I was recently asked by a friend to quickly envision my life in one year’s time, and to write it down. And by quick, I meant quick: this came together in fifteen minutes. Here’s what I wrote:
It is a large room, high ceilings, the kind of space that I would not have been able to afford before the pandemic. When you come in, the first thing you notice are the large windows all the way at the other end of the space, and you run up to it: the windows are ajar, and you lean your face into the cool breeze filtering in. Eyes closed, you hear the chatter of people on the sidewalk down below, a mother pleading with her child to catch up as they pass by, the beep-beep of a car in reverse as it parks curbside.
All this, for a few hundred a month?
Yep, I reply from behind you, I found it on StreetEasy.
You turn around to see me moving my canvases around. They are of different sizes, at different stages of completion, all propped up in a line against the wall. There are hooks on the wall, left by the previous tenant, but none of my canvases have been hung onto them.
How about this one, you say, pointing to a large line drawing of a hand. This one looks great.
I shake my head. None of them are ready yet, I protest. But this is not said in disappointment. More so excitement, an excitement of having a space of my own, for exploration.
The next day I found myself asking: of all things, why did I write about a studio? Another indoor space, after spending almost a year cooped inside during this pandemic?
Has the over-immersion in my apartment created the desire for another space I can spend time in? Or is the appeal of a studio to have a space where I can have people over and present to them my creative work, where I have to pass a public space that has returned to normalcy with chattering friends and unmasked mother-child pairs in order to get to it? Could the appeal be in a shared studio, where several people are riffing off one another’s creative energies?
Is the desired studio in my head different now, during the pandemic, compared to the desired studio pre-pandemic?
Pre-pandemic, we were all about the “third place” - that place that is not your workplace, nor your home, but somewhere else where you can go to spend time. For some, it could be a regular spot in a park. Often it is a coffee shop, one with many open seats, free wifi, ample charging outlets. I have two “third places” of my own (perhaps they should be called third and fourth places instead?): the cafe at the top floor of the Whitney Museum, or Gotan in my neighborhood.
The pandemic has robbed us of third places. You cannot sit in a third place now: you have to sit outside one, in that nebulous zone of public space, where you cannot be fully comfortable or spend oodles of hours in. Or you have to take whatever the third place is selling and go back to your first place (your home) - the third place has been reduced to a counter that sells coffee. So maybe I dreamt up a studio merely because I dream of a return of the third place?
How much of this is about presenting an image of myself as an artist? I have fond memories of annual Open Studios: in Gowanus, in Bushwick. I remember being jealous of the artists whose studios I visited. But part of this envy arose from seeing the artists afforded an engaged audience for their work: people wander in and out of their door, there with the intention of seeing what the artist is up to. In these moments, the person with the creative studio presents an image of a-person-who-has-a-creative-studio. The studio, in this framing, is less workspace and more gallery. But that is not how a studio is most of the time. Most of the time, one is not throwing a party in their studio. Open Studios only take place 1-2 weeks in a year. Most of the time, the reality of the studio is a quiet, working space.
Perhaps this is about sharing a studio, a confluence of creative energies. One plus one equals three. You don’t have to isolate in your own room! Or in a secluded corner where Zoom will not capture the background noises of your roommate or spouse heating their lunch up in the microwave. Work from home demands isolation. Social distancing demands isolation. After a year of that, the thought of having other people around regularly in an intimate setting, without any worries, is very appealing.
I look back at the previous newsletter I sent and I was just setting out on my translation journey. I’m happy to say it that I am still translating, and I have spent a lot of time on the essays of one particular author - Yang Jiang - an essayist and novelist from China. There are many things I like about her work, but mainly I like her plain-speaking style, which belies the depth of her observations. Like Ursula K. LeGuin.
I post my translations from time to time on my website here.