Perhaps the most immediate consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, starting in early 2020, was the issuing of stay-at-home orders by governments around the globe. Life became a series of events experienced through the windows of our homes and computer screens. The bombardment of serious social, cultural, and political headlines combined with the experience of adjusting to life in isolation produced a paradoxical temporal phenomenon wherein the pace of the world seemed to simultaneously accelerate and stand still. The exhibition Recording the Blur examines this temporal paradox through works by artists who are interested in the relationships between intimacy, identity, and introspection, action and reaction, place and production – concepts that have been challenged and redefined throughout the course of the past year. These artists turn their lenses to poetic moments that are loaded with complex cultural signifiers; signs that when considered in the context of pandemic time reflect shared global experiences and the post-pandemic vocabulary.
Yan Wang Preston’s series She and He (2018–19) is comprised of a series of portraits of Chinese students living away from home, who have moved to England to attend the University of Liverpool. Before photographing each student, the artist asked each sitter to consider questions specific to popular notions of gender-based identity. Each female-presenting sitter was asked “what is your daydream?” while each male-presenting sitter was asked “what makes you a man?” Preston’s interest was not simply to collect responses from the students, but to challenge her own preconceptions of gender by proposing questions that are difficult in relation to both the gendered nature of the ask itself, but also challenging when considering the complexities that exist between the cultural significance of gender identity, femininity, and masculinity in China and the U.K. When considered in the context of 2020-21, these works reflect recent cultural movements that have challenged gender and sexuality-based hierarchies and discrimination. The portraits serve as a frame through which to interrogate cultural differences while highlighting the complexity of identity by resisting the urge to represent singular or “typical” gender and cultural representation among the series.