Animated art captures the boredom and absurdity of life under Taiwan’s COVID lockdown

Society & Culture

Artist Huang Hai-Hsin's "epidemic picture diary" reveals scenes of everyday life during the worst of COVID-19.

All images and animations courtesy of hhhstudio

A year has passed since Taiwan’s residents were first forced to stay at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How did everyone spend their time in isolation? What brought order, or chaos, to daily life during a deeply unsettling time? In her latest project, an animation series titled Stay at Home, Taiwanese artist Huang Hai-Hsin (黃海欣 Huáng Hǎixīn) uses NFT art to reflect on some of these questions and playfully depict how the bizarre and the banal existed side by side.

Featured on the 2022 Taipei Dangdai online art exhibition space, Huang’s series partnered with NFT platform SOYL to release one animated GIF per day for a month. The 31-piece collection portrays scenes of everyday life during the pandemic, such as cooking, yoga, sibling brawls, and playing with the cat. Huang uses simple lines and brush strokes to probe the absurdity of the situation, an experience shared by the island’s 23 million residents during that time.

Trained at both National Taipei University of Education and the School of Visual Arts New York, Huang’s art has been displayed and appreciated across the globe. Her prior works have been exhibited and collected by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, among others. Art critic Feng-Yi Chu described her oil on canvas works as “sensor probes that, time after time, accurately detect the strangeness, the interference, and the glitches in modern daily life.”

Huang’s own routine as an artist did not radically change during lockdown, as she was accustomed to staying home to work and think about her art. But as the seismic changes for everyone else became more evident, she began to ponder how people’s behaviors adapted to their new realities. “I live on the 14th floor, so I can see all the buildings below me,” she told SupChina. “I can watch what all the neighbors are doing. I briefly drew with simple lines what I saw and imagined people were doing in each of the windows.”

Using the grids in a calendar book to form the facade of a building, Huang turned each day into a “window” into the lives of her neighbors. From this, what Huang described as an “epidemic picture diary” began to emerge. As the pandemic stretched on, she made 120 sketches, which together formed a collection of lockdown vignettes.

Moving from her usual oil paints to the digital illustration app Procreate, she used her iPad to transform 31 of her lockdown sketches into GIF animations complete with sound, bringing the scenes to life. The sound design by Huang’s French husband, Norman Bambi, provides depth to the animations. In one instance, the infamous tinkering of Taiwan’s garbage truck is paired with a couple having sex, resulting in a humorous portrayal of discordant moments.

The collaboration with her husband came about naturally, Huang noted, as the couple’s creative intuitions are well-aligned. “I didn’t need to tell him what I wanted. I would finish my work and he would immediately know what to do,” Huang said.

The GIF format has been carefully crafted to lock the actions into infinite loops, where the start and the end become indiscernible. When the loop is repeated multiple times, viewers are not only reminded of the tedium of lockdown, but also the absurdity of daily routine. The animations allow people to question the intention and consequence of everyday action during an unusual time when everything was repetitive, Huang said.

“After observing Shanghai’s crazy lockdown, I realized the reality is often so much more extreme than my work,” Huang said, adding that she hopes the series will continue to provide support to those who are in centralized quarantine or self-isolation because of the virus.

Stay at Home is Huang’s first NFT project. When describing the process of taking her work into the NFT realm, she explained that partnering with SOYL, the first NFT multi-creative integration platform in Asia, allowed her to focus on her art. The platform’s Chinese name, 所有 (suǒyǒu), meaning “all,” highlights the platform’s mission to showcase the work of NFT projects across different creative industries, such as art, music, and fashion.

Moving from her prior works that juxtapose unremarkable settings with equally commonplace human behavior, Huang’s Stay at Home series focuses on and mirrors the interior life. Using a new medium to reach a diverse online audience, when viewed together as a collection of 31 animations, it offers insight into the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of our existence.

Follow Huang Hai-Hsin on Instagram, or view her work on SOYL.