Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
What is she training for?
Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | JiaJia Fei

The intersection of art and fitness is so small that I can only name a handful of artists who deliberately engage with the subject (all of them male, of course). It is a topic that is so rarely discussed in my world–the art world–that it took a global health crisis for me to finally begin to take control of my health, and introduce an entirely new vocabulary into my vernacular. Four years later, I now find myself speaking fluently–and passionately–about hypertrophy, isometric movements, and macronutrients. 

Before I became the person I am today–the person who works out every day and whose identity is now defined by the fact that she can do 10 pull-ups and deadlift twice her body weight–I never exercised. Though I had been a dedicated cyclist in New York City for the last 15 years, not once did I ever step inside a gym, nor did I ever pick up a weight. The idea of excelling in sports or fitness was just not a part of my personal brand; I was the creative one, the subversive one, the eccentric, artsy one. Going to the gym was just so mainstream. Plus, I (convinced myself I) didn’t have time. 

After a decade of working sedentary desk jobs as head of digital for several museums in New York, sitting idly in front of some type of screen every day, one day I decided that perhaps it was time to make a change. I hired a personal trainer and wanted to learn something new. My goals were modest: to get strong enough to do 1 push up. 

I vividly remember the feeling of overwhelming exhaustion and deep pain after our first session, as well as the days of not being able to sit down without grabbing onto something. I was out of shape, and arguably, had never been in shape to begin with. Nevertheless, I returned, session after session, to get my ass kicked. 

Just as I was getting into my new routine (though an inconsistent one between travel and other engagements), a global pandemic gradually began to shut down the world, and time was in abundance. I had just launched my new digital consultancy and was fortunate to continue my work remotely from home. At the end of each day of back to back Zoom meetings, I pulled out my yoga mat, assembled my collection of dumbbells, and started working on my other project: myself. Just a few weeks in, I had done it: my first push up! But I wasn’t going to stop there. I wanted to get to 10 push ups. Then 20. Eventually as I began to advance in each goal: 1 pull-up, 10 pull-ups, 150 pound squats, 200 pound deadlifts, I realized how resilient and limitless our bodies can be. 

“What is she training for?” I’m sure many of my followers on social media would wonder, as I routinely documented my progress. I wasn’t preparing for a competition or trying to lose weight (in fact I ended up gaining about 10 pounds of new muscle). I was just trying to challenge myself and do something for me. Working in an industry where my entire day belongs to everyone else, this was the one thing that I could do for myself

Looking back at my “journey,” there are so many lessons from fitness which I now regularly apply to all aspects of my life: the principle of being comfortable with being uncomfortable; progressive overloading to avoid plateauing in the pursuit of progress; the raw, honest discipline of simply showing up, even on days you feel like doing nothing. My life has completely changed–from what I eat and put into my body to fuel my workouts, to coordinating my schedule to accommodate twice-weekly strength training, yoga, and pilates (working out is a meeting you have with yourself). I even told my instructor the other day, “if I don’t do yoga at least once a week, I feel unwell.” 

Among all of these perceptual shifts, the highest form of gratitude that I embrace every day is the gift of physical and mental health. Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty in the world, rarely is there a phenomenon that delivers an exact output for every bit of effort that you put in; rarely is there a promise of linear progression. Despite a lifetime of believing in art, it turns out it was science that gave me an ultimate certainty.

The above text  was written by JiaJia Fei who is a digital strategist and founder of the first digital agency for art. Through her work with museums, galleries, and artists, she holds more than 15 years of experience at the intersection of art, culture, and technology. From 2016-2020, she served as the first Director of Digital at The Jewish Museum in New York. From 2010-2015, she served as Associate Director of Digital Marketing at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. JiaJia received her BA in the History of Art from Bryn Mawr College and has lectured on the impact of art and technology worldwide.

Editorial oversight by eunice bélidor who is an independent curator, researcher, art critic, and writer. She lives and works in Tio'tia:ke also known as Montreal. bélidor is currently an editorial resident with Public Parking. This is her second contribution as part of a four-part creative exploration with our publication. Look out for her upcoming contributions. 

Cover image: Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon, 1980