Artists on Coping: Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

Constellation, 2017-2018. Installed at Seward Park Library, Lower East Side, NY.

Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong is a New York-based artist and trained architect working at the boundary of art, architecture and social practice. Cheryl investigates the transformation of shared space over time through sculpture, installation, performance and site-specific architectural interventions. Cheryl received her B.A. in Art and Italian at the University of California at Berkeley, studied sculpture at Brera Academy and earned her Master of Architecture from Columbia University GSAPP. Cheryl’s work has been commissioned by NYC Parks and DC Percent for Art and she has exhibited at Triangle Arts Association, NYFA, Istanbul Design Biennial, Taliesin West, Venice Biennale, Berkeley Art Museum, Museo della Permanente.

AS: How are you coping?

CWZW: It’s been over a month since the shelter-in-place orders were really mandated across the U.S. I was in Canada doing a residency in early and mid-March when the pandemic began to be taken more seriously from a governmental perspective; the US-Canada border shutdown was announced and I made a last-minute decision to change my travel plans bound for NYC instead to LA, where my parents live and where my partner was at the moment. A project I was heading back to NYC to install pushed out the installation date, and another DC-based installation was also delayed. It made sense to head instead to the west coast to be surrounded by family at this time.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, the characteristics of this city that I usually disdain (the car culture, the greater distance and isolation between inhabitants, low urban density), are all things that make it a lot easier to live in now in this chapter of social distancing. The car, this private mode of transport, is now another shield of protection. The sunshine, warm weather and access to green gardens, lots of open sky and fresh air (even with beaches and parks closed, suburban gardens offer so much) are all daily elements of joy. Earlier on, I was reading the news incessantly, obsessively, to keep updated on the stats and situations going on across the globe, but especially tuning into news of Calgary, Canada where I had just departed, of NYC where I usually live and will be returning to, and of LA where I have been sheltering. It’s both a source of anxiety and a source of comfort to be clued into what’s happening across the world. Now, I’ve been easing up a little bit on the news binging as the days of the week blend into each other.

Inglewood Urbanstage: Construction as Performance – Cycle 3, 2015. Installed at Inglewood City Hall plaza, California.

AS: Has your routine changed?

CWZW: My daily route has been changing every few months since 2020 began. I’ve settled into routines in three different places. I think that humans are often creatures of habit and can carve out routines in small ways.

Earlier in the year, being in NYC, my usual routine involved subwaying or walking the Manhattan Bridge between my studio in Dumbo and my home in the Lower East Side. In February and March, during the residency in Canada with The City of Calgary and The New Gallery, I was living and working in Calgary’s Chinatown, trudging through the snow between the gallery, site visits and interviews with local residents and the senior independent living facility where I was living for the duration of the residency. For me, in each place, orbiting in repetition between physical locations always starts to feel like routine after a few days.

Today, my routine in LA involves a back-and-forth car commute between my parents’ suburban home in the Valley, and a construction site where I am working on a renovation. I’m surrounded by sunshine, with lots of time outdoors in both yards, so I can’t complain. It’s been good to just be immersed in a physical project that takes my mind off the coronavirus crisis everywhere… though of course, outside of my parents’ home,I need to wear a mask and frequently hand-sanitize. These are small realities of how even walking around the street, grocery-shopping or going to the hardware store are reminders of how fragile everything is; how cautious we need to be; and how generous we need to be towards each other.

Half of North, Drawing No.6, 2016. Installed at Vermont Studio Center.

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

CWZW: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Honestly, it’s difficult to minimize the anxiety about this entire situation. I know people across the world are encountering the same feelings; yet it’s hard not to feel constantly paranoid about getting sick, unsafe and on edge about policies about space, social protocols and bodily behavior changing every few days. I worry about my health. I check my temperature multiple times daily and worry about getting sick. I ask my husband all the time if a cough sounds abnormal, if a headache is an indication of Covid-19 — he’s now taken to my hypochondriac tendencies with a 360-degree eye roll. I worry about returning back to NYC in a few weeks’ time for doctor’s appointments and to hit new project installation dates, after hearing that folks onsite have been confirmed Covid-19 positive.

At the end of it, it’s difficult to just swim in anxiety about it all. Is the Earth indeed trying to tell us something? The environment and wildlife seem to be thriving in a world with less human touch, with everyone staying at home. And perhaps, out of all of this, we humans are garnering more empathy. Perhaps people will overcome their racist inklings and realize we are all humans in the same boat.

Monumentality, 2016.

AS: What matters most right now?

CWZW: Gratitude matters most now. It’s so easy to duck back into a scarcity mentality; even the frenzy at the grocery store reflects this attitude that accompanies fear; that we never have enough. Yet it sustains us to also remember what we’re grateful for: food to eat, parents, partners, warm homes. The other day, a friend sent me a simple text message with an audio recording of the police and ambulance sirens she hears every minute now from her Brooklyn home. It was followed by a simple reminder to be grateful. I continue to have to remind myself constantly about this.

Taking the current situation seriously is incredibly important now — you hear stories about partygoers not stopping their Spring Break festivities, and then contracting Covid-19 — which is disheartening. The worry is not just getting sick, but being a conduit for passing illness to others. It’s disheartening also that even while the CDC has recommended usage of face masks, the US president can’t even embrace this cautionary tactic. In parts of Asia, usage of face masks is prevalent and normalized, and this has really helped to keep infection rates from skyrocketing. Governor Cuomo and Newsom have now mandated wearing face-masks in public as necessary in NYC and LA. Here, even top down from Trump, in alignment with his terminology of the coronavirus being “the Chinese virus”, this refusal to support face mask usage is coated with racism. So yes, get over yourself and wear a mask!! The uptick in racism towards Asians and Asian-Americans at this time is depressing.

Lucky Columns, 2020.

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

CWZW: The world is changing. After this global lockdown and a communal experience of social distancing, how can the world just revert back to being the same again?

These days, a few states like Georgia and Minnesota are beginning to implement their plans to re-open. It’s been controversial and definitely something I’m watching from afar, as California and New York are both currently erring on the side of caution (which I’m grateful for). I’m not entirely certain how tattoo parlors and barber shops can operate while still maintaining required social distancing. I do hope that within the next month, we’ll feel safe enough to resume our lives without as much fear or anxiety.

I would echo my previous responses that, in all of this, we do have choice and hopefully more of us, rather than less, choose to embrace empathy, community, abundance.

POOLTIME, 2019-2020. Collaboration with Dev Harlan. Installed at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NY.

All photo courtesy of Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email:

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