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Artists @Home: Sharon Chin

As we collectively stay at home during these turbulent times, how are artists coping, and what are they brewing up at home? Artists @ Home is a series of email interviews with artists where we find out what they’ve been up to, as all of us, voluntarily or not, embrace the home as work and studio space.

For this latest edition of Artists @ Home, we checked in with Malaysian artist Sharon Chin who writes to us from her home in Port Dickson and shares what she has been up to while sheltering in place during the country’s MCO (Movement Control Order) and its subsequent extensions.

Has there been a change in your work situation since the MCO? What’s different about working from home rather in the studio?

My studio is the living room, so things haven’t changed in that regard. Never done well with a separate studio. Even on art residencies, furnished with a studio across the river from my little apartment, I brought my stuff home and worked from the kitchen table.

It’s the small changes that puzzle and fascinate me. I wonder what they mean. For instance, I have a weekly diary, with a blank page each week for drawing. Since March 18, I stopped filling it.

Diary before MCO
Diary before MCO
Diary before MCO

We have used up a lot more rice, cooking oil, milk and coffee than usual.

A curator I’ve never met emailed to ask for my portfolio for research for a biennale every artist has heard of. I haven’t prepared it yet and wonder if I will simply forget to. I wonder at my ambivalence. A more accurate Malay word for it would be lalai.

I haven’t had income from art since the MCO but I hadn’t had income from art since Dec 2019, so that’s not at all new. I wonder at this as I’ve been very busy: making things, answering things, fielding requests, being online. Everyone seems to be talking about money and lost income, but not in a local, I mean, specific, way. People in the art world are talking about unprecedented changes, but I don’t know many who are acting differently than they were before.

Deep inside I feel the undercurrents of a great shift, working on me, implacably. I don’t have to do anything at all, just allow it to happen.

What art (or non-art related things) are you working on right now?

Seedlings outside our kitchen window

Gardening, yes. Lots of people are gardening. In the morning I go out and look at the plants. I’ve learned that my reaction to them is an acute and accurate barometer of how well I am. Often, signs of decay or no signs of new growth trigger anxiety and despair. It’s definitely not the plants’ fault, because they’re FINE, just doing what they do. It’s me that needs things to happen at a certain pace, in a certain way. Also I put off the gardening even though it’s the activity that gives me the deepest sense of being solidly part of a grounded reality. I think it’s because I’m afraid of having a reciprocal relationship with the land. I don’t know if the land will give me what I want, when I want it to. I don’t know how to give up control, for trust. I’m afraid the land will reject me. I’m like a little brat, or a someone I wouldn’t want to date.

Printmaking – back of Tetrapak printing plate
Printmaking – etchings with used Tetrapak boxes

Printmaking! I’m finally learning to use the etching press I bought awhile ago, by making drypoint intaglio prints on empty Tetrapak boxes, instead of the traditional copper or zinc plate. I learned from Anne Boyer’s newsletter that the Coronavirus can’t survive long on copper. Anyway, my press is a beautiful, simple machine. I want to get a lucky cat charm with a brass (a copper zinc alloy, btw) bell to hang from the wheel, so that each turn of the press will be marked with a chime calling out to the universe: money, my sweet honey, come to me.

What’s one thing (poem, artwork, song, movie etc) that’s been on your mind and why?

For some reason I wanted to see if anyone had made really tiny prints. They have! At least two photos on the printmaking subreddit show people cradling in their palm a little etching of a bee on a scrap of paper.

But Google search also showed me a series of small, colourful etchings, leading mostly to listings on Worthpoint and Etsy. Some photos include a coin to depict their size. It’s hard to choose a favourite. There’s one of an owl. Another is a pastoral scene showing trees, houses, a church, and mountains, called El Pueblito I. They are by Enrica Ruiz, an artist from Mexico, about whom I can’t find much other information. No Instagram, and a Twitter that seems to be another Enrica entirely.

I like the way they’re framed. In brass, with a gold sticker on the back reading: ‘Etchings by Enrica:  Each etching is hand made in Mexico. A copper plate is inscribed and delicately hand painted. They are limited edition.’

I’m trying to imagine Enrica Ruiz of Mexico. What press does she use? What about her studio? Did she work from home? There are a few, particularly detailed and excellent, etchings of potted plants. I want to talk about gardening with you, Enrica.

Trying to understand why looking at certain objects makes me feel this way – excited. I mean visually aroused. Pleasure, yes. Beauty, of course. But there’s something here to do with truth, too. Perhaps I enjoy Enrica Ruiz’s etchings because they challenge me to trust my own sense of sight, that is, my ability to identify the real thing, so easily swayed now by media hype or the perfect tastefulness of a museum display.

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