I left my job in the US before I could have a sabbatical, then worked in Dubai for 5 years. There, I taught 4 or 5 classes most semesters and saved as much money as possible. I only taught one summer so did a residency and sometimes research trip as well as personal travel every summer. There is no sabbatical there so when I was ready for one, Sarah and I quit our jobs to take one.
We moved our stuff back to the US then I headed to China to do a 3 (or longer) month residency there at Shangyuan Art Museum. It was technically Beijing, but without a car, it took a couple of hours to get to the center of the city or any arts districts. Living was spartan at best but we made it work (Sarah joined me after a couple of weeks). There were up to 40 other artists there, mostly from China but other countries too (Spain, Russia, Italy, Ecuador, India, Australia to name a few). We made a lot of communal meals but had our own studios and living spaces. It wasn’t easy getting art supplies locally, so I got a Chinese bank account, wepay account, and ordered everything online (Jingdong and Taobao), just like all the Chinese artists. Anyone who thinks you can order anything on Amazon hasn’t seen Chinese websites where you can order $500k milling machines, 10 cent plastic tubes, and live animals and plants. I really wanted to shop at second hand markets and flea markets but those are rarer and rarer as Beijing shifts everything online. I had a fun solo show there (where I made my own second hand market, set 200 years in the future) and curated a film screening of artists dealing with the future as well.
We also spent some time in Mongolia and Vietnam too before moving on to South America. I had a curatorial residency at Residencia Corazon. I mostly did internet research and reading, but also went to shows and did some studio visits/meeting artists: Julian Brangold, Joaquin Wall, Marcela Cabutti.… Lest I forget, the amazing (amazing musician and person!) Joaquin Gomez, who I’d met at the wild experience of the Tashkent Biennale, gave up his home to us!
Sarah went back to visit family for a bit, while I traveled to Chile (saw a great Studio Zimoun show and scuba dived in too cold water, visited the Atacama) and around Argentina (Iguazu Falls!!! Andes, deserts…). I met her in the US for a while and then we decided to go to Colombia. We arrived on March 5th. We knew the pandemic was starting to ramp up but had no idea the scale of it. Less than 10 days after we arrived, the first hotel cancelled all reservations for foreigners. Then all incoming flights were stopped. Like most people, we still didn’t know how bad it was going to get, so we decided to ride it out in an airbnb on the coast. They had to move us to a different one as more places closed to foreigners. Every day the restrictions got tighter and we felt very out of place and nervous. As all flights were ended and only humanitarian repatriation flights were happening we kept wondering how long we would ride it out. After a few weeks, we decided to take one back to the US to be with Sarah’s parents and our cat in a small town with good internet so we could work (Sarah teaching English online, me on my artwork/research).
Overall, I got most of a year of sabbatical in before the pandemic put a halt to the travel part of it. I know we are incredibly incredibly lucky to be in the situation that we could leave and go somewhere quieter and stay safe and I know that so so many people have it much worse.