By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Up until recently, the notion of spending an evening in an art gallery alone, forcibly sequestered from anyone else while you regard the exhibits, would have seemed at least mildly far out.
But that’s what Kenneth Huntington, purveyor of Pioneer Square’s Phantom Realms gallery, proposes, as a crucial bit of what he’s dubbed the “King Virus” exhibit.
The COVID-19 epidemic played havoc with Huntington’s original schedule. He wanted to open on March 5—as much as it has with anything else in Washington state. The rescheduling gave him time to think on the state of affairs in China, where several of the exhibit’s artists reside.
“I was following the news and social media about the virus since the day Wuhan was completely quarantined,” he explained. “I wasn’t surprised to see how quickly Seattle started issuing guidelines to contain the spread.
“I was also alarmed to learn how strong censorship is in China. It’s clear that Chinese voices are not being fully heard. Instead of backing down, I decided to use this unfortunate circumstance as a strength… We live in a hyper-connected world with needless barriers to our communication and I’ve seen firsthand how many people in the Asian community in Seattle have been hurt socially here in Washington. I want to welcome artists in the Chinese community to participate and be welcome, along with other people from around the world. The name ‘King Virus’ is a play on words because ‘corona’ means ‘crown’ in Latin.”
The curator reached out to some Chinese artists he’d known before the outbreak. Xiaoyuan Shan, a Wuhan resident, used her six-week quarantine as an opportunity to create illustrations. In addition to her art career, she owns a small Western restaurant in Shuhan, which allows her some perspective on Western ways and means.
Theophile Signard, a Frenchman living in China for 12 years now, focuses his imagination and his powerful images on the personal protective equipment we see healthcare workers wear when dealing with the virus. He’s featured prominently in the promotional materials for the show.
Mark Montgomery, a longtime resident of Shanghai, found himself stuck in Vietnam due to travel restrictions. He’s currently working with only one sketchbook and his smartphone. All three artists discussed their situation with Huntington over the computer, and all three contributed written statements to go along with their work.
Huntington allows that he isn’t sure how the installation will open, given current restrictions. But, he added, “We’re looking at the possibility of doing 360-degree photography, live streaming, and investigating what digital environments are available. It all depends on the technologies we choose.”
As for the sequestering, he continued, that’s another possibility on the line.
“If city guidelines continue to allow, we will keep selling tickets on our website where we’ll ‘quarantine’ you in the gallery for an hour if you want to be one of the few to visit in person while event restrictions are in place.” The cost of such social distancing: $50 or so.
Asked how he’s coping personally with the current situation, Huntington mentions a lot of hand-washing and “finally seeing the value of taking my shoes off at the door.”
But he’s happy to do whatever he can, to encourage global communication through art. And he’s satisfied to have connected with such promising artists—the three mentioned earlier, plus a number of local talents, to be named later—in the course of his mission.
“I have been excited at how meaningful it’s felt working with the international community. When the world normalizes, I will continue to reach out and think globally as an art curator. International artists have been an absolute joy and inspiration to work with!”
The “King Virus” exhibit opened on April 2 at the Phantom Realms gallery, 214 Alaskan Way South. For the latest updates and more information, visit phantomrealms.wordpress.com.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.