When we first talked about doing this issue together, care was thrown out as a theme early on. It stuck. It connected in multiple ways with our individual areas of research, practice, politics, and with our living. People had a lot to say. We were sending edits back and forth with writers when news of a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan saw anti-Chinese racism flood mainstream and social media, emboldening everyday racists on the street. We were finalising the last few image credits when global infection rates began climbing and lockdowns in cities across the world came into effect. As we write this, we see them in our future too. All the pieces in this issue were written prior to the pandemic. A time capsule of care pre-COVID-19. Below is a conversation we’ve been having, an attempt to place this issue in a moment.
Rosie: I’m sitting on my bed, working my way down the to-do list on my phone. That’s not really true. I’m actually bouncing between tasks; prioritising is a challenge. Cook veggie soup for those who might need it in coming weeks or work out how to teach sculpture online; read emails from university corporates about taking action, community, education (read: falling profits) or enjoy letting the dog nestle between my leg and my pillow; scroll Twitter feeling terrified for loved ones and strangers, then heartened by organisers and collective action or try to write the editorial for our magazine issue on care.
We could not have seen this coming. Every piece in this issue was written before COVID-19 was a word we all knew. This virus has brought into painful relief many of the things we hoped writers and artists would talk about in these pages. I’m thinking of Anja Kanngieser’s review of the exhibition VISABILITY. It makes me think about disability justice and the importance of centring the expertise and experience of chronically ill and disabled folks of colour in our art communities and political struggles, and in our collective response to crisis. Or I think of Chi Tran’s piece and what language can mean to us, what it’s practice might be to us. It slows me, I repeat their words to myself: ‘It does not collapse with time.’
Elena: It is a painful relief, isn’t it? To think about how artists, writers and precarious workers are always attuned to the little it takes to lose any sense of stability. But even as I write and think, the goalposts are shifting. What do space and bodies mean in terms of care and labour and solidarity, when we must distance ourselves from each other in order to improve chances of survival for those vulnerable to this virus? How, especially now, do workers and unions and artists (artworkers, as Dominique Tang, Babs Rapeport and Cameron Hurst name them in their proposed speculative design responding to the relationship between artists and unions) look after each other?
What can we learn from observing the artistic practices and communities that emerged in other countries in Asia during moments of crisis or upheaval? I think of Yang Yeung’s profile on artists during and after the Hong Kong protests, and Nuraini Juliastani writing on Indonesian art collectives in the post-Suharto years. How do we make art or even think about it anymore?
Rosie: Rereading Emily Johnson’s piece this morning, I am moved by her attention to bodies, the power of bodies, of touch — I email to tell her so. Her descriptions of dance, of family, of being held seem prophetic; how did she know? I’m slow to realise that I’m not reading carefully enough — the power she describes, the change and resistance she seeks, is a return. It is a very old lesson.
Amid everything (anxiety, restlessness, caring) I find moments of excitement. I imagine myself delivering copies of this magazine. Leaving them in letter boxes and on doormats. Who knows if this will be a possibility in a month’s time? But I’m excited by the idea of hands touching, holding, leafing, reading. I imagine readers reconsidering that touch in Fayen d’Evie’s piece ‘Holding Eva Hesse [Treatment]’. By ‘be-holding’ Hesse’s Sans II (1968), Fayen invites us to move with intention between aural, visual and tactile understandings. It mirrors something I’m experiencing more regularly now, a strange blur between the somatic and the cognitive, the virtual and the real. I follow this thread to the spider’s web in Tom Melick’s bathroom and to the video game Planet Zoo, as he wonders what we can learn from, or with, the game’s AI animals and what they are learning from, or about, us. I switch my Zoom virtual background to ‘tropical island’ but I’m still always lying in my bed.
Elena: We’re being forced to slow down. I’ve read sentiments to this effect in the past few days. We’ve been forced, too, some of us, to fully comprehend for the first time what it is to care for someone. We’ve seen or experienced close up the mutual aid and community care that is necessary for people who are vulnerable, who cannot leave their homes or bedrooms. People who must have meals cooked and brought to them, or who need medical care from professionals. There’s also a narrative that this is the reset button humanity has been crying out for. I am not opposed to that reading, but I’m always uncomfortable with finding a positive among all the suffering. Or perhaps I resent that many have and will die, and many have and will lose jobs and homes, and a positive attitude about a few people benefitting from a global slowdown won’t help any of them. But at the same time, I can’t help relish the time and headspace I’ve been able to dedicate to reading, whether it’s poetry (my main love ) or other genres on my ‘would like to someday read’ pile. I’m grateful that we’re still able to put these words out to the world and the community, and that we can share the writing from these talented and thoughtful writers and artists. I hope that, in the absence of human contact and the upheaval of our daily lives, after everything is gone, we can hold on to the slow part and the caring part.
There is too much to say. It is impossible to know what it’ll mean by the time this goes to print. The risk of appearing naïve, of missing the mark completely, is tangible. We do know that reading this issue is an invitation to learn, teach, think, feel in ways we need right now. The artists and writers gave us that generously even if, at the time, they didn’t know it.
For everything that this issue cannot be, we hope, at the very least, that it allows you, our readers and the art community, to open up some spaces and think about the myriad gentle, and radical, ways that care and art appear in our world.
Elena Gomez is a poet and book editor living in Melbourne. She is the author of Body of Work (Cordite Books), which was highly commended in the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, and a number of chapbooks.
Rosie Isaac is an artist and a writer. She makes performances, texts and sculptures, and is particularly interested in authority, morality, language and myth.