Wandering through Turku’s streets and museums, I cannot stop marveling at the low-hanging sun: an endless magic hour that casts everything in Caravaggio light. After savoring the concrete, neon, and hum of the city, we took a bus and two ferries into the Finnish archipelago where we are living in a flat by the Baltic sea. This building once housed ferry operators. Now it’s an artist residency. We have come here to finish a book that collects the thousands of responses we collected from visitors to a public installation we created last year. Instead we spent the night projecting movies on the wall while the winter darkness covered the windows.

“The bottom line is we’re all prisoners of the universe,” says a man on a train that speeds across China’s rapidly developing landscape. This becomes the coda for Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White, where a dangerous romance downshifts into existential longing that bleeds across seventeen years of dance halls, prison yards, trains, mahjong tables, and disorienting change. The final shot has lingered in my mind for days.

Each night in 2020, I wrote a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I wanted to etch these days into my memory. Before the world changed completely.
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