Masks of quarantine: 14 days of art in confinement.

A year a go, I was in mandatory quarantine in the Meriton Suites on Sussex in Sydney for 14 days. Here’s the story behind the masks I made out of the food bags that were delivered twice a day. I’ll never forget it. Makes me anxious just thinking about it.

Day 0: Crying through the love

22 February : Every day in quarantine, paper bags of food come to my door. They knock-and-run. I didn’t expect to be making masks of quarantine but here they are Day 0: Crying through the love.

From the diary: “Leaving LA airport on Friday night I was inconsolable. Long, deep sobs as I said goodbye to Chris. I’ve vowed never to do this again. To be apart for so long. In quarantine at Meriton Suites on Sussex Street with side views to Darling Harbour and Sydney Tower.

I’d forgotten how steamy and tropical Sydney could be. I have a nice little studio set up and I think this should be productive. The efficiency of the processing was impressive. The border really is closed, huge long wall of locked glass. Each flight is processed together as a group, then all bussed to the hotel, lots of army and air force personnel.”

Day 1: Coffee with Leafy

February 23: One of the most unexpected and beautiful care drop-offs was from one of my friends from Wingham High School, Ravenna Leaf Gregory.

Day 2: Empty

February 24: Drank a bottle of white wine, on my own

From the diary: “Woke way too early this morning, around 5am. Had lots of welcome home messages and being in quarantine is helping me readjust.”

Day 3: Life’s pretty fat with…

February 25: I’ve been overwhelmed by care packages including classic Australian treats like Twisties. At this rate, they’re going to have to take the window out and winch me down to the street.

Day 4: Unbearable cruelty

February 26: I don’t mind quarantine actually. It’s the torture of being so close to good Sydney coffee, yet it’s totally out of reach that’s hard. After a year in the USA and its undrinkable pig’s swill, that first flat white will be worth waiting for. Ironically, this mask is made with coffee.

Day 5: Making the Maker

February 27: Lots of time for self-reflection.

Day 6: Steamy

February 28: I’m so fortunate to have a window that opens to the steamy Sydney summer. Sunshine building up storm clouds, flashes of lightning and street-drenching downpours.

Day 7: Groundhog Day

March 1: I walked four kilometres today, taking 11 steps from the front door to the window, turn, repeat.

From the diary: It’s unbelievably humid which is strangely delicious. I have a nice routine, start with exercise and tea. Make art during the morning. Lunch. Mandarin class. An hour long call with Chris at 1pm (6pm Los Angeles). More art and admin. Dinner. Reading and a movie. Bed. Repeat.

Day 8: Tumbled and turned

March 2: It’s easy for the days to bleed into one. I tried automatic art; dropping left-over cuttings from other collage onto a glued paper bag.

Day 9: I know why the fenced dog wags

March 3: Being in a room alone, day after day, changes your perception of things. If there’s any sound in the corridor, I rush to squint through the peephole. It may be the COVID testing trolley, someone moving in, the vacuum cleaner. Often the halls are empty and I wonder if I really did hear something.

Day 10: Thirst is the worst

March 4: I hate selfie-culture with it’s Thirst Trap Thursday and other garbage. A society can’t get its sense of self-worth from false images. This work is a mask of insecurity behind every profile filled with a perfect life.

Day 11: Home people 家人

March 5: During the last year in the USA, in what felt like perpetual lockdown, I really got into Chinese landscapes and started to work on my Mandarin on a daily basis. One of my favourite words is family which is made of of the characters for home and people. For me, it encapsulates what family is.

From the diary: Today is the first day that I am feeling cabin fever. I think it’s because I am so close to getting out that it makes me want release. Strangely, the time has gone very quickly and has been productive. I am quite teary at the prospect of getting out to see the faces of my friends and family.

Day 12: Ray and the Moon (After Nolan)

March 6: I’ve been spending a bit of time with Australian artist Sidney Nolan in quarantine looking at his Mrs Fraser stuff. This mask is inspired by Nolan’s work from 1939, Boy and the Moon.

Day 13: Ready to roll

March 7: 24 hours to go and counting.

Day 14: Part of me will always be here

March 8: Part of me will always be here. It’s release day and such a strange feeling. Time warps and shifts, the outside world in sight but out of reach. I’ve hidden an artwork in Room 1403 for some future traveller who stays in Meriton Suites on Sussex.

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