• Irene Zhang

Art of Isolation

by Irene Zhang

“We are in unprecedented times.”

“We need to be kinder to ourselves.”

“Take some time for self-care.”

“Use this time to do the things you never had time to.”

While I am sure we have all heard these statements or platitudes to a numbing degree within quarantine, we are in unprecedented times within the modern era. I surely never expected this year to go this way. Plans for the future and projects-in-progress went the wayside and were replaced with time spent tucked into bed, staring at a screen that recycled the same tired storylines, both in our reality and in entertainment. My brain became like a small rock trapped in a river – smooth, largely forgotten, and subject to being kicked around by bored strangers (except the bored stranger in this metaphor is also me).

Regardless, I think about the time we spent in the beginning days of isolation, when social media touted the quarantine time as a precious opportunity to look inward, create, and do things that we usually couldn’t due to the demands of in-person school or work. People pushed for self-improvement, through working out or reinvestment in hobbies. Productivity to escape the harsh reality. Remember when people were obsessed with making sourdough bread? Starter was no longer baking jargon but a pop culture reference and resident within millennial vernacular? Citizens of the world were cautiously optimistic, treating the time like an extension of January’s new year’s resolution implementation.

As quarantine drew longer, this optimism began to wane, being replaced with cynical memes and images of shaggy, slack-mouthed, sweat-panted humanoid blobs. Personally, I liked this ugly portrait of humanity a little more. As we continued to stay isolated and locked down, people flocked to escapism, distracting themselves and keeping busy with entertainment, music, art, and general creation.

Art has always been a tool for self-expression and catharsis, either by distraction or fulfillment. I think that’s why many people found themselves drawn to being creative during lockdown. It’s easy to get lost within the daily grind, the normal demands and routine of our existence, floating down the path we have been trekking down for who-even-knows-how-long. Lockdown cut us off from the normalcy, and either forced self-evaluation or even further repression. Possibly both. Definitely both.

Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? Does it matter? These questions that were once locked away became constant companions in the form of brain fog. I found that art that is representative and evocative of these feelings helped me detach from my “path” and grow within the new normal.

An artist whom I started following during quarantine is Felicia Chiao, an industrial designer whose distinctive style, use of scale, and highly emotive imagery garnered her a large Instagram following. Her art evokes the dissociative apathy that can come from reliving the same day over and over again, making time and reality seem to stretch and shrink. Her use of scale and clean lines hit to how small we can feel when we are alone with our thoughts, and how that peace can be uneasy before it is comforting.

by Felicia Chiao

Maria Medem is another artist whose work evoked atmosphere and quiet solitude. Isolation forced recognition of how big the world, and how small we are, and how little control we have as well, and her use of color and open space served as a soothing yet gentle reminder of that. Escapism and confrontation, all in a neat package.

by Maria Medem

Art evoking isolation can take many different forms, and while these artists draw on the melancholy and loneliness that comes with physical distance, I don’t think that it’s depressing. Quietude, distraction, escapism, introspection, and blankness are always a part of our lives, though perhaps not usually so compounded and synchronized. We are in unprecedented times. We don’t have to be okay. And we can do as we please, escape or confront, reflect or distract. I think there is value in it all, and maybe by paying attention to that negative space in our lives we can gain more peace in normal life as well.

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