Hoping You Are Well

Pandemic Epistles – a data visualization, 2020- . Installation of marbled papercuts.

Even in a pandemic, art finds a way. In December, I was invited to install a solo exhibition and be in residence at the Salina Art Center, a contemporary art space about an hour from where I live. Planning for what this exhibition could be lived alongside the uncertainty of our times, knowing that public spaces might shut down again or offer very limited viewership to whatever I might install. These constraints, oddly, offered me a new lens through which to view my work. And so I created an exhibition for pandemic times, in which visitors were prohibited from entering the gallery in person and instead could view it through the gallery doorway or through the windows to the outside, or they could participate virtually in the exhibition by attending a virtual event or by writing a letter, which would be delivered to me through the mail slot conveniently located in the gallery. And of course I responded to anyone who sent a letter my way.

Here is the exhibition statement I conceived for Hoping You Are Well: “Communication takes on new meaning in a pandemic. Standard phrases like “take care” or “I hope this finds you well,” polite but often generic expressions in an earlier time, now convey the weight of hope against a deadly virus. This exhibition features several projects that highlight the ways we care for each other through the written word: Taking Care, a participatory project in letters and thread; Pandemic Epistles, a daily practice of handwritten letters; and Letters to the Future, a series of epistolary poems exhibited here as audio recordings.”

In residence, listening and embroidering as part of Taking Care

Over the course of the month, made possible because I was teaching remotely, I spent several days each week in residence at the Salina Art Center, staying in the SAC Warehouse apartment and spending my days in the gallery. I wrote letters for my current daily practice; I embroidered for hours each day as part of listening to letters written for Taking Care, installing new embroideries each week; I listened to the voices of friends far away who’d recorded my Letters to the Future; and mostly I spent time by myself, in isolation, which felt like the safest option and most appropriate for the times through which we’re living.

And yet I still felt a connection to community near and far. Supporters of the Salina Art Center tuned in for a virtual artist talk, participated in a virtual sewing circle, and watched the streaming Facebook Live events of me at work, making visible the repetition and duration of caring labors. They delivered meals and small gifts to me, gestures of welcome that stood in place of gathering for meals and conversation in person. And they wrote letters, for the Taking Care project as well as just to make a connection. I carried the emotional weight of many of these letters.

Virtual events, too, offered new possibilities. One highlight for me was a Curator Conversation with Helena Reckitt, a curator, lecturer, and feminist researcher at Goldsmiths, University College of London. While I don’t know her personally, we have many common artistic interests in care, duration, writing, and feminist performance, and I so appreciated the chance to hear her questions and perspectives on my work. Most of our conversation is archived and available to view here.

And in a nice extension of the exhibition, my colleague Megan Johnston, who coined the term “slow curating,” kindly wrote an essay about my work so the Salina Art Center has now put out a digital publication. You can find it here. I am grateful.

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