When I first became aware of it, it was called the Coronavirus and it was in a foreign land. Then the media, or more accurately, the epidemiologists, named it COVID 19 and it was spreading. As we sat glued every evening to our TV for the 7 o’clock news, it spread even further, and the WHO named it a Pandemic.
Next thing, we were in Lockdown or ISO as some people affectionately called it. I was now, just 70, so in a “vulnerable group”, so I stopped going to work and dutifully “stayed home”. But things “at home” didn’t feel that different. Except we were there more.
Like many, we dug into our garden, bought chooks, extra supplies and carried on regardless. Our community had a meeting, outside, in a very big circle so everyone was practicing “social distancing” … another new term we bandied around like it was a bit of a joke, as politicians bumped elbows and friends air-hugged at the regulatory 1.5 metres.
However it wasn’t a joke for the people we saw in Europe, on their balconies, cheering the health workers, who became heroes … or more dead bodies being stored in makeshift morgues and buried in mass graves, drone footage of white boxes being lain, side by side in massive holes in the ground. Those images are burnt indelibly into my brain.
But us communards, in our green bamboo paddock, on our picnic rugs, in our small family groups, while feeling alarmed by what was unfolding in the outside world, all seemed to share a feeling of gratitude and safety in our rural paradise (which only recently had been a smoke filled nightmare, surrounded by “fires near me”, until Father Christmas sent us the best present ever … many millimetres of sublime soaking rain!!!).
So, the weeks went by, and as other country’s graphs went up and up, Australia’s “flattened”. The Tokyo Olympics had been postponed, but we were amongst the world winners in the latest statistical sport. Numbers were being bandied around like there was no tomorrow … and indeed, for the “cases” who did not recover, there WAS no tomorrow!! It started to become just too overwhelming. It was hard to imagine, from our tiny green pocket, that these numbers all represented people and families, most of whom were not even given the chance to farewell their loved ones much less grieve communally at a proper funeral. Experts were expounding nightly on the news. Facebook was full of it too.
Luckily, the creative community also became active in new ways. We sang in zoom choirs and participated in online “sharing” of projects. I follow several mosaic pages on Facebook and one post in particular grabbed my attention. It was from MAN (Mosaic Art Now), which promotes the contemporary form of the art. They had put out a challenge for people to critique a work by Rachel Sager who would then later appear “LIVE” … and discuss her work and respond to some of the comments. I liked the concept, and I particularly liked the artwork “The Silent Canary”. I assiduously read all the comments, even commented myself, read MAN’s considered replies and then watched Rachel talk. I was really inspired by the work and the message.
Then, we received notice that our local gallery was re-opening in real-time and real- space!! They were calling for more entries. I had a strong need to express, creatively, my experiences and reflections over the past months. And Rachel’s work gave me the form to hang it on. My bubble in the bottom RH corner would be the colourful smalti focus. On the map, Australia, with only 103 deaths, had been left relatively unscathed. My valley was green and lush and is now a magnet to all those tourists, newly out of ISO, who can not go interstate or overseas. On my “commune”, people had been happily gardening, home-schooling kids, swimming in our pristine creek, walking, creating ephemeral art works and gathering around campfires. It had been a haven or “heaven” as its name, Shamballa, means in Sanskrit.
Outside our bubble is “the rest of the world”, which like Rachel’s would be dark and ominous and “blocky”. Very little colour. On scraps of lead I would stamp the statistics, the people who had died and become just numbers in a miasma of misery and grief and despair. I copied the numbers of deaths in particular countries, on that particular day, 1/6/2020, and that date became my reference point. Rachel’s portrait orientation became for me, a landscape, and then a world map. I created the continents, the countries and gave some a little character. A gun in the US. A Soviet “block” in Russia. In New Zealand, I honoured a particularly favourite mosaic artist John Bodica, who makes magnificent pebble mosaics. In Norway, 2 tin soldiers I’d made on a recent trip there. In India, a small square of coloured tile, in Iran, a tiny “Islamic mosaic”. Some Inca gold in Mexico. For the UK, my coin collecting partner found me a penny with a young Queen Elizabeth. Wanting to balance my bubble, I placed a white marble cross in the top left had area, to represent both the Christian stronghold in Europe and the many many graves newly dug.
The world total on that day is also shown at the top of the work – 373.961. Already, 12 days hence, as I write this, the number has risen to 428,525. How much will this number rise – deaths in developing countries not even recorded, more deaths with a second or even third wave???
By Wendy Tanner
‘Living In A Bubble’ is on show now at the Nexus Gallery Exhibition ’20:20 Vision’.