Rupture and Response

Postcards from Three Pandemic Mays

The May column from Paradigm Worker, a place for reflections on how we think about things, and why it matters. This issue is the third in a series about a project called Postcards from the Pandemic. [View the March essay to start from the beginning of the series.]

From: Postcards from the Pandemic: May 24, 2020, front of postcard. © Full Spring Studio

Sunday, 5/24/20
Watching the sermon by phone, we learned that a morgue worker placed daffodils on the body bags.
–From: Postcards from the Pandemic: May 24, 2020, back of postcard.

As the pandemic first rose and rode across the world like a tsunami, it washed away schedules, work patterns, social norms, and plans for the future. Normal, orderly time was broken up and scattered, –some of it lost all together. I’ve been trying to pick up the pieces, ever since. So, in March, 2020 I decided that each day from March 21 to June 21 I would collect and catalog a moment with an image and an observation to create postcard vignettes of my experience. I completed this almost every day.

May. They say, “April showers bring May flowers.”  The conditions are set, with seeds, soil nutrients, warmer temperatures, and water. These create not only potential, but seemingly a pressure for something to germinate and emerge. So, too, do fires bloom from a set of conditions that set the stage–dry kindling or fuel, heat, wind, and ultimately a spark.  One can see the continuity, –the interdependence of before and after a triggering spark, but the event creates a threshold that ruptures one state of things to create another in response. There is no going back.

May 2020: At the threshold

From: Postcards from the Pandemic: May 25, 2020, front and back of postcard. “Monday, 5/25/20, The dog broke the screen door. (I didn’t know about George yet.)” © Full Spring Studio

I had to breathe carefully in May 2020. I entered the month very sick with a deep cough. Some springs are like this for me, but this year it was accompanied by the questions, “Is it Covid?” and, “Will I die?” Fortunately, it wasn’t and I didn’t. With the help of time, rest, and medications, my body returned to homeostasis.

Other disruptions from the first pandemic May didn’t show any signs of returning to normal. Every few days a new event was cancelled: in-person graduation ceremonies, our summer vacation, and a summer camp I was supposed to lead. The pandemic was infecting the future and it was sinking in that these changes were only the beginning. We were in a new period of time–a new pandemic regime of separation that would last a while.

I read articles about loneliness, particularly of the elderly. I cried seeing a picture in the paper of a child and a grandmother reaching through a wall of clear plastic fitted with plastic sleeves so they could hug each other. We need each other, and those without a household “pod” were vulnerable. So many Covid patients died alone. In a sermon I attended on my phone, I learned of the story of a morgue worker who placed daffodils on the warehoused body bags, even though nobody was there to see. People can be so beautiful in times of hardship.

And other people can be so incredibly ugly. I didn’t know yet about the murder of George Floyd on the evening of May 25th when I recorded my postcard vignette about how our dog ran through the screen door, tearing the fabric that protects the illusion of separateness.

“I can’t breathe.” The 8 minutes and 46 seconds of torture could have been an invisible murder, but instead it was ignited by a spark of witness, amplified by social media, and spread to a wildfire of response. I was stunned by both the rupture and the response, as well as by the nearness to home. Over the next week, the heat grew to a critical mass and it seemed like a state change was underway. Three days later on May 28th, the officers had still not been arrested. I signed a petition, conscious of the inadequacy of my action. That night the third precinct police station was in flames, 22 miles from my home, making international news. May 29 Derek Chauvin was arrested. So was a CNN journalist at the protest in Minneapolis. They had to set their video camera on the ground sideways and there was an eerie, rotated, live feed of protesters feet beyond the pavement. May 30, 2020 there were alerts in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul, growing nearer to our home as protests were accompanied by riots and looting, and rumors of white supremacists amplifying the chaos for their own aims grew. The major freeways in town were closed and curfews were set. This continued into May 31, and I wondered if maybe this was it–when a revolution would start. When we wouldn’t go back to how things were before.

May 2021: Holding patterns

From: Postcards from the Pandemic: May 26, 2020, front and back of postcard. “Tuesday, 5/26/20: People are reaching for each other.” © Full Spring Studio

A year later in May 2021, had things changed substantially for racism in the United States? Some changes were there, with Chauvin’s guilty verdict in April, many confederate statues had been removed, and there was more talk about anti-racism in my academic circles. But it still felt incremental and in slow motion. No revolution, but perhaps a gradual evolution. A slight moving of the needle. I felt both inside of–and a constituent part of–the thick mass of cultural inertia. My small inadequate acts and participating in the status quo blended in with the mass sedation. Whatever momentum I felt the prior year subsided into a new normal.

Meanwhile, in May 2021, there was the illusion that with the vaccines we’d be on our way out of the pandemic and return to our old normal. Perhaps we could gather again and puncture the separateness from each other that breeds isolation. At the same time, I was reflecting on reconnection of another type. I was working on an essay called “Integrated Bodies” that was about the paradigms of the Planetary Health Education Framework. Planetary Health is an emerging approach to viewing environmental problems and human health challenges in an integrated way. It centers a recognition of the interconnectedness of our human bodies with each other and all other life forms of Earth, and the wellbeing of the Earth itself. Recognition of our interconnection is the foundation of our mutual health.

I believe that–that being together, in solidarity and in company with each other, and with the rest of life on earth is central to our collective wellbeing. Our bodies are ultimately, one body. This connection provides a sense of belonging but also a burden to hold and protect those in our larger community.  The hurt in the world is huge and hard to hold, but less hard if we hold it together.

May 2022: Surrender

From: Postcards from the Pandemic: May 30, 2020, front and back of postcard. ” Saturday, May 30th, 2020 The freeways were closed and there were alerts around the city. ” © Full Spring Studio

There is only so much hyper-vigilance we can sustain at each new wave of pandemic development. There is a limit to the outrage we can hold for each new societal crisis. And it is hard to stay in in the mode of a “climate emergency” after each new IPCC report warning of climate collapse.  Each milestone holds the potential of being a threshold event, yet most of the time the promise is unfulfilled.

May 4th, 2022 the CDC announces that the US Covid death toll has reached 1 million. This is shocking, though predicted, and articles memorialize the loss, trying to put faces and stories behind the statistic. The milestone washes over the news, and subsides. By the evening of Memorial Day the death toll is one million, four thousand, seven-hundred and sixty.

May 24th, 2022 nineteen children and two teachers are massacred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. This is shocking, though predicted. The rupture is met with grief and outrage at the lack of common-sense gun laws, just as the Sandy Hook shooting was almost ten years ago. One would think. THIS. This is it—the threshold of heartbreak where things change. Except, we seem to have a learned helplessness from all the other hundreds of school shooting milestones since Columbine. Maybe this time it will be different. Or maybe it won’t.

Maybe this year’s wildfire, hurricane, lost species, lost shoreline, or disaster-destabilized country will be the threshold for serious climate action. Or maybe it won’t.

It feels like surrender sometimes. The sparks flare but do not ignite meaningful transformation. Will it take larger triggering events?

There is an unstruck match on the cover of Malcom Gladwell’s decade’s old bestseller, The Tipping Point; How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.”  The book explores the counter-intuitive leverage that small events can have. I say counter-intuitive because, even major events – like Covid death tolls, and school shootings, don’t seem to transform our situations. Using the metaphor of epidemics, the book explores the dynamics of transformative change and how contextual factors form the essential conditions for change and set the stage for a spark to become a wildfire. Many of those conditions depend on interconnected networks of people.

I am beginning to think that there is a place for surrender in my desire to support transformative change. I don’t mean surrendering to the status quo. I mean surrendering to connection—both the belonging and the burden of both action and grief it entails. Buddhist activist, Joanna Macy, says that grief for our world is an important part of the journey to healing it. We can’t close off from grief, or we risk closing off from care and love that are the foundation of effective action.

In addition to taking action in support for change, I also may need to make more space for grief that — sitting with my own and my community’s pain. Love and connection are the way forward. There is no going back.


What ruptured in your life, and how did you respond? How are you still responding, holding things together with community, even as things fall apart?  

Memento Mori: Postcards from Three Pandemic Aprils

This is the second in a series looking back across time at the ongoing project called Postcards from the Pandemic

From: Postcards from the Pandemic: April 2, 2020, front of postcard. © Full Spring Studio (4)

Thursday, 4/2/20
We held a memorial for our cat.

–From: Postcards from the Pandemic: April 2, 2020, back of postcard.

April. Despite its association with spring and new life, April is the month of two inevitabilities: taxes, and–for me–death. April has become my “Memento Mori,” which in Latin means, “remember that you have to die.”(2) In his April, 2020 article, writer Michael Austin, explained why T.S. Eliot in his poem, “The Wasteland,” called April “the cruelest month.”(3) Austin notes that it was written at the end of a prior great pandemic: “April is when we dare to hope. In the Waste Land, nothing can be crueler than hope, since it can only lead to disappointment.” (1)

April 2020: Death visits

Postcards from the Pandemic: April 14, 2020, front and back of postcard, reading, “They drilled below the lawn to install a new gas line ten feet closer to our house.” © Full Spring Studio (4)

Entering the first pandemic April, the daily postcard ritual I began in March offered a sense of order and solace, but I have a history of bad Aprils, and so I wasn’t too surprised when things fell apart. Aprils of my past have included the death of my mother, the death of our cat, a family crisis, and a job layoff. As Prince, who also died in April had written much earlier, “Sometimes it snows in April.” (Being from Minnesota, he knows what a cruel tease April is, pretending to be spring, only to become cold and snowy over and over again.) And on April 1, 2020 our cat, Alfie, died.  We held a memorial on April 2nd.

By April 9th, my post card ritual had begun to disintegrate. I jotted observations in my journal and snapped some pictures, but didn’t even try to assemble them into postcards. Infrastructure replacement continued along our street in April. The branch gas line was moved 10 feet closer to our home, leaving access trenches that looked like open graves. This felt aligned with the 10-year anniversary in April of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which happened in 2010. April, 2020, saw more events like graduation plans and art exhibits moved online, or cancelled altogether. My kids suffered through online school, sitting behind dark zoom boxes looking at the names of classmates.  By the end of April, 2020, the CDC reported 65,187 Covid deaths.

But even with the April snow, the crocus and bloodroot bloomed here. My older son created an island in Minecraft that we sailed to in the digital sunset. A teacher assigned a hologram project to my younger son causing tiny blue jelly fish to float above his cell phone. The memorial Lilac for my mother was budding on April 26th the anniversary of her death.

April 2021: Living with death

Postcards from the Pandemic: April 2, 2020, video, 2021. © Full Spring Studio (4)

Maybe the battle of order and disintegration are a seasonal tradition, for me. After starting daily postcard receiving rituals in March 2021, making a video of each one, the burden of holding order once again yielded to April. My kids were still in online school, one year later. By the end of April, 2021, the CDC reported 577,854 Covid deaths. Almost 9 times the cumulative Covid deaths as of the prior April. The climate crisis looms over Earth Month celebrations and pledges. April 20, 2021 was the 11th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, where 11 people died. But the biggest news on April 20, 2021 was a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd the prior May, holding a glimmer of the possibility of justice.

April held more silver linings. On April 9th I received my first Covid vaccine and by the end of April both my husband and I had our second shots. It seemed like things were looking up. Jon Batiste’s “We Are” album played in my car on the way to and from vaccine appointments and errands, becoming a sound track to spring 2021.

April 2022: Death and remembering

Postcards from the Pandemic: April 26, 2020, front and back of postcard, reading, “This budding lilac is a memorial to my mom who died eight years ago today.” © Full Spring Studio (4)

In April 2022, the birds have their own disease outbreak, with bird flu killing both commercial and wild birds. We took down our bird bath and didn’t fill our feeder to help the birds “social distance,” but commercial birds don’t have so many choices. As of April 29, 2022, the CDC reported 991,030 US Covid deaths, making me wonder when – not if – it will surpass 1 million. And then what?

This April, Earth Day falls in the same month as the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, like it always does. This April, I watch ‘Servant of the People,’ immersing in the surrealism of Volodyrmyr Zelensky playing President Goloborodko before he was elected as a real president. This April, instead of first vaccines, we debate when to get our second booster shots. Perhaps the pandemic is a permanent condition of life now.

This April, Jon Batiste, now decorated with multiple Grammys, still plays ‘We Are’ in my car. This April, my boys go to school in person as they have most of this school year. There are buds on Mom’s memorial Lilac. Crocus and Bloodroot bloom in the snow – again.

What disintegrated and what persisted, — blooming despite it all —  in the stories of your pandemic springs?


Notes:

  1. Austin, M. (2020, April 2). Why is April “the Cruelest Month”? T.S. Eliot’s Masterpiece of Pandemic Poetry. Medium. https://michaelaustin-47141.medium.com/why-is-april-the-cruelest-month-t-s-eliots-masterpiece-of-pandemic-poetry-13300db19466
  2.  Definition of MEMENTO MORI. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/memento+mori
  3.  The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot republished on the Poetry Foundation website. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land
  4.  Jonee Kulman Brigham. Postcards from the Pandemic – Full Spring Studio, LLC. From http://fullspringstudio.com/postcards-from-the-pandemic/

Time Capsules: Postcards from Three Pandemic Marches

This is the first in a series looking back across time at the ongoing project called Postcards from the Pandemic.

Postcards from the Pandemic: March 21, 2020, front of postcard. (c) Full Spring Studio, LLC

As the pandemic first rose and rode across the world like a tsunami, it washed away schedules, work patterns, social norms, and plans for the future. Normal, orderly time was broken up and scattered, –some of it lost all together. I’ve been trying to pick up the pieces, ever since.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 outbreak was now a global pandemic. Before this declaration emerged, its seeds had been germinating below my sustained attention.  My life was not altered when December’s unnamed virus cases appeared in China. It was unsettling in January as the story became closer, surfacing in the U.S. on January 19th and having its unseemly portrait created by CDC artists on January 21st.  I felt more foreboding in February, when the World Health Organization named the virus “COVID-19,” suitable for its destined ubiquitous role in daily life.  Later in February, Italy was shutting down. On March 6th, having already planned the trip, our family boarded a plane, wiped the surfaces with bleach towelettes, and arrived in San Diego to see my 90-year-old dad. When we entered his house, he held his arms back and said, “No hugging!” –a smart precaution for his age, and our first experience of social distancing. We made hug gestures in the air, and sat apart from each other on his patio with lemonade and salted peanuts. The following week, on March 10th, we flew back to Minnesota. The next day, we were in a global pandemic.

March 2020: Marking time

Postcards from the Pandemic: March 22, 2020, front and back of postcard, reading, “The minister gave an online sermon confessing irritation at the crocuses blooming: ‘Haven’t you heard!?’.” © Full Spring Studio

After the trip, as the unraveling continued, I decided to use art to create an island of structured time amidst the chaos. Here is how my artist’s statement began:

In March of 2020, as the realization of the scale and impact of the pandemic was gradually taking hold in me, I sensed the cascading losses of certainty. Plans for the future – for my job, for social gatherings, for my children’s schooling, for what it meant to go to the store – all these were up in the air. The rituals of planning, setting goals, and meeting deadlines were suspended. Life became tentative. Time was distorted and disordered. In response, I decided to do something to reclaim what sense of normal time I could. Like a shipwreck survivor marks days on the wall of a cave, I decided to mark time based on the reliable cycles of day and night. Each day from March 21 to June 21, I decided to collect and catalog a moment with an image and an observation to create postcard vignettes of my experience. I completed this almost every day.1

Each postcard was a moment, a shard of time from the wreckage, that was safe within its 4×6 format. I printed the photographs, applied paraffin wax to preserve certain features from the memory, and then I washed diluted sumi-e ink over the image, darkening the unwaxed elements. For the back of each postcard, I wrote the date, and a short observation in silver pencil on heavy matte black paper.

Some postcards, like the one from my minister’s sermon on March 22, spoke to the tension between normal and altered life. Others reflected my increased attention to disinfecting surfaces, with a close-up of a freshly-bleached doorknob, or my particular attention to my son’s hands as they touched playground equipment. Toward the end of the month, our cat became very sick.

March 2021: Opening time capsules

Postcards from the Pandemic: March 24, 2020, video, 2021. © Full Spring Studio

In summer of 2020, having barely made it through creating the content for postcards from March through June, I set the project down. It was exhausting holding time together as it was relentlessly pulled apart. But, in March of 2021, one year after starting–and with the pandemic still growing–I felt the urge to mark time again. I hadn’t really had a plan the prior year about the end of the project, –just that at some time after the pandemic, I would present or exhibit the postcards in an art installation. I thought about how postcards are meant to be mailed, and my next steps are described in this part of my artist’s statement:

The postcard records were like micro-time capsules, sent from the early pandemic to a later version of myself. A year later, still in the pandemic, I thought about how I would retrieve these messages, and share them, joining with the pandemic reflections as multiple as the population. The post office delivers mail across distant geographies – from one mailbox to another. I decided I needed a mailbox to deliver mail across distant time periods. So, using a salvaged mailbox from my childhood garden, I set a stage for the postcards to be retrieved across time and remembered.   After assembling my records of pandemic moments into postcards each day, I video recorded and ritualized a daily visit to receive the mail, reading the messages, and viewing the moment partially preserved in an altered photograph. 1

 It took nearly an hour each day to film the mailbox ritual, record my voice reading the postcard, and then edit the footage, and post it online. It made each memory heavier with the weight of the effort. Video editing can be fussy, and require attention to detail, replaying and editing over and over again. Perhaps it served as a meditation, as if a story would emerge if I just tried again. After posting each one on YouTube, I tweeted it into the ether, in my new, unfollowed Twitter account. What was the purpose in all this? Why send these memorialized moments into the atmosphere? I wasn’t sure, but once started, I did not want to break the momentum. The repetition created order, even as the weather changed, the soundtrack recorded passing cars, and birds, and the pandemic cases and deaths continued to rise. March 2021 marked about a year since my kids started remote schooling, my work life existed through Zoom, and since we’d visited my dad. My husband and I waited our turn to be eligible for the vaccine.

March 2022: Mending the loose ends of time

Once again, my fresh spring plans of 2021 had not resulted in completing my pandemic story. Maybe I sensed a conclusion was premature. As the two-year anniversary of the global pandemic approached in March 2022, I longed for closure, — or at least an end to this chapter. I recently read an article in the Atlantic by Joe Pinsker about how disorienting and disheartening it was for people to not be able to close their pandemic narrative—especially in Fall 2021 when Delta pulled a “gotcha” on our dreams of ‘normal’ life.  The author called it “narrative fatigue.” Humans like a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. But my broken pieces of timeline were fraying.

So I decided, once again, to try to regroup and finish the project, for real this time. Which brings me to this essay. This time, I decided, I would scoop the moments into month-sized stories, weaving the months in one direction across the years in the other. Maybe these woven time lines can hold the story together this time. I know from so many articles, videos, and artworks by others, that I’m not the only one with narrative fatigue.

How did you,–and are you still– holding your stories through each pandemic spring?


Notes:

1 Excerpts of Artists Statement from Postcards from the Pandemic website, March 2021, Full Spring Studio, LLC.

CDC. (2022, January 5). CDC Museum COVID-19 Timeline. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/museum/timeline/covid19.html

Brigham, Jonee Kulman. Postcards from the Pandemic – Full Spring Studio, LLC. Full Spring Studio, LLC. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from http://fullspringstudio.com/postcards-from-the-pandemic/

Pinsker, J. (2022, March 10). Our Brains Want the Story of the Pandemic to Be Something It Isn’t. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/03/covid-pandemic-story-two-years/627023/

Post Cards from the Pandemic

This March, I struggled, as many did, to make sense or meaning of the disruption that the Covid-19 pandemic brought. With the immersive effects growing every day, it is hard to reflect or to get perspective on any sweeping truths, so I looked at the details. Starting 3/21/20, I began recording observations of life in the pandemic each day represented by an image and a short statement. Some observations are directly related to the pandemic, like new behaviors of bleaching doorknobs. Other observations are colored by the pandemic, where dead leaves become omens of our cat’s impending death (she passed peacefully on April 1.) Or where gas line replacement work in our front yard, seems more ominous than a reminder of our fossil fueled lives already is. While not all of the postcards are so bleak, I want to notice and cherish even the darkest observations. They help cut through the news to clarify what is most essential, and collect clues for future stories of what I learned.  

These explorations, which are still ongoing, use what I call, “altered photo” technique, where I print an image, and change it physically, retaining the recognizable photograph (with it’s implied accurate rendition of reality), but using other media to alter that reality. In this case, I am altering the photo by rubbing clear wax over the areas of focus, sometimes more densely for more preservation, and sometimes lightly. Then I wash over the photograph with a sumi-e ink and water mixture. This wax-resist process, keeps the wash mostly off the waxed ares, but it can sink into the areas without wax. As I do this, I think about how the pandemic’s gloom can heighten awareness of details, and how it can ‘color’ everyday life with different associations (resilience, death, fear, gratitude, transition, etc.)

The image is glued to black paper on the flip side of the postcards, with the annotation written in silver colored pencil on a traditional postcard format. I don’t intend to literally stamp and send these to myself, but they are like a message in a bottle to my post-pandemic self so that I can get a glimpse of the shifts in my outlook before it becomes a new normal.

Earth Rise Video Poem

April 22, 2020: Happy Earth Day! Love your mother… This mother loved collaborating with her son. New video release: Earth Rise by Full Spring Studio (Jonee) and Samuel Brigham.

Earth Rise Video poem based on artwork and poem, 1:48 min.

The story of our size compared to Earth has long fascinated me. Has the Earth grown smaller in our imaginations as we’ve traveled to space and enlarged our impact? How can we return to the humility of our dependence on a “mother” Earth? I’ve incorporated these questions into many artworks. This is a drawing of the famous Earth Rise photo of 1968, taken by an astronaut on the Apollo 8 mission. With that photo, and similar ones, humanity saw the Earth for its fragile beauty, a small and rare living planet in space. This drawing is also used on the cover of a book of environmental poetry including a poem called Earth Rise, about the famous photograph. In the video poem, I collaborated with my teenage son, a talented video artist who brought a whole new dimension to the art and poem

Dig: 10 years later

Dig, 2020: Created for the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, this video of a 2010 artist’s book acknowledges how we are all connected to the disasters of our fossil fuel economy. By Full Spring Studio, LLC with video assistance by Samuel Brigham.

Ten years ago, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 people, and killed or damaged extensive wildlife and ecosystems, as oil leaked out for months. The oil kept spilling for 87 days as attempts to seal the leak or contain the spill kept failing. Knowing that our fossil-fuel-based economy needs customers like me, who drive gas-consuming cars, and heat their homes with natural gas, I felt the tragedy as both observer and accomplice. Even though we may have little control over the larger systems we depend on, we are both “the players and the pawns” as the poem says.

In June 2010, as the oil still flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, I made an artist book about the spill and these feelings. I used images of our gas line since we had our utilities marked in our front lawn as we explored the installation of a rain garden. I was in a class on making digital artists books and was challenged to be more open-ended in my visual associations. The result was a concertina style artists book which I later exhibited, opened up on a fifteen-foot long frame.

Ten Years Later: Video Poem
As the 10th anniversary of the DeepWater Horizon spill approached, I wanted to revisit this work. I decided that the unfolding of images and poetry in the book could work well in a video. I’m still learning video, and actually started the sequences in PowerPoint. Then my teenage son, a video artist, helped finish it off. He thought there should be an audio background besides my voice reading the poem that comes in later. I suggested the ocean, and he brought this new dimension into the work.

Coincidentally, this April, construction work began on our front lawn. The energy utility is replacing the old 1960’s natural gas line and installing a new one ten feet closer to our house. In an alternate climate-responsive world, they would just be removing the gas line. We and our neighbors wouldn’t need it. We’d have electric heating and appliances powered by renewable electricity. Progress is being made, Minnesota has more renewable in our electric grid than ever before but the inertia of our physical and economic infrastructure slows our progress: all the homes heated by gas, of all the gas lines, all of investments in the fossil fuel sector.

The poem ends, “Sound the sirens, Light the flare.” While it is hard to sustain attention to a chronic crisis, the sirens and flares of scientists, artists, and the general public have made an impact. I will continue to join others in the cause.

Travels and Flower Parade in New York City

My view of the flower wall from behind

Remembering May 26, 2019

I was traveling in New York City for a conference. My first time there. It felt like I wasn’t fully American, in a way, without visiting this city where half of the US movies take place, it seems. The conference was busy, and so my exploration was limited to walking neighborhoods, taking the subway, and a wonderful boat ride Friday night, where I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, from the water – just like my ancestors did arriving to the US as immigrants. She didn’t seem as large as I’d imagined, but just as moving, –maybe more poignant in contrast to the scale of downtown. Is there any US public art with greater impact than her?

Boat tour of NYC

My departing flight on Sunday was late enough that I was able to participate in a public performance artwork, timed to conclude the conference: “A Human Flower Wall,” created by Italian artist, Sasha Vinci. In my brief visit, nothing could have been a better bonding experience with place and people, nor better capped my adventure. It was a lifetime highlight. What follows are my notes, excerpts from Sasha’s posts, and reflections. It is good to reflect and remember, particularly when I had the honor and joy to participate in the artwork.

A Human Flower Wall

As described on Sasha’s website where it was promoted in advance:

A PERFORMANCE FOR URBAN SUSTAINABILITY
On May 26, 2019, in New York City, the art project A HUMAN FLOWER WALL will take place. Created by the Sicilian artist Sasha Vinci and curated by Diego Mantoan, the performance takes flowers and people to the streets of the Big Apple and is hosted by New York University on the occasional the international conference edra50 brooklyn on Sustainable Urban Environments. This project is based on the artistic experience of The Republic of Marvels, performed in Venice in 2018 following the victory at the Sustainable Art Prize. The new intervention blossoms from the art prize founded by Ca’ Foscari Sostenibile and awarded every Autumn at the art fair ArtVerona, in order to engage the art world in the debate on sustainable development.


On the last Sunday in May a parade of students and people will walk across the streets of NYC as one critical, unique and cohesive grouping, starting from the campus buildings of NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn, the parade will thus metaphorically constitute a biological and moving wall, which appears ready to open up and be penetrated. It will be a wall made of flowers and humans that doesn’t imply negation, separation and division; on the contrary it stands as a symbol of integration, inclusiveness and protection of every human being, each one resonating like a human diapason with one another.

And here are some of the photos from his Facebook page. (It is kind of surreal to appear in some of the images!)

My experience – ‘Memento Flori’

It was such an immersive experience, but I didn’t want to record every part. Instead I decided to extract my primary impressions. So on my plane ride home, after watching the Vincent van Gogh movie (more art inspiration),  I recorded the following in my travel notebook. Here’s a reading of it on a short video so you don’t have to decipher my handwriting. Note that it includes content from third party conversations that may not be factual about the artist.

Remembering the Flowers

It has been over a week now. It is wonderful to see Sasha has posted images of the parade today. I’d only taken one picture, since I was inside of the parade, and I wanted to do more ‘being’ than recording. Also, more than half the time I had a heavy carpet of flowers hanging over my arms.

I am trying to process what to bring forward from this experience. Somehow it feels like the lifespan of the experience is longer for me than the parade itself. Clearly the artist intends for it to make a lasting impression – to cause a remembering, perhaps. Memento Flori references Memento Mori, “…the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits (Wikipedia).” In mirrored contrast, the flowers ask us to remember -what? Life? The transitory-ness and fragility of life? The artwork’s flowers die, of course, though they hold life energy throughout the performance, and surprisingly for several days afterwards.   In the post with the images above, Sasha refers to the flower as “Image of life and rebirth.”

I brought home two flowers that fell from the carpets. I safely transported them in my glasses case, and noticed that they were each in the position of an eye. This struck me as a fitting image by which to remember the flowers. I have photographed the flower’s slow withering.

Now it has gone to seed. I imagine planting flowers, as a next chapter.

My artist friend, Pat Young, introduced me to the idea of “Slow Art,” –spending time with an artwork, rather than consuming it in one gulp (my paraphrase). While the flower parade was fleeting, its intended impression is not, and I’m going to let my experience of the Human Flower Wall unfold, following it where it leads.

Grazie mille, Sasha, and your whole team for this experience and lifelong memory.

Transitions

Spring is a time of transitions. Blood Root peek up from the damp, grey-brown earth with their fragile stems and delicate petals. Buds thicken the ends of tree twigs with green potential. Robins, with mouthfuls of dried grass, weave their nests anticipating a new generation within small blue eggs. In each of these cases, something had to disintegrate to provide the circumstances for something new. Soil nutrients are based on the investment of last year’s life.

I’ve been thinking about transitions. March 21 marked the 11th birthday of Full Spring Studio. And today, April 22nd, Earth Day, is the ground breaking ceremony for the new interpretive building at Westwood Hills Nature Center in St. Louis Park. While I don’t live in St. Louis Park anymore, I have an attachment to it, particularly to Westwood Hills Nature Center, since it was here in 2008 that I started work with a great team and community on Children’s Nest Egg (In the Park), a participatory public art project. And it was this project that inspired me to start Full Spring Studio, LLC.

Children’s Nest Egg, was always about transitions. Its guiding poem travels from the story of an all-encompassing “Earth” as mother, to the fragile blue egg in space that “must be cared for as our child.” Likewise, its path into the nest is a transition in scale. As a person enters the nest that is larger than life, they are made small like a bird, only to find an Earth egg inside, re-sizing them larger than the planet. The project is also about the transition of disintegration and renewal. Over time, the woven branches that make the nest wall, decompose and settle until a new volunteer group builds up the nest again, stacking branches and sewing them in place with the giant wooden needle and Manila rope. The nest renewal reinforces the theme of nature appreciation and stewardship that community members expressed in their poetry engraved in the bench near the center of the artwork.

Dis-integration

Last June, I got a call from Mark Oestreich, Director of Westwood Hills Nature Center. He said that an exciting new project was planned for the Nature Center – a green building that would produce as much energy as it used, demonstrating its environmental responsibility as it welcomed visitors to explore the nature center. In order to make space for the new building, Children’s Nest Egg would need to be dismantled.  While I was sad to see the project end, I was excited by the new community expression of environmental stewardship that would take its place.  We planned for a closing ceremony on September 29, ten years after the opening ceremony.

Later that fall, I started to remove the pieces. Each one felt invested with meaning. The Earth egg had been sat upon (though never hatched), climbed upon, jumped off of, and contemplated against a backdrop of poetry, branches, and the trees and birds that surround it. The main poetry boards had survived many winters, buried in snow, and the letters started growing small tufts of moss. The metal poetry “feathers” of the bench, still carried the community’s wishes  – the “gifts of wild” they wanted to leave future generations. The original shiny gold brass engraved letters had become black, which contrasts just as well against the chrome mirrored plates. How many people had seen themselves reflected between the words of these poems, and watched the sunlight dance through the leaves, reflected off of the arc of the wing? Children who contributed poems are now young adults. My mother, who contributed a childhood nature memory, is now passed away. Ten years is very little time, and also very long.

So do these memories and stories disintegrate? If so, into what new form do they re-integrate? I have started to explore this question as I inventory what remains, hanging in transition between seasons:

  1. A poem, whose parental stance toward the Earth, no longer fits my world view: now excerpted into “weathered words,” -photographs of a story in the process of disintegration and re-integration. (The actual poetry boards are in storage, waiting for their next role.)
  2. A concrete sphere, painted as the Earth – a kind of puppet in our Nature Play Story: now sitting in my front yard, a “weathered world,” currently un-adorned and looking like it landed as a meteorite from outer space, denting the actual Earth which it references.
  3. The outer feathers of the wing bench made of metal: now in a metal recycling facility, to be melted down and remade into future forms unknown. One scrap of a feather remains with me, a metal memento.
  4. The inner chrome-plated feathers, many engraved with poetic commitments to the future: now carefully sorted for safe keeping. Their magic was in their transition – from an author expressing care, transmitted into words across time to be received by another reading and connecting to that care, perhaps tracing fingers along black letters, the size of butterfly legs.
  5. A well-worn nest of branches, rope, and decking: now will bio-degrade at another location, returning to the soil and becoming new earth.

Re-integration

An earlier version of Children’s Nest Egg had been built at the Arboretum’s summer exhibit in 2007. Most of the decking from that sculpture was sold for reuse since it had only weathered one season, but the circular nest base ended up in my back yard. Last Friday, as my sons and their friends were building a fort and were running out of materials, I suggested they disassemble the badly disintegrating nest platform and re-use it for their shelter.

Duration has its appeal, but there is a time when it is clear that things must be taken apart, and something new must be made in its place. This can be a gentle process, with nothing wasted, like nature’s cycles. Old ways of thinking, at the pace of preservation and conservation, can be appreciated and harvested for all the care they embody, but they are eventually remade into radically new forms. -Like the youth movement in St. Louis, Park that helped drive bold new climate-responsible goals for the city. Or like the aspirational design of the new interpretive building at Westwood Hills Nature Center: now, today, breaking ground, fortified by past investments, sending forth a new story for the future.

Invitation to Children’s Nest Egg Closing/Transition Ceremony and Program

You are Invited to the Children’s Nest Egg
Closing/Transition Ceremony and Program

Saturday, September 29th, 2018
1:30 – 3:00 pm (presentation at 2pm)

Location:
Picnic Shelter and Children’s Nest Egg
Westwood Hills Nature Center
8300 W Franklin Ave,
St Louis Park, MN 55426

At the Event:

  • Artifacts from Planning on Display
  • Presentation of Project Stories
  • Reading of Community Poetry
  • Transition Reflections and Ideas
  • Closing Ceremony
  • Take-home Memento (limited number)

Ten years ago this fall (September 2008) the Children’s Nest Egg public art project was dedicated at Westwood Hills Nature Center.  Since then, countless children and visitors have entered the room-sized nest to explore, sit on the earth-egg, and read the poetry from the community engraved on the bench that expresses the “gifts of wild” that community members appreciate and want to leave as a legacy for the next generation.

As you may know if you live in St. Louis Park, starting next year, a very tangible legacy is being planned for construction on the same site. A new nature center building for Westwood Hills will be a state-of-the-art green building  that improves public access to the natural environment and programming at Westwood Hills Nature Center, and models environmental leadership to future generations. This project necessitates the removal of Children’s Nest Egg, and there are no plans to relocate it at the Nature Center, due to limitations of space.

In light of this transition,  and to honor and appreciate the contributions of the funding organizations, as well as provide space for a community farewell to the art work, I have been working with Mark Oestriech, Manager of Westwood Hills Nature Center, to plan a closing ceremony in September near the 10 year anniversary of the Children’s Nest Egg dedication.  This is a way of thanking those who invested in this project and to properly close a project in which so many expressed their heartfelt feelings for community and the environment. The closing program is scheduled for Saturday, September 29th, 2018 from 1:30-3 pm at Westwood Hills Nature Center.

I hope to be able to talk with you about your own Children’s Nest Egg memories and stories, as well as ideas underway for the transition of Children’s Nest Egg – physically as well as its story. However the documentation and next steps for the sculpture unfold, the replacement of Children’s Nest Egg with a building that is a testament to the community’s environmental commitment is a meaningful turning point in the history of this special place.

Hope to see you at the event!

-Jonee

The Event is posted on Facebook, too. LINK

Summer: Maps, Corn, Fish, and Thanks – Visiting Teaching Artists Residency

I unfurled the giant map, and campers of Big Stone Lake Stories searched for landmarks along the 26 mile stretch of Big Stone Lake, headwaters of the Minnesota River. – Photo: John White
It has been a busy summer, mostly working on Earth Systems Journey projects. One of my favorites of the summer is Big Stone Lake Stories.  In the Earth Systems Journey website I report on where the model is being applied, and the project websites are focused on the project story. But here, in the Full Spring Studio blog, I feel I can be more personal, and share my experience as an artist. –specifically, how I fell in love with this community and this place, and the whole team, and the wonderful campers.

It will take MONTHS, if not years to really unpack what this project has meant to me. But I wanted to share some impressions and themes here that I hope to build on as I reflect more, and that are informing some artworks I’m working on in response to the camp.

Maps

Visitor to Corn Fest in Ortonville, MN pierces the map, “Land Markings,” with a needle to stitch in her special place along Big Stone Lake.
The interplay between maps and art has been present since I started doing Earth Systems Journey (ESJ), and built a giant 8×8 foot map where (little pre-kindergarten) campers could insert their photos under the flaps. It was called MapStories, and I didn’t even know about GIS Story Maps which were becoming more popular and usable, and would shape the direction of ESJ map art. I am fascinated by the act of making marks on a map, whether digital or physical, and in Big Stone Lake Stories, we did both. “Land Markings” is a 4 foot by 5 foot canvas map with a satellite image printed on it, along with watershed boundaries, and the art is designed to incorporate embroidery that traces key features, the campers path along the lake, and special places identified by campers and the public who engage with it.

My exploration of the land of the area, along the south of the “bump” on the west side of Minnesota was exciting as I learned more about the glacial history, how the valley was formed by glacial river, Warren, and how the lake also acts as a river in some ways. I’d never seen such a long string bean of a lake. My experiences with lakes had been on the rounder side. So I was also fascinated by the lake as a line – a pathway of river Warren, a border between states, and a center line of a watershed. This shows up in the video poem, later.

Corn

I received corn, with gratitude at Corn Fest in Ortonville, MN on August 18th. I bit into it with salt and butter.
Corn was not what the camps were about. They were about ground water and surface water, and Bonanza Education Center and its state park land filled with prairie, Artesian springs, and lake shore. Corn was not even served for lunch during camp. However, corn has been a recurring theme for me in this project.

When we planned the project, Don Sherman, project organizer suggested that we have it just before Corn Fest in Ortonville, so that the campers could show what they did at the community gathering. After we received the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Grant, and support from many other organizations (please see sponsor list), I went on a preview trip to scout the area in July, and when were were looking at some land by Don’s friend’s house, his friend, Johnnie “Smoke” Karels, left a gift bag of corn by the passenger side of Don’s car, so eager was he to share the fresh harvest. And of course driving to, from, or near Big Stone Lake, one sees fields and fields of corn. It is not the only crop grown here, but it is very common all along the Lake Drive. There’s a strong sense of abundant food in this area, and corn became one of the symbols for me of this abundance.

Fish

Camper, Addie, turns her head in disgust upon smelling the dead carp we found by the dam in Ortonville. Artist and project organizer, Don Sherman, gets a photo from another angle.
Also on the scouting trip in July, I received a beautiful MinnAqua poster about fish in Minnesota. And heard stories and saw posted news articles about fishing. I thought the posters, with their beautifully rendered fish profiles, might be useful in the collage art we would make, and was given a handful of posters to experiment with. I left that scouting trip with fish and corn on my mind.

Camp wasn’t particularly about fish, either. Although we did spend time learning about aquatic invasive species, like Curly Leaf Pond Weed, which affects lake algae, and thus fish health. Yet fish symbols emerged more than once. Early in the week, there was a fish kill near the dam that extended a quarter mile up the south end of the lake, we heard, apparently related to to algae, and temperature. During the week, water quality educators related the environmental science they were teaching to fish health. On our trip to the dam later, we found a dead carp.

So Many Stories – Video Poem

By Tuesday night, it had seemed like we’d been there a week – we’d done so much already. We’d connected with water, with land, with place, and completed the upstream journey from glacial history presented from both Dakota oral history, as well as from a story-telling hydrologist. We’d followed the well water up from the geologic depths below our camp, through the pipes, out the faucet and down the drain again, to the septic tank and septic field.  The next day I would talk with them, and conduct map activities exploring our place in “the middle” – the middle of our journey, the middle of the lake north and south, and more generally in the middle of our ecologic systems, both downstream of impacts that act on us, and upstream of water legacies we send forward.

I decided to explore the dock on the lake where I was staying at a historic bed and breakfast. I needed to write, and this poem came, and I immediately recorded it right there, with the sunset, and a few fish that jumped.

That evening, and many times since, I’ve been overcome with appreciation. This grant means a lot to me, and the development of my work. But more so I recognize what a privilege it is to come into such a dynamic, and supportive community and try to create something with them that contributes, and hopefully lives on in the insights and strengthened community connections between youth, artists, environmental educators and scientists, the public and the lake. And the fish and the corn.

Thank you to all involved in this adventure,
-Jonee