Curated by Chihiro Watanabe
In those few moments during the day when I am in the same space as others, I catch myself imagining those vicious pathogens travelling on our exhalation.
At the end of the day, as I lay down in a dark room, I picture patients’ chests move up and down while being hooked up to the respirators. After that, I desperately try and remember the sound of my boyfriend sleeping next to me. He was out of Japan when the lockdown began. It has been two months now.
When Ewelina invited me to guest curate for TQ, I was ecstatic and immediately thought of this as the theme.
And then came May 25th. Subsequently, the verb "to breathe" has taken on a whole new meaning to us. 8 minutes and 46 seconds of unforgivable weight to be precise. With his lost breaths and those of myriad others, the world is about to change.
I would like to thank people at QT and the four artists who participated in this edition. I see breaths, and lack of them in their practice and works realised in diverse forms.
Chihiro Watanabe is the Director of Contemporary Art Foundation (Tokyo, Japan), where she develops and oversees its collection, programs of exhibitions and awards for emerging artists.
Spring 2020, April, 2020, Oil on Canvas , 65.2 x 65.2 cm
February, 2020, Acrylic on Paper , 54 x 38.4 cm
Untitled, February, 2020, Acrylic on Paper, 45.5 x 38 cm
Taki 1, Leather offcuts, glass balls, wire, length: 76cm
Ryuboku, 2020, Leather offcuts, glass beads, driftwood, coral, wire, length: 65cm
Kusabana 1, 2020, Dried mimosa, stone from the sea, wire, length: 36cm
What I Saw From the Rooftop
When the virus put the city into lockdown, I spent my mornings on the roof of my apartment building. I liked the routine; I walked six flights of stairs to the twelfth floor, leaned against the rusty railing that ran the length of the building, and tried not to think about the world ending.
The roof wasn’t a very interesting place. Mostly it was just air conditioning vents and the pipes that spidered out of them. The only sign that people had ever been up there was a faded green stool and a small card table next to the door. Underneath the table was a rusty old golf club.
I’d never played golf. It didn’t interest me. I didn’t take much notice of it on the television, and I only knew the basics; you hit a ball until you put it in a hole somewhere further than where you started. But at the same time, I was a bored human on the roof of an apartment building in the middle of a city-wide viral lockdown.
So one day I picked up the golf club, and I started swinging it.
There was something that just felt good about swinging that club. I don’t really know how to explain it. Maybe it was the sensation of the club cutting through the air, or perhaps it was the sound it made. In any case, I spent a lot of quiet mornings that way; just me, my blank thoughts, and an old golf club.
One day, a girl came up to the roof with a big cardboard box. She put it on the table, sat on the stool, and lit a cigarette.
“What are you doing up here?” she said.
“Just uh… just practicing my swing.”
The girl considered this for a moment, then shrugged.
“Well, don’t let me stop you.”
I tried to get back to it but I’d lost my rhythm. It was the first time anyone had watched me. My posture felt stilted. My movements clunky and robotic. I felt stupid.
Eventually, I decided to head downstairs to my apartment. But by then, the girl was gone. All that remained was the cardboard box she’d left on the table, and a cigarette butt next to a faded green stool.
The girl came back to the roof the following day. She had a second cardboard box, which she placed on the floor near the table. She lit another cigarette and watched the clouds for a time before speaking.
“Just practicing your swing?”
“It’s really awful. Do you know that?”
“Is it? I guess it must be,” I said. “I don’t actually play golf, I just like the way the club feels to swing.”
“You’ve never been to a golf course?”
“A driving range?”
“Have you ever hit a golf ball?”
I shook my head.
The girl dropped her cigarette to the floor and crushed it under her shoe.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.
“This is a CD,” I said. “Shouldn’t we practice with golf balls?”
The girl had fashioned a kind of makeshift golf tee by folding a long strip of cardboard and cutting a slit along the center. She placed a CD from one of the boxes in it. Led Zeppelin II.
“With your swing?” she said. “Even if we were practicing with golf balls, you’d still miss.”
“Tennis balls, then?”
“You have any tennis balls handy?”
We both knew I didn’t. I looked at the club in my hand, the album on the floor, and then the girl.
“CDs though? Seriously?”
We listened to the echo of a CD case shattering on the pavement somewhere in the distance.
“I have to admit,” I said. “This feels pretty good.”
“Remember: back straight and arms loose.”
“Let the club carry the weight,” the girl said. “Your arms are just a guide, yeah?”
“And don’t forget to swing through your knees.”
I looked down at my feet.
“How do I… How do I swing through my knees? They don’t… they don’t swing.”
The girl reached into a cardboard box and passed me a CD case. Eric Clapton, Unplugged.
“You just have to keep practicing,” she said. “Now try again.”
“When was the last time you listened to a CD? Like, a physical CD, I mean?”
I launched a Crowded House best-of album into the sky. It had been a couple of days but I still didn’t know how to swing through my knees. I thought about the girl’s question.
“Uh… I guess it was… Elliot Smith. Figure 8. Yeah, that’s definitely it.”
“How do you remember that?”
I waited for the sound of plastic exploding on asphalt.
“I listened to it the day my ex stole my cat,” I said. “I never saw her or the cat again. That might have been the saddest day of my life.”
“When did that happen?”
I ran my hand along a dusty shelf of old memories.
“It must have been like eight or nine years ago.”
“And you don’t have any CDs anymore?”
“Even if I did, I don’t have a CD player.”
The girl took a crumpled pack of cigarettes from her pocket and looked at them.
“What do you think it means when someone keeps things like old CDs and VHS tapes?” she asked.
“Could mean a lot of things, I guess. Maybe the person is a collector?”
“And if they’re not?”
I wondered what would make me keep old CDs. Old VHS tapes. Old books and old photos. Old memories.
“Maybe they’re just the mark of a person who doesn’t want to let go of the past. Or at least, a person who doesn’t want to let go of certain parts of it.”
The girl nodded. She stuffed the pack of cigarettes in her pocket and dug through the cardboard box for a time. I stared out at a blue sky over a skyline of buildings. It was like a painting.
“Oh, wow,” the girl said. “You’ll never believe it. Check this out.”
She set a CD case into the cardboard golf tee.
Elliott Smith. Figure 8.
I felt the memories bleed out from old scars along my heart. So many of them tainted by a few weeks of madness that ended with a stolen cat.
“Should I?” I said.
“You know you want to.”
The club cut through the air. We listened to the crack of metal on plastic, followed by silence, and then the distant shattering of a CD case on the pavement.
Like a moment of bliss captured in sound.
“How did that feel?”
“To be honest?” I said. “It felt pretty good.”
“Good. I think that might have been your best swing yet.”
“So, what’s the story with the CDs, anyway?”
The girl shrugged.
“Just a bunch of old junk I didn’t want in my house anymore. No space for old memories, you know?”
“Sure,” I said.
We leaned against the railing of the apartment building. I looked down at the scattered remains of CDs and cases lying along the street. CD covers blowing in the wind.
“So I have this friend,” the girl said, “and her boyfriend, he was in Spain until recently.”
“Tough break. Holiday?”
“Anyway, while he was away, he cheated on my friend with some girl he met over there. He told my friend they were getting married. He was going to run away with this other girl. They were going to Paris. That was the plan, anyway.”
“And then the virus hit?”
The girl nodded.
“Yeah. So my friend’s boyfriend had to come home. And on his way back, from the airport, he started messaging her again. He said he was sorry. He made a mistake. He wanted to fix things.”
“So much for Paris.”
“Yeah. But you know what I think it was?”
“I think he just wanted his stuff back. I think he thought about how they lived in different apartments in the same building, and how he left his laptop and his television at her place, and he wanted to get all of it back.”
It did, admittedly, sound like a thing a guy would do. A thing a guy would think. A thing a younger version of myself might have considered in the midst of a citywide lockdown.
“So what happened to them, anyway? Your friend and this guy?”
The girl shrugged.
“I don’t know. He's still in self-quarantine.”
“And your friend?”
“Still using his TV, and still thinking about putting his laptop in the bath.”
“If your boyfriend or girlfriend did that to you, what would you do?”
I thought about the days after I lost my cat. Days and memories I wanted to put in CD cases and send flying from the rooftops. Alas.
“I don’t know,” I said. “When my ex left I just sat in my apartment for a long time and ate a whole shit ton of cookies. I wish I could tell you I’d do something different if it happened again, but I just don’t think I would.”
“Would you go out and buy Figure 8 again?”
“No. I’d probably just stream it.”
We stayed there against the railing for a little while and listened to the wind whistle through empty streets. Somewhere in the distance I heard the rumbling of a train, and I wondered if anybody was on it besides the driver.
“If it was me?” the girl said. “If it happened to me? I would take something really important to that guy, and then I would crush it. I would break it into pieces. I would want him to feel it; the pain of a breaking heart. Of losing something important. I don’t think I would ever be satisfied until I did that.”
“I hope you wouldn’t steal any cats, though,” I said.
The next morning, I found a young man on the roof of my apartment building. He was picking up pieces of broken CDs and shattered CD cases from the floor. They were everywhere, scattered across the rooftop among torn up CD covers and broken VHS tapes.
“Are all of these yours?” I said.
The young man nodded.
“A girl happened.”
“You couldn’t stop her?”
He shook his head.
“I was on 14 day self-quarantine. I only just got out this morning.”
“Ah. Where’d you go?”
“Tough break. Holiday?”
“Well, at least you made it back safe, right?”
The young man picked up a few scraps of paper that were once a CD cover and sighed.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You want some help?”
“No, it’s fine. Thanks, though.”
I walked over to the railing and leaned on it. The sky was a beautiful morning blue. It was a weird, perplexing world sometimes, but it sure was pretty.
“I really loved these CDs, you know? They might just be CDs to other people, but they really meant the world to me. It took me literally years to get all of them. Some of them I’ve had since I was little.”
“All of them like little pieces of your heart, huh?” I said.
“Shattered into pieces, just like that.”
“Yeah. Exactly. You know what it’s like, huh?”
I thought of the cat I loved a long time ago, and the girl I loved more, and how in the end I got what I deserved.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah I do.”
The young man kicked a CD case and swore under his breath.
“Look, I’m just going to go. You mind if I come back and clean up the rest of this later?”
“Sure,” I said. And then, “Hey, can I ask you a quick question before you go?”
The young man paused at the door.
“The girl who did this, does she live in this building?”
“Do you know if she plays golf?”
The young man tilted his head.
I pointed to the rusty club under the table.
“I just wondered if it belonged to her.”
“No,” he said. “She’s never been to a golf course in her life. Never even been to a driving range.”
“I see. Thanks.”
I wandered the sea of broken CD cases until I found one that was mostly whole. I set it on the cardboard tee and grabbed the golf club by the table. Then I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders, and settled into position.
“Back straight, arms loose, and swing through your knees,” I said. “Whatever that means.”
The club cut through the air. I listened to the crack of metal on plastic, followed by silence, and then the distant shattering of a CD case on the pavement.
Like a moment of bliss, captured in sound.
Music (Elliott Smith - Better Be Quiet Now)