How Are You Today – Sophia Cai

Image credit: Pia Johnson

Sophia Cai

How Are You Today – Episode 11

Instagram handle @sofiatron


Kiera Brew Kurec 0:04
Hi and welcome to Pro Prac. I’m Kiera Brew Kurec.

Nick Breedon 0:07
And I’m Nick Breedon. You’re listening to How Are You Today? A spin off series where we call an artist and check in with how Coronavirus is affecting them, and ask them to share their worries and their hopes for the future.

Sophia Cai 0:24
Hello, this is Sophia.

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:24
Hi, it’s Kiera.

Sophia Cai 0:26
Hi, Kiera. How are you?

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:27
I’m good. Thanks and Nick’s here as well.

Nick Breedon 0:29

Sophia Cai 0:30
Hi. Nice to meet you both over the phone.

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:34
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

Sophia Cai 0:38
Oh, no, it’s my pleasure.

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:40
I will launch right into it and ask you, how are you today?

Sophia Cai 0:45
I’m okay, today. It’s a beautiful day. I just went on a walk with my dogs. And yeah, it’s feeling feeling like a good day.

Nick Breedon 0:56
Do you want to tell us if you’ve been affected by COVID-19? Personally, or in your practice? Or both?

Sophia Cai 1:01
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s definitely affected everyone to different extents. I’ve been sort of reflecting a little bit on how it’s affected me. In terms of, I think it’s been quite challenging, in some respects, to see what’s happening around the world and also be quarantined at home. And, but then I also see, I also struggle a lot with motivation, as well at the moment. And this feeling of being unproductive. So I’ve been trying to be a bit kinder to myself, and tell myself that, you know, it’s, it’s okay to rest when you need to, and not to, I guess, guilt myself. And I know, this is probably a common feeling amongst lots of people. The kind of what, like, I don’t know, I feel like the kind of thinking that we need to come out of this with like a brand new project or a new book, all of that, like, that doesn’t suit everybody. Yeah, so I guess I might want to use this time to spend with my family. And to kind of take care of my health, which is something that I think previously with work and so forth, It wasn’t necessarily something I had to prioritize until it was like, so I’m trying to just prioritize those things. But yeah, every day is different. Some days. It’s hard, sometimes. Some days it’s not. Yeah, so it’s just, it’s been like, it’s been like a pause, I guess.

Kiera Brew Kurec 2:35
Yeah. Well, kind of leading on from that. Have you been working on any projects kind of prior to us being in isolation that you have put on pause?

Sophia Cai 2:46
So I was pretty much working right, up until locked down. So I had just finished a show I had just curated a show in Sydney that closed in February. And I was doing, I remember, I was part of a panel discussion at the NGV at the book fair. And then the following day, they announced that, like the NGV is closing. So that was quite a surreal like we were all there on that day, not knowing that announcement was coming. But also like all of us, I think we’re feeling really uncertain at that point. And there weren’t many people in attendance, for instance, at the book fair, I think because of the pandemic. So I was working towards an exhibition with the Australian Ceramics Association, which is the kind of annual members exhibition, which was meant to open in May. So that was about two weeks ago was meant to open but that’s been postponed till 2021. Which I think I mean, that was kind of quiet, I think, you know, I’m glad that it’s has another date in the future. But I think it has been, I guess it’s like the best scenario or best outcome in the possible in the kind of current climate. But I guess it’s been kind of strange to have worked on something quite consistently for a year. And then right at the end when you’re about to present it, it gets put on pause. But, but I think, but I mean, I guess thinking about these things. I also recognize like how incredibly lucky and privileged I am as well to have these things to work towards. So I’m trying not to like, take it on as like, anything that’s too difficult. I guess the main thing is like, learning to let go of things outside of my control.

Nick Breedon 4:45
Have you been working on any other projects that are non-art related while you’ve been in lockdown?

Sophia Cai 4:51
So at the start of lockdown, I set these like, I guess I didn’t know that I would call them goals or I just kind of thought about about, you know what’s important. So I thought, okay, family’s important, health is important, and like taking care of my mental health is really important. And trying to support others in the best way that I can. So I kind of made a list of things to do. But actually looking back on it haven’t done many of the things on the list. And I think that’s okay. So I wanted to read a lot, because I was like, finally I have time to read. I wanted to, like, kind of work on some of my own craft projects. So in like, personal things that aren’t necessarily for anybody but me. That hasn’t really happened because Animal Crossing came out. (Laughter) According to my Nintendo Switch, as of this week, I have put 400 hours into the

Nick Breedon 5:42

Sophia Cai 5:43
Yeah, I don’t know about the to be proud or embarrassed. But there it is. guess it’s just what it is. Yeah, I guess yeah, I’m just letting letting that go. And like, letting that guilt or the shame go and just be like, it is what it is. Um, I’ve also been, I started teaching this this year. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been teaching online. So that has also been something new for me to do that’s kind of used up some of my time. And for me, the teaching, I’ve enjoyed, what I’ve enjoyed about it is that it still kept me quite engaged with other people, not just not my friends, per se, but you know, like students and peers. But also it kind of forced me to keep reading and to have a kind of schedule, I guess. I think I think one of the hardest things was because I was sort of freelancing, but maybe not hard, because I was already sort of freelancing before that kind of lack of nine to five, isn’t really the issue. For me, I think the issue for more for me was, what do I do with like a lack of motivation when everything or a lot of things on hold, or there’s a general sort of like anxiety? And kind of, you know, like, this kind of heaviness amongst myself and my peers? And, you know, so I think the teaching has actually been a nice way to sort of keep a dialogue going, keep thinking about. Yeah, keep thinking about things and keep on having conversation.

Kiera Brew Kurec 7:28
It’s really interesting, that kind of feeling of no motivation. And I think when we entered into isolation, yeah, there were so many people being like, this is the time that you can do all those big projects that you’ve been putting off. Part of me though that I was like, but what for? Like, we don’t know what future we’re going to have. And we don’t know what, when we emerge, what, what will still be here, and what won’t be in terms of the arts. And so I think that that, like for me, that definitely kind of played into that idea of not feeling motivated, because, it was just like what future?

Sophia Cai 8:12
Completely and I think also with the motivation, I guess the thing is that kind of narrative about artists resilience, or artists being able to overcome anything, create something amazing. While I don’t want to, like discredit, like, you know, the resilience that artists and art community does have, I think it can very easily then, like, obscure the fact that all of us are going through a pandemic, it’s totally acceptable for you to not be working, and this kind of unhealthy, not unhealthy, maybe that’s the wrong word. This sort of like, and I know, I do this myself, too, like, I, I expect so much of myself. . And I think I had to kind of come to terms with whether that was really sincere, or whether that was just a product of the sort of market.

Nick Breedon 9:06
I’ve been reflecting on. At this time, how important it is that, you know, even for us, like the content that we’re producing, it reflects the fact that, you know, we don’t have access to the resources that we normally have, like the studio that we normally record in, we’re doing it at home, and it’s kind of okay, you know, for maybe the production quality to reflect that a little bit that it’s that it’s we can’t always, you know, pull a rabbit out of a hat in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s important for the world to kind of see that that artists on, you know magicians.

Sophia Cai 9:39
Yes, totally. And I think, for me, it’s also led to a little bit of, I guess, soul searching in terms of what kind of arts industry I want to be a part of, and I want to work in I feel like there has been There’s like two sides to this, it’s like on one side, you know, seeing, seeing how little support the arts gets, and how easy it was to leave artists. And that’s what was behind, you know, the government’s schemes and support and so forth seeing that, but then also seeing that maybe that there is a kind of over reliance on funding in those kind of ways. And maybe the artists becoming more and more removed or out of touch, I don’t know, like grappling with both those things to be true at once. Not, I guess not like saying one is true, more true than the other. But I guess it’s like, I guess, grappling with the contradictions and thinking about why it is that the arts have this sort of like, like this kind of public perception. And you know, and I guess thinking about, when we are talking about supporting the arts, or like having funding for the arts, who is still being left behind, or, you know, who is the audience that we’re bringing, that we’re like, aiming for, and all of that, like, I’ve been thinking a lot about that. And a lot about, like, post pandemic, I don’t want to go back to normal, because whatever normal was before, you know, now, you can kind of seal the gaps much more clearly, like they were always there, but now it’s quite more pronounced, you can see it. So I guess, I mean, there’s a really great article that Naomi Riddle wrote on Running Dog, kind of touching on these topics. And yeah, that’s a, that was a really good read. You know, thinking about this kind of like, the kind of dual consciousness, I guess that artists and arts workers have, in one hand, often being exploited and underpaid. And therefore, you know, it’s completely within our prerogative to kind of demand for better conditions and better work and so forth, but also having to recognize our own positions of privilege, and being able to, but that not meaning that we shouldn’t, you know, anyway, it’s just like, there’s just a lot to kind of grapple with. And I hope that this is something we kind of keep on thinking about, as well. I see a lot of organizations just like rushing to open and rushing, to get back to normal. And part of me is like, hey, let’s like think about what we can do differently. So that next time if anything happens, you know, who are we protecting? Or who? What support systems do we have in place? You know? Yeah.

Kiera Brew Kurec 12:21
Is there anything that you’re currently worried about?

Sophia Cai 12:26
Like, everything… (Laughter) I’m worried about, I don’t want the pandemic to be a lesson. And that’s not the right way. But I guess what I said is, I’m worried about just continuing to perpetuate these sort of systems that are already in place. And for example, everything is interconnected. So what’s happening with Black Lives Matter what’s happening with environmental catastrophe, what’s happening, or what’s happening in terms of the response to COVID-19. All of it is related. And I just, I’m really worried that as a society, we are just so keen to go back to normal, that we don’t actually confront the problems that we have really head on, or we don’t do enough to confront them. And I think, you know, this, the resistance against Black Lives Matter that we see around the world, but also here in Australia, like it’s disgusting, how people just want to like put the head in the sand and not address problems, head on. One of the things I always tell my students is like, does that these are the legacies that we have inherited, This is a moment of pause, What are we going to do now? Like as the next step? And I think, yeah, I guess I’m, I’m worried about the normalization, or the back to normalization, if that’s the word for it. I’m worried about people’s health, both physical and mental. And that there is a lot of, and I think within the arts community, there’s a lot of, you know, there’s a lot of like, heaviness and sadness, and also, but also see solidarity and so forth. But I guess I’d like to kind of, I’d like us to, yeah, kind of confront some of those issues, perhaps a bit more heads on. Yeah, that’s my hope, I guess, for the future. But I also know that we’re part of a pandemic. So I don’t, I don’t think it’s fair. That to expect anybody to, you know, be able to solve all these issues right now. I think it’s, it’s about holding space for kind of what people need individually as well. Yeah, like, for instance, when I’ve been emailing people, I’ve been working with or you know, artists take a lot of write back to me or something, or I take a while to write back to them. I just say, Look, I’m not gonna, it’s a pandemic. I’m not gonna, I don’t have expectations of you at this point. Not to say that I don’t want you to do anything. It’s not that it’s more just that I will not put any extra pressure on you. You just, yeah, I think that’s probably a more healthy way to kind of deal with it at the moment. And I’m trying to extend that same courtesy to myself as well.

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:16
Oh, thank you for sharing both, what you’re worried and hopeful for. There’s just there’s so much, and like you said, that kind of holistic approach that everything is interconnected, and we can’t address one without addressing everything. Yeah, it was beautifully said. I’m just wondering if you have a public Instagram or website that you would like to share with us? Sure.

Sophia Cai 15:44
So just my insta, @sofiatron so Sofia, and then t r o n. And then there’s a link to my website from my Instagram as well.

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:55
Well, thank you so much for sharing that with us. And, yeah, again, taking the time to speak with us today.

Sophia Cai 16:02
It was really lovely to speak with you both.

Kiera Brew Kurec 16:04
Take care

Nick Breedon 16:05

Sophia Cai 16:06

Nick Breedon 16:10
We respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and pay respect to their elders past, present and emerging and the elders of the lands that this podcast reaches you on today. We extend that respect to all First Nations people listening today and acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded.

Kiera Brew Kurec 16:27
How Are You Today? has been generously supported by the city of Melbourne’s quick response grants. Follow us at @propracpodcast on Instagram or email us at If you haven’t already, please subscribe on whatever you listen to podcast on.

Nick Breedon 16:42
Please stay in touch. We’d love to hear what you’re up to as well.

City of Melbourne Logo

Pro Prac acknowledges City of Melbourne’s generous contribution to How Are You Today? through their Quick Response grants program