Notes on the Virtual Exhibition

Madelon Powers Gallery East Stroudsburg University

The Living With Worlds As They End folio project began as an experiment in co-creation, a conversation across creative disciplines, location and time—between artists and writers as they explore the loss and challenges, glimmers of hope, and moments of poignancy and beauty that we find as we reckon with the impact of global warming.  We could have not known then that the conceit of this project would find new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the culminating residency and exhibition would by necessity become a digital experience. It is our great hope that in time the artwork and writing below will be exhibited in a physical space where it can find its fullest expression aside a proximate audience experiencing the material presence of each piece. 

Nancy Campbell

Lockdown: 51.7326° N, 1.2272° W

 

 

In those first days, when death was still unusual, we became obsessed with rolls of toilet paper sold in multiples of twelve and twenty-four. We did not go to supermarkets, but everyone could see the news: the shelves empty, where a few people had bought up everything in store.

 

Surely there were other things that should have concerned us more.

 

Cherry trees blossomed and the avenues grew greener. Children painted rainbows in windows facing the street. It did not rain.

 

On Thursday evenings we heard the sound of applause drift over the suburbs; sometimes the beating of a saucepan, a car horn; a scattered clapping in praise of an unseen, underpaid performance.

 

Strangers began to edge away from one another. We acted like people on the verge of becoming lovers, afraid a touch might give away desire. We began to walk in zigzags, switching from pavement to opposite pavement.

The act of crossing the road to avoid someone was a courtesy now, rather than an affront.

 

We were ordered not to touch our faces. We began to mask the holes in our faces. There were debates about the kind of masks we should wear.

 

We covered our noses and mouths with little strips of cloth or cut-up socks because there were not enough masks to go around.

 

There were not enough scrubs or ventilators or hospital beds to go around.

 

People stayed home, shielding and spoke of flattening the curve. The curve was death. The figures that made up the curve confused us. Did they include the elderly in care? Should we subtract the people who might have died regardless?

 

And what of those who died alone at home, whose bodies had not yet been found?

 

I began to see a therapist. I woke myself in the night to write down my dreams.

 

I dreamed the world had been taken over by a pandemic.

 

The fact of living through a pandemic seemed so impossible that I disbelieved the dream even as I dreamed it, and when I woke it was the only aspect of the dream true to reality.

 

Reality became virtual and moved online to smaller and smaller screens, and work became streams and threads and scrolls from which people could never go home –

 

People were already at home. And they stayed at home, unless they were in hospital – and there were more people in the hospitals than the hospitals could hold.

 

In the capital a new hospital was established in a former convention centre. It was called Nightingale – not after the bird. Global infections reached five million.

 

The ambulance sirens sounded more frequent but further away. The ice cream van twinkled round its flat lure at four o’clock each day.

 

The crisis seemed immediate – then interminable. We began to talk of things not ever going back to normal. After ten weeks we quarrelled about the Thursday evening applause.

 

The government worked to evacuate people from abroad and return them to their homes. My passport drifted to the back of the drawer.

 

I made fewer trips to the post office.

 

Attention skittered. Our minds leapt from thought to thought. On television we watched twelve drag queens compete for prizes; one by one, they left the stage.

 

Queues grew longer as people distanced in order that infection could not pass between them. No one pushed in as they might have done before. Security guards were hired to make sure people obeyed the rules.

 

I planted lettuce seeds, placing each seed gently in a shallow trench a few millimetres away from the next. Two weeks later, tiny leaves sprouted from the soil.

 

Our government eased restrictions. The horseracing season started, and children returned to school on a date when they should have been breaking up.

 

One afternoon I heard the sound of chopping from next door: Top Wok had reopened. I ordered spicy aubergine as usual. Take-aways were classed as essential businesses. Many restaurants reopened as take-aways. The virus continued to spread.

 

It was the hottest spring on record, again. People held street parties in their cul-de-sacs and set up distanced deckchairs in the road. It felt as if we were experiencing the very slow explosion of a nuclear bomb.

 

On the 57th day of lockdown I finished the second bottle of whisky.

 

On social media some people voiced their frustration and fears; others pinned photographs of the first roses.

 

The mornings were so bright that rose petals hurt the eyes. The hours of daylight grew longer and the number of fatalities soared. Most shops remained closed.

 

Tree surgeons continued to operate. We heard their chainsaws and the crash of branches; suddenly there was more sky.

 

The skies were blue, without contrails, and the sunsets we saw (on our screens, through our windows) were extraordinary.

 

At night the police helicopters sounded so close, I wondered if the house was under attack.

 

We thought the food would run out. It did not. (It has not, yet.)

 

 

My skin prickled and I found it difficult to breathe. The mornings came with horrible regularity. Then it was the first day of June.

 

A family of foxes dug an earth in the scrubland behind our shed. The goldfinches and sparrows and the fox with half a tail were our only companions.

 

At night I was woken by our neighbour’s garage light, which flickered on every time a wild creature passed. It stayed lit for longer than any animal would linger, and then there was darkness again.

Deanna Day

"Knots"

Inside, Mama is packing the last of their things, but the frantic running around from earlier in the week has faded. Every one of Mama’s movements now is slow and sad and heavy, and it makes the air feel like jam, gummy and foggy. Once when she was a little girl it had snowed, and the whole world went quiet and still. Every sound was muffled, but in a way that felt sharp, exciting. This is the opposite.

She’s sitting in the yard, looking over the water, with the quilt draped around her shoulders and the corners gathered in a pile in her lap. It’s the kind of quilt that’s messier on the front, a riot of knots spitting out baby-fine threads that tangle every which way. The back, though, is methodical: endless rows of tiny, exact stitches. Sometimes Mama rubs them like a rosary, muttering names she can never fully make out, but she prefers to swim her fingers around in the loose threads until they’re matted, then slowly smooth them back out into a new and different chaos.

Every time she tugs a little on the strings, the knots get tighter instead of looser; they’re a kind of knot she doesn’t know or understand, nothing like the knots that Sully teaches her out on the boat. She has sleepy memories of Mama making the quilt—the way Mama would sing and stitch on one end even as she was napping under the other—but she had always paid more attention to Mama’s voice than hands. She asked Sully once, and he just said that Mama’s kind of knots weren’t for doing, but remembering.

A few steps from the house, all she can hear is the shushing of the water as it curls over and over itself, the way the waves burrow into the rocks and pull silt back out into the sea. A little of the water always gets left behind, in crevices that fill and bloom and rot and dry in barely the time it takes to notice. At least, so far. Mama says the yard smells saltier than it used to and so they need to go, but she doesn’t remember it ever being any different.

"Structure"

 

“We’re inevitable,” you’d always say. I would laugh, counting the cash in the drawer, or stacking the trays, but watching you, always watching you. You used to complain about being stuck inside when we were working, but I never felt trapped. I got to watch you coming from a mile away, walking slowly down the long hall between the food court and your game store that used to be a music store that used to be a video store. You would visit me, leaning against the pickup counter and flirting through your break, even though I always smelled like sweet grease. You liked to say that the smell was still better than the taste, which was true. 

They say that dead malls sprawl across America, to the extent that a monolith can sprawl, I guess. Apparently malls are being killed by big box stores, or gentrification, or Amazon, depending on who you ask. (You’d say, “Is it really killing, if they’re dying anyway?”) The malls, though, were killers, too. An old man used to stand outside the exit by the movie theater with a sign, yelling how the mall killed all the mom ’n’ pops. 

The food courts always seemed to hang on longest. After the game store closed you still came to visit me at ours, even though our ring of counters only threw off just enough light to make the darkened hallways spooky. “Like dead limbs,” you’d say. I would shiver, or laugh, or ignore you.

Until one day you dropped me off and I got all the way to the doors before I realized they were chained shut. “Mall’s finished, honey,” Tracy from the smoothie shop called from her car. I looked at her, then back at the padlock in my hand, like it might still fall open and let me inside. “Roof collapsed, down by the old Christmas shop. Too expensive to fix.” 

Through the windows, the fluorescents were still lit, making long stripes across the floor. I turned around to look for you, but I could already see your car at the far end of the parking lot, taking a right on red out onto the road. “You need a ride, baby girl?” Tracy asked, opening the passenger door. I took a deep breath, the opposite of a sigh, and turned back to her, and nodded.

"The Window"

 

I don’t notice the hole until I turn it over.

We’ve always passed the book between us, making notes, sketching in the margins. It doesn’t matter if we black out sections, tear through them, spill our tea on the pages by accident or on purpose; every word has long since become fixed in our memories, through no real effort beyond endless repetition. The text is habit. At some point you underlined the word “nurture,” first with one tentative line and then, again, with a new pen, harder. I skipped over that bit, using one of my turns to underline “coexistence,” which, to be fair, you did, too. I don’t remember who did it first. 

I used to have a routine: I would scour the pages for every new change you’d made—not reading yet, just noting where they were—then go back to the beginning and sit with each one. But I’m not methodical about anything anymore. I open the book at random, running my fingers down the page to feel the slight relief of the printing, the grooves where a pen or pencil was pressed, where I can read your emotions by depth rather than articulation. There’s a passage about progress; you left a note there, but I can’t read it. You’re always putting words to the things I can’t say. Even when I can’t read them.

This time, when I flip the book upside down to hide it between my mattress and the floor, there’s a flash of white. I know this cover like I still know your face, so I pull, carefully, so carefully, on this new piece of thread peaking out of a small hole at the crease where the cover meets the  spine; I don’t want the entire binding to unravel. But with the slightest tug, a clump of netting falls into my hand, and behind it I see the tip of a square of intricately folded, subcutaneous paper. 

It’s a page from a different book. There’s a section ringed (not circled) in yellow crayon, short strokes jutting out like a sun. You’ve underlined: “A fence itself bears a promise of control.” “They feel a call in their bodies.” “Grass has a strategy that works.” Beyond the yellow crayon are whips of red, and I remember you, once, treading water well past the buoy line, cawing at a seagull.

I try, but I can’t recreate the complicated folds of the page. If I try to squeeze it back where I found it, I’m certain I’ll destroy the page and the cover both.

"Ducts"

While I was growing her, I couldn’t help but dream up possible lives she might live. They sprouted, unbidden, incessant and iterative, linking together in an impossible web of futures. “Like a daisy chain,” I say, remembering. 

“Like weeds,” she says, laughing. “When there were weeds.”

She trawls her eyes through the charred underbrush, and gently places another mushroom in the sack. She spots the changes in texture and light that I usually miss; I tell myself it’s because she’s so much smaller. Closer to the ground. But it feels like we have different kinds of eyes. 

I let her peer into piles of leaves, and I watch her hair as the wind blows it over one shoulder. While I was growing her, I knew what my body was for. And before it was growing her, my body was growing me. I haven’t figured out yet what I’m growing now. I watch her digging gently through the earth, and my body feels like all the gas pumps, plinthed into cracked concrete, tubes ossified where they reach for empty tanks. 

I crouch down and drag my finger through a patch of old ash, drawing a crude, childish flower: a circle, five loops around it, a stem. “Love me, love me not,” I say, and she looks back at me. “We used to pull the petals off, to predict the future.” I thought she would be shocked, or angry, by the violence or the waste, but instead she tilts her head.

“But you knew the future,” she says carefully, and I think of my mother, the time I broke my arm in three places, the way she stared at the x-ray like something wasn’t adding up. In front of me, my daughter’s eyes squint. We live on opposite sides of the end of the world. She turns back, and drops another mushroom into the sack.

"Space"

– If the sky were infinite, would it be so full of stars that, from our perspective, there would be no 

   space between them?

 

+ I’m not sure. Would the planets get in the way? Other things? Hold this up to the line for me.

 

– Wouldn’t it be pretty though? If the sky were all stars? 

 

+ Maybe, for a bit. It might be overwhelming if the sky were so bright, all of the time.

 

– Maybe. Do you think the sky is infinite?

 

+ I’m not sure I could tell you. It looks finite to me, but so does everything. I can only see so far.

   Come along, next up.

 

– But if the sky is finite, then this other books says that means it’s growing. Where’s it growing 

   into?

 

+ More sky? I don’t know. What is anything growing into?

 

– Well, like how, when you’re a person, you’re growing into a new person all the time?

 

+ You’re certainly bigger now than you used to be.

 

– Don’t splash! I mean, our cells and stuff are always turning over, aren’t they? Like, we make new 

   skin under scabs. New blood. Our bits are always dying and growing back.

 

+ So, we’re living in new bodies all the time?

 

– Yeah. Is the sky a new sky all time?

 

+ By that logic. 

 

– If the sky is finite.

 

+ Are we new people all the time?

 

– Yeah?

 

+ Why?

 

– Because… we are our bits?

 

+ Are we anything else? Where did you put those—

 

– Here. You mean like how we have all these bacteria in our guts?

 

+ Sure. We’re made up of a lot of things we can’t see. All the things in the spaces between.

 

– Between what?

 

+ Between all the things.

 

– But there’s always more space between things? Like under a microscope. Are there always 

   more things? Where do they go?

 

+ Different parts of us grow in different directions. 

 

– In different dimensions!

 

+ Now who’s splashing? How do we grow in different dimensions? Like the bubbles?

 

– I guess?

 

+ What did you mean? Which dimensions?

 

– Like… we grow up? In time?  

 

+ I like that. What else?

 

– What about, like, us. The us that isn’t our bodies. Can that grow?

 

+ Yes.

 

– Where? Into what space?

 

+ The space between us. 

 

– For how far?

Darlene Farris-LaBar

Vessels Within {Breath becomes night.}
Blood Beneath the Ice {Death of a glacier.}

Yvonne Love

The Red Thread

The Red Thread appeared in Nancy’s, A Compass Rose and Gaby’s Folio No. 3,  and then again in Britt’s assemblage, First I wanted to pick and choose; Naive Peach. Visualizing the thread’s ability to bind us together, to deliver blood, to point us north while the world falls apart – the cord that saves us – I knew it needed to be the primary material for my response not only to this project but to what was happening around us.  It wasn’t just the climate crisis, it wasn’t just COVID, it wasn’t just George Floyd, it was all of those things continuing  - the first time in history two hurricanes entered the Gulf of Mexico at the same time, two of the largest wildfires occurring at the same time in California, COVID cases continuing to rise, and deaths, while our president calls it a democratic hoax, and Jacob Blake is shot in the back 7 times – while his 3, 5 and 8 year old witness it from just feet away.

The world continues to unfold in monstrous ways, I have a bell jar full of thread to wrap myself in, to sheath my chickadees, send out a few messages in studded brail, and throw out as a life preserver. I am grateful for this collaboration, for the sightlines each of my collaborators shared.

Gabrielle Russomagno

    

     Twenty Five Days in May

The photographs in Twenty Five Days in May were made during daily walks in my village graveyard where in those handful of days more burials took place than in the preceding 500 —proof that the pandemic was real, a protest against politicized news coverage and failures of the State.  In one way, making these pictures was an act of data collection and an archive of a particular and immediate loss. In another, they are a meditation, a way to reflect upon the frailty of life and to reckon with an incomprehensible event.

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