from South Korea at the age of 16. As soon as she arrived, she enrolled at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, which was somewhat unusual at her age. We both studied under the same professor. I remember that she helped me a lot with my German at the time. After graduating, Setb yol moved to Berlin, where she is currently working as a lamp designer. Her modern luminaires, made from hand crafted, traditional Korean paper, are very popular in Germany. In 2019 she presented her work at seven exhibitions, whereas this year, already, two exhibitions have been cancelled and no other exhibitions are planned for this year. In this situation the generous measures that Berlin took to support artists have helped her a lot.
Setb yol usually visits Korea once a year. She has lived in Germany for over 20 years now and is not particularly worried about the closed border situation. South Korea, where her family lives, is considered to have one of the best corona control measures in the world. South Korea had been quick to respond to the Sars-Cov-19 and introduced a Corona-App very early to retrace where infected people had been and who they might have had close contact with. This meant that no city-wide lockdowns had to be implemented. All citizens were given vouchers to use in local shops and there was also some support for individual artists, although apparently laughably small compared to what artists received in Berlin. Setb yol says that she has heard that people in South Korea were really scared of getting ill and individuals were acting very cautiously. Everyone seems to be wearing masks when going out, in stark contrast to Berlin where a lot of people don’t wear masks at all and quite a few people insist that Corona is just like a cold. Attacks on Asian people became a problem in many places in Europe as well as in Germany at the very beginning. In one case that made the news, a young Korean couple had been harassed on the subway by a group of German drunks, who yelled, “Corona”, and, “Happy Corona” at them, and even started pushing them around. When the couple was able to get off the train the husband immediately called the police. Some newspapers wrote that the German police were slow to deal with the issue because they had failed to evaluate the situation correctly. The incident was top news in Korea every day getting Setb yol’s parents so worried that they even called her from Korea.
On a positive note Byol got acquainted with a friend of her boyfriend’s mother during the Berlin lockdown. She is interested in Korean food and next time they meet they’ll be cooking together.
Henrik Malmström is a Finnish photographer who has lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the past five years. Before moving to Buenos Aires, Henrik lived in Hamburg, Germany, for four years. This is when I met him, just before his move to Buenos Aires. As I was organizing an exhibition of works by a number of Hamburg photographers, because of the partner city relationship between Hamburg and Osaka, I asked him to contribute to the exhibition.
In the current Covid-19 pandemic, the number of people infected in Argentina is still rising, with strict and expansive quarantine restrictions keeping people from going about their usual lives. This has been going on for more than 3 months with seemingly no end in sight. People need to obtain special permits by their companies or government offices to be able to move about. Henrik was able to get his permit as an engineer through aa company he is associated with, which allows him to get to his studio as well.
Controls by the police are tight and there are fines for not wearing a mask in designated areas. No doubt, Argentinians are worried about getting sick, which seems to be outweighed only by their fear of yet a further deterioration of the economy, since even before the virus struck the country, Argentina’s economy was nearly bankrupt. To protect themselves against this downward economic spiral, citizens resort to buying US dollars.
Last year, in 2019, Henrik travelled with his partner to Southeast Asia for eight months for photographing and video shoots. En route he visited a hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, the place he was born. Back in Argentina he uses much of his quarantine time to edit the video, which he plans to transform into a long documentary. Another project of his is a compilation of the photos he took in the past to create a photo book.
Henrik says that his personal life and art have not been affected too much by the current circumstances. As he has been working with publishers in Europe as well as in South America for many years, these relationships will continue regardless of the pandemic, even with book fairs and exhibitions cancelled and long-distance trips for taking photos being impossible for the time being. On a personal level, having had to cancel his flight to Finland in May was certainly disappointing as he misses the Finnish summer and his friends in Finland. But he is determined not to let this discourage him.
Living in Buenos Aires was his own personal choice and he loves the city. Henrik has started a job digitalising photo-film which brings local photographers to his studio often coming to visit and chat.
Teppei Ozawa, aka Miss Hawaii, came to Hamburg from Tokyo in 2004. He is a solo male musician, but he is also a front man in the music group “Hallo Werner Clan“ and the band “Toten Zug” in Hamburg. After 10 years of living there, in 2014, he returned to Tokyo. Since then he visits Europe once or twice a year working in the music scene. Hamburg is his second home. Recently, Miss Hawaii has added acting to his repertoire and on 6 March 2020 performed in Munich on the stage „Tanzplattform Deutschland: Kabuki Noir“. I met him again after many years when he visited Hamburg on 13 March. The WHO had just declared a pandemic. The spread of Sars-Cov-19 in China was slowly subsiding while reports of an explosive increase in the number of cases in Italy started to hit the front pages. On 16 March, the number of deaths of Sars-Cov-19 in Wuhan was reported at 3062, Italy at 1266 and Germany at a mere 7. Spain followed Italy in declaring a state of emergency since more than 4000 people had been reported infected.
I suggested to him that we meet at a Chinese restaurant near the Central Station. I expected the Chinese restaurant to be well set up in its hygiene management, having had to face the repercussions of the Sars-Cov-19 problem early on. ‘Just in case’ I told him. At that time, Hamburg had had only just its second case of a reported infection and the spread of the virus seemed a distant rumbling in a distant country, or so we and most people in Hamburger thought. Indeed , the Chinese restaurant was already well set up for protecting their guests. Acrylic screens separating each table – rare even now – were very reassuring. We chatted until midnight and promised to meet again before he went back to Japan. Virtually from the following day, day by day, the situation in Europe changed rapidly. On 17 March, lockdown restrictions began in France; on the 18th, German Chancellor Merkel gave a speech to the nation, and from the 22nd, lockdown restrictions were enacted in Germany; all borders within the EU had also been closed. Miss Hawaii returned to Japan on the 18th in a hurry by cutting much shorter her stay in Hamburg and only just before the Japanese borders were closed.
In Japan, no mandatory lockdown was implemented and the government requested the nation to exercise ”self-restraint”. Restaurants and cultural institutions “voluntarily” closed their businesses and people “voluntarily” stayed home. People were confronted for going outside without masks and restaurants that were open experienced harassment at times. While Japan avoided the explosive spread of the virus (mid-July) this way, some Twitter posts suggested that this were like the atmosphere in Japan during WWII. “Hallo Werner Clan“ released a new track on 3 June, which had been recorded during Miss Hawaii’s stay in Hamburg in March and for which he had originally planned return to Hamburg in May. In conversation with him I expressed my concern that plane ticket prices might rise even beyond the end of the Sars-Cov-19 pandemic. His answer was that It was useless to worry about it. Tickets would not become cheaper. I think he might be right.
Hallo Werner Clan
I met Yohei Yama (Yama-san) in Basel in 2018 each of us exhibiting some of our work at the VOLTA art fair; he through a gallery in Vietnam and I through a gallery in Japan. During the first few days of the fair, for some reason, I was totally convinced that Yama-san was a Vietnamese artist, so I was surprised when he suddenly spoke to me in Japanese. From then on, we visited exhibitions in Basel and got to know each other well. This generated in me a wish to visit Vietnam, so that finally at the beginning of 2020 I asked Yama-san to give me some information about Vietnam.
He now works as a painter, but at first he pursued photography. As a completely self taught photographer, he one day wanted to know how his photography compared to other photographers in the world. Eventually, in 2009, he decided to take his work to the Arles International Photography Festival, which is the Mecca of international photography festivals, where he showed his photos in the streets outside the exhibition hall. While he was sketching in the street, because he had a lot of time on his hands, a local offered him an exhibition in his café. That was Yama-san’s first show as a painter. He then went to live in Arles and moved to Vietnam in 2017 with his French partner and their child. He lives on selling his work at art fairs organised by a Vietnamese gallery run by a Chinese Malaysian. Now, as almost all of the art fairs have been cancelled, 2020 has become a bit of a tough year. The owner of the gallery has still not been able to return to Ho Chi Minh City from Malaysia.
Vietnam was one of the first to start the border blockade and lockdown in late January, as it shares a border with China and because of its experience with SARS in 2002. Due to quick action right from the start, there were zero Covid-19 deaths until 31July 2020. Due to the fact that everyone usually wears masks for protection against air pollution, there may have been fewer people infected. There is strong administrative enforcement of the rules by the socialist state. If one person in a village is infected, the entire village is put under quarantine. In urban housing complexes, the entire floor of the infected household and the two upper and lower floors are locked down and the entrance of the apartment building is guarded by the police. Anyone entering the country from abroad will be quarantined in a military facility for 14 days, apparently a place with rooms for eight people sharing one toilet and low hygiene standards. Consequently, with very few people in Vietnam travelling abroad, the cities are on business as usual. In Vietnam there too is no support by the government, as far as Yama-san knows, however, people are helping each other through private initiatives. There are “Rice ATMs” that anyone can use if they are in need of food. They issue rice rather than money, using a face recognition system. Unfortunately rice ATMs are not everywhere in town, so that bananas are the the way to go instead.
In 2011 Wang Ziyun spent six months in Hamburg, the first city she had ever visited abroad. As a student at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou she had taken part in an exchange programme with the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. During her time in Hamburg she lived and worked with six international students close to Hamburg harbour. After graduating from China Academy of Arts, she began teaching drawing at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in Autumn 2019. With rents being high in Guangzhou, finding an affordable studio was not easy. Finally Ziyun found a flat with a studio on the outskirts of central Guangzhou. There are many designers and online shop owners who live in her high-rise apartment block. Ever since January, when the Sars-Cov-19 epidemic began in Wuhan, all of her university classes have had to be taught online from her home on the 22nd floor.
Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts runs an exhibition space called the Boxes Museum and with it a residency programme to which artists from abroad are invited. I participated in this residency programme in 2019 and was greatly supported by Ziyun, who had surprised me when she told me that she had lived in Hamburg, which also made me very happy.
The residency led to a solo show at an art space in Shenzhen, a city next to Guangzhou, planned for March 2020. We were all looking forward to seeing each other again, but, of course, my show in Shenzhen and many exhibitions at the Boxes Museum had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Ziyun had planned to visit an art festival in Poland in October 2020 as part of a university delegation. As things stand, it feels like world travel may never be uncomplicated again.
The city of Guangzhou is not in lockdown like Wuhan was. Even when the infection cases were at their highest, travel within China wasn’t forbidden as long as a 14-day quarantine was kept when crossing district-borders – except for Wuhan and Beijing.
The area around Guangzhou is known as a food-culture capital. With not so many Corona cases there, people were quick to return to their restaurants. Wearing a mask is not compulsory and there are no fines, but whenever you enter any building, you will be checked with a non-contact thermometer. Taking the temperature and reporting your health status with a health app is compulsory. Do you have a fever? Do you have a cough? are the questions you must answer every day. When traveling across the country, the health records are submitted to the government. People who don’t have smartphones can do it on paper, but the process is cumbersome.
As is true for many countries around the world, there is little or no support for individual artists from the Chinese government either, complicating the lives of most artists, according to Ziyun. I could not agree more, thinking that all of them have to find their own unique methods of survival. Many countries have given emergency aid to individual artists, yet I cannot help but think that those artists who do not fit the often rigid definitions of artistry would also fall through this safety net.