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23 January-21 February 2020 Tan Tan

Diary During the Wuhan Lockdown is a work written by artist Tan Tan from January 23 to February 21, 2020. She posts her diary on WeChat 'Moment' (a mobile-based social networking platform) with an image of her window every midnight. The image captures the Central South Hospital of Wuhan University, one of the most prestigious hospitals treating the Coronavirus epidemic.

Fig.1 View to the Central South Hospital of Wuhan University . Image courtesy the artist.

The diary is a work-in-progress, which you can download here:

Diary during the Wuhan lockdown-Tan Tan
Download • 9.36MB

In an offline exhibition, it is recommended to print each page of the diary on A4 paper, and tape them altogether on a wall. There is also a video work showing the everyday’s window view, in which one day is represented by one second.

This work contributed to this indelible time, and to mourn the dead.

- Tan Tan


After the submission, Tan Tan has sent us this article she wrote:

Misplaced Self in the Misplaced City

By Tan Tan

April 2, 2020.

I am in Wuhan, central China, where I was born and raised. This was not a famous city for most of people around the world, as it is one of the second-tier Chinese cities (recently upgraded to ‘the new first-tire’), not like Beijing, Shanghai, which are of the traditional first-tier mage cities. But from the mid-January, Wuhan was globally exposed, accidentally, due to a newly discovered virus that invaded this city, and threatened millions of human lives with mind blowing speed. Right now, this virus, already known as Coronavirus (COVID-19), has become a crazy international pandemic. When I first heard the shocking news of the lockdown of Wuhan, I did not imagine that the whole world can be trapped today. Everyone is living a precarious life despite nationalities, identities, positions, and classes.

Until today, it is still not scientifically proven if Wuhan was the place of origin for the virus, yet due to the broadcasting of the international mass media, many people prefer to believe that. Thus, a ‘misplaced’ accusation has been brought to this city, turned it into a ‘place of the virus.’ As we know, every stereotype, prejudice, racial discrimination among human beings could last for centuries, so I don’t know for how long Wuhan needs to carry this ‘reputation’.

Since the beginning of the lockdown on January 23, every day before midnight, I posted a short diary on the ‘WeChat friends circle’ (a popular mobile-based social networking platform in China) with a photo. The composition is a framed view of each day from the same window at my home. In the picture, the building complex across the lake is Central South Hospital of Wuhan University, which is one of the most prestigious hospitals treating the Coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan. I decided to wrap this daily log on March 28, because from that day on, the people from outside have been permitted to enter Wuhan conditionally. After 66-day-long total lockdown, Wuhan finally has started to open its border gradually, and the lockdown will be totally withdrawn on April 8, according to official announcement. At this moment, I would like to share my personal experience during the hard times, by extracting six principal emotions out of my diary, as a potential reference to some of you who are still struggling with the quarantine.

Panic. I guess everyone in the world had more or less the same panic when we realised that COVID-19 is much more contagious than SARS, MERS, or any other known infectious disease in human history, and worldwide experts have no idea of the cure for this disease. In other words, it seems that this disease could lead us to the end of the world. But in the first half month of the lockdown in Wuhan, the panic was even tougher, because before the disease spread rapidly to other cities, we were rather alone to face this unknown catastrophe. Approximately, shortly after January 21, my cellphone became a container of the hell, as every hour, some scary news or rumour popped up on its screen, including the hospitals begging for support, the doctors and nurses crying, and the increasing number of patients that had no way to be saved. From January 24 to 31, I spent the worst Chinese New Year I could remember, with panic rising day by day.

Anxiety. Since the medical supplies such as masks and protective clothing were in a massive lack during the first month, anxiety was a prevailing and dominating mood shared by all the people in Wuhan. As an artist, I felt so useless when confronting this kind of crisis, which was an even worse feeling than panic. Fortunately, an exit from such negative state opened its door for me. From January 26 on, I joined a volunteer’s team Lumo Road Rescue Group to do some online work for donating the supplies to the hospitals. Lumo Road is the landmark of live-houses and hippy culture in Wuhan and this collective was mainly composed of rock fans, artists, musicians, university students, and other night life grassroots. I am one of them in a way. Surprisingly, these party-goers did a very serious and effective teamwork, connecting the donors and the ones in need, and have arranged for thousands of products per day to be sent to the hospitals, one-week-long. Perhaps our biggest advantage is that we are all the type of people that want to skip the bureaucratic (sometimes ridiculous) administration, and directly put the things in hands of those in need. Nevertheless, after one week, I found that my anxiety was not decreasing, but quite in contrary, it was growing. It is because I realised that even if I gave up sleep, I could not fill up the gap between the supply and the demand, as always more and more patients and hospitals cried out for help. Like many other voluntary communities, Lumo Road Rescue Group decided to cease our work after this busy week, because we could not solve this endless anxiety, and several members of the group got infected while delivering the supplies.

Anger. Anger comes and goes in my diary. I think there are different reasons for being furious in every distinct nation under such epidemic situation. In China, especially in Wuhan, in the beginning, I was so angry about our political system that was always trying to cover the bad news, which caused about ten days delay in dealing with this virus. Li Wenliang, as one of the ‘whistleblowers’ to warn people of the suspicious virus, became internationally acclaimed as a Chinese hero oppressed by the ‘Big Brother,’ and killed by Coronavirus. After being a volunteer, I became even angrier day by day over many inefficient and inhuman measures from certain authorities, like the Chinese Committee of the Red Cross, which controlled the biggest storage of the supplies but was not competent for distributing them timely. This feeling was also provoked by various discrimination present among the people. Some of international media (outside China) insists on the stigma of ‘Wuhan Pneumonia’ although it has got the scientific name (COVID-19) already in January; there are some Westerners who like to shout at Chinese people (or even Asian looking people) on the street as ‘Coronavirus’; inside China, people from Wuhan and Hubei (the province of Wuhan) are discriminated by those from other areas; even in my own building, my neighbours didn’t allow a tenement to live here anymore when he came back in Wuhan from another city, for he might be a threat to bring the virus to this ‘zero infected building’…

Sadness. Sadness never leaves. Besides Wuhan people, this mood is among people all over the world. Because we all know that in addition to the official data of death, there are much more ‘grey areas’ in the statistics. In Wuhan, except say that there are 2.567 casualties* on the list so far, but we don’t know how many people have left the world before the two new hospitals and the mobile cabin hospitals were built. What’s more, how many people were killed by other diseases in the situation of no access to ordinary treatment in the hospitals? How many people became homeless because of the sudden lockdown? How many people lost their jobs or are facing bankruptcy? Last but not least, how many pets have been abandoned and killed by vicious rumours and cold hearts?

Depression. All the emotions listed above often drove me into a deep depression during those days. I guess many of you who are reading this text might feel the same. Because we are all vulnerable, useless, uninformed/over-informed, and under a quarantine with an unpredictable end. We are all isolated and ‘misplaced’ in an incredible situation. Personally, I have coincidentally stayed with my parents for more than two months under the same roof, without seeing anyone else. This is rather a big challenge than a happy family reunion to me, as the generational gaps in China are specially huge. My parents and I have opposite life styles, and opposite opinions on values, and politics most of the time. On the other hand, as an artist engaged in performance art and other edge-cutting art forms, I don’t want to shock my parents with my ‘crazy’ behaviours at their home. Thus, I was not able to do many of my artistic actions normally and had to disguise myself as their ‘good girl.’ In this sense, I have lost my integrity, my real world and space, and have been living with a ‘misplaced self.’

Redemption. Hopefully, in parallel with all these negative emotions, there is also a force that supports each of us, that is, the rescue and self-rescue. Other than joining the volunteers to serve the hospitals, many people chose to implement immaterial redemption. Artistically, there are countless online exhibitions and live music performances; spiritually, there are various psychological assistance and religious group blessings. I myself have participated in two exhibitions and three publications linked with the epidemic situation. Moreover, I submitted an art project to an institution on the theme of animal protection, because this human crisis makes me feel more the call of rebalancing the energies of the earth, and even the entire universe. In ancient times, humans used to respect all plants and animals, and followed the steps of God and nature. Today, because of ‘capitalism,’ ‘overconsumption,’ and the ‘society of spectacle,’ we become more and more reckless to the natural principles. As an evident result, the world becomes as it was in Revelation of the Bible overnight. At this moment, not only Wuhan and China, this wild animal-derived virus has conquered the anthropocentrism terrain; meanwhile, locust plagues, mountain fires, hurricanes, and floods are also emerging one after another in every corner of the world. Therefore, I think it is time for us to go back to the sources of our world, then reshape the reciprocity between humans and animals and what humans are doing to the earth. This is more fundamental salvation than any vaccine. May it be written on the plan of the redemption from the Universe.

Eventually, after so many traumas, with the strong spirit and contribution by ordinary Chinese people, and the zigzag endeavours from the position of power (governament), Wuhan has survived this war. There are many more issues that should be addressed in order to tell the whole story of this ‘misplaced’ city, but I could only write down a diary from a personal view. On the April 8, we will be hopefully finally ‘freed’ from the lockdown as announced, but the obstacles for true mobility must still stay, so when will my days of ‘misplaced self’ come to an end? When I look at the world and the universe, I feel as I am still a prisoner, as I don’t know where else I can go and how to board on Noah’s Ark…

At the end, I would like to make a quote from my diary, ‘This troubled world would no longer allow us to wait, we shall start the process of healing.’


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