With all the talk of video calls and showing our faces from the balcony window, a change is in the air as more of us begin to don masks to avoid whatever else floats in the air.
Perhaps with face masks we can go back to some sort of privacy in our lives, a time when we preferred to talk to friends on MSN Messenger under absurd aliases or emoji-strewn nicknames. A time when you could go outside and a camera wouldn't be able to pinpoint you to your real name and social media.
The Avatar is dead; long live the Avatar. But it's actually been with us a while now thanks to personalities like Ruby Gloom, the avatar figure made and adopted by digital artist Chan Kayu.
Ruby Gloom first visited us from the future back in the 2010s, anticipating virtual influencer Lil Miquela with her otherworldly environs and fashion taste. If you don't know who Lil Miquela is, then how about War Nymph, the virtual representation of magick musician Claire 'Grimes' Boucher who was 'born' in the lead-up to both her latest album and the singer's flesh-born firstborn of X Æ A-12?
Having a fan in Grimes, Ruby collaborated with the singer for a virtual photo shoot last month, modelling the latest teenage gestation of War Nymph for Buffalo Zine. Vibrant, playful and sartorially idiosyncratic, the resulting front cover was Ruby Gloom through and through, a representation of another artist that somehow remains a unique artistic expression.
"I was completely shocked and overwhelmed!" Ruby says when I ask about the collab. "I've always been listening to her music and with War Nymph, I felt like she is so far away from me yet sooo close at the same time."
"It was a really great process and experience as she and her team are really open-minded and innovative. They made her the War Nymph 3D model and passed it to me to edit and do the creation. And of course she has a lot of creative ideas too, and we put them together to do the three images.
"Grimes respects artists a lot and she gave me full freedom to create whatever I want. And she is really nice and down-to-earth, too."
Ruby tells me by email that her favourite Grimes song ever is New Gods from the Miss Anthropocene LP, while her favourite Grimes promo is the one made for 2015's Realiti single. Some might consider this ironic, what with the video being a low-budget, documentary style-affair, no frills or visual effects included. But with Realiti in part filmed in Chan's hometown of Hong Kong, the soft-spot is understandable.
Ruby is slowly but surely making her mark on Hong Kong, taking over social media feeds and Canton shopping malls with her cyberpunk heroines. I wonder then where avatar and artist see themselves at the start of this strange new decade, and how much has changed since Chan first began experimenting with digital art.
"When I first started in 3D, I made everything pastel and pink," she writes. "Eventually I felt 'older', so I changed my style with more vivid colours and adding futuristic elements.
"My initial idea was to have a digital version of myself to separate my social media identity from my real life. As I was fed up with staged scenes and things in real life, I went for a very virtual look. If I can create my own world and make it visible to others, I'd prefer to go extreme."
"Now, in 2020, Ruby is becoming more a warrior than just a replica of my human identity."
The avatar grows stronger then, just as the world begins to take up its masks. Chan also thinks Ruby's strength can be seen with the rising tide in favour of women's rights.
"Hong Kong is quite an international city in a way; women's rights are really important so we have high status generally in society. But I think in the very near future, cyber identities will be so recognised that we don't need to use labels like 'woman' [or 'man']. Our online identities have become more of a focus than our real ones, especially as virtual influencers become more commonplace."
The artist isn't convinced that means an end to 'revealing' ourselves on social media, though, pointing to the rise of platforms like TikTok.
"Social issues are always happening, but they will become more complicated and difficult for us to handle," as she explains. "To pull ourselves out from the fear and anxiety of these hardships, we look for pleasure generated by technology."
That same technology could give us as much pleasure as it does durability; as Chan states, "if technology is improving every single day, then humans might as well improve, feeling that our flesh is too fragile or too basic."
In other words, our future selves might upgrade themselves in a way where we resemble more Ruby Gloom and War Nymph than Chan and Claire. Something about the pandemic might be reminding us how fragile we humans really are, in a way these warriors and cyborgs are not.
On the subject of pandemics, I finish my interview by asking how Chan is coping with lockdown.
"It's not been very difficult for me as I’m just always staying at home or in the studio," she confesses. "I have always been geeky and a loner, haha."