2020 COVID-19 ARCHIVE
I wish you all health and peace, and hope that you enjoy this offering of art and writing. I know that creativity in all forms helps me through life’s difficulties. I am eager to see what our community continues to do.
Below are some words from Ily Reiling as she discusses the significance of art in our culture. Enjoy the rest of the issue.
Jean Alger, Professor of English
“. . . everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is selfdoubt.”
Tom Nordgren, Professor of English
There are certain moments which define each citizen of the world. For me, the first of these moments was watching the 9/11 attacks being broadcast on repeat in my childhood home. I was dumbstruck by the emotional, psychological, and physical impact it was going to have on the world. The images slammed into my head over and over again. In a daze, I slowly got closer to the screen, as if physical proximity would help with comprehension. Eventually I pushed my eye up close to the screen. The incomprehensible sense of destruction became more real as the images dissolved into pixilated light and flashes. I could see the physical cells and its matrix of colored light. Here was where the unhuman analytical zeros and ones transmitted the foreshadowing of the unknown future. There was physical tangibility in that moment, beautiful in its simplicity and truth. It provided an escape and solace.
When the human experiences an intense emotion such as fear, many things happen quickly. Input from the stimulus is sensed and given to the “emotional processing” center of the brain, the amygdala, to provide a response. The amygdala activates the hypothalamus, which in turn activates the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland sends out the “Fight or Flight” chemicals, including adrenocorticotropic hormones and adrenaline. Fearful humans will experience things like goosebumps as the muscles of the body tense. A “butterfly” in the stomach as blood pressure and breathing rate increase. The pupils dilate causing tunnel vision and reduced hearing. This process primes the human body to preform amazing feats of strength, courage, endurance, healing, and survival.
In response to the COVID and its precautionary actions, we can see interesting reactions to this primal response to fear. Humanity has shown wholly unselfish acts of caring and heroism. Individuals, companies, institutions, and governments shut down in order to protect our most vulnerable populations. Neighbors, friends, and families risk their own health to support those who need an extra hand. In other instances, we see the animalistic side of fear. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer became luxury goods with price gouging as a rotten cherry on top. Those of an outgoing disposition experience cabin fever within the first few days of isolation. People start screaming at coughing or sneezing individuals in supermarkets. Armed protests in the streets and public centers are becoming common, citing individual rights violations caused by mandated restrictions on work and social behaviors. These are fear responses in a time where the flight aspect of fear is disallowed. We are stuck in a tar pit of helpless inactivity and worry.
Most people alive today have not experienced a pandemic of this scale. But restrictions on lifestyle and livelihoods of this type, along with high mortality rates, have been common throughout human history. Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian Renaissance poet and writer, provides us a glimpse into the Third Bubonic Plague epidemic. His best-known work, The Decameron, artfully describes the stories of people fleeing the Black Death outbreak in 1348. Boccaccio knew personally how horrific this experience was through his observation of mass graves, the disappearance of whole families, and the end of economic stability. This wave of Bubonic Plague would result in the deaths of so many that no one really know. This time of fear would lead to further fear-induced action through the mass extermination of the Rhineland Jewish population. Although The Decameron focuses on the tragic life and romances of those involved in the story, Boccaccio allows us to sense the common human thread by employing comedy, wit, and morality tales within the harrowing experience. Through art and creativity, we can find a thread of hope and humor within chaos.
There have been famous examples of creative and inventive actions taken by those in isolation caused by pandemics. Isaac Newton laid the foundation for his theories of gravity and optics, as well as the development of calculus as Cambridge was closed due to the 1665 Bubonic Plague outbreak. Shakespeare famously wrote King Lear and Measure of Measure during the continuous outbreaks of plague in the Elizabethan era. Bach, no stranger to disease and its devastating repercussions, wrote his Cantana No. 25 titled There is Nothing Healthy in My Body a year after the great plaque of Marseille left over 100,000 people dead. Albert Camus wrote his famous Le Peste, or The Plague, focusing on the 1899 cholera epidemic and the helplessness humans experience in a predetermined world. Edward Munch painted his “Self Portrait with the Spanish Flu” in 1919. In this work he is seen as a haggard figure; aged and emaciated from the pandemic which killed an estimated 20-100 Million people, world-wide. In his fluid and gestural strokes, we see a man trapped and isolated in his sick room. Like his most famous work, The Scream, the body holds the moral of the visual story: the diseased body hidden under a mess of fabric, the eyes greyed into non-existent cataracts, the mouth gapping as it continually gulps for air. In this painting, we can see slightly into the world of pain which is caused by the disease. We also can see the insatiable human spirit which will fight through all manner of assaults to survive. Life is unapologetically tenacious.
As some creative individuals use the time during pestilence to create work about and around the issues, other artists have utilized an outbreak of disease to advocate for changes in social order. In the midst of the outbreak of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the 1970s, the outsider artist David Wojnarowicz established a space for the topic. As gay communities were being ravished by the disease, the public and media opinion turned hostile, leading to further bigoty, violence, and stigmatization of homosexuals and those suffering from HIV-AIDS. In order to speak about this topic, Wojnawicz photographed his lover and mentor moments after death. This work puts into stark contrast his physical change from a strong handsome man into a gaunt shell of his former self. “The Other” barrier is broken down, smashing the idea that the hardest hit demographic should be left unseen and disregarded. Wojnawiczs’s photographs not only documented the suffering and resulting grief of HIV-AIDS, but humanized his loved ones. Humans harvest pain in order to hold up that mirror to nature. This mirror is vital to our evolution. In the following years after this series, Wojnarowicz and fellow artists would provide the world with their side of the story. This advocacy would help to unify the LBTQ community, allow for scientific advancements to help mitigate the pandemic, and help change public and political opinion.
As we grapple with our ever chaotic and unstable world, we sense that change is imminent. Our feet slide, as the boat of habitual stability is unmoored. As more sails are unfurled, all we know is that we have set off on a new journey. We have the opportunity to create growth for our species and world through compassion, wisdom, and innovation. The possibilities have become apparent during this crisis. Music has brought together communities, as people sing from their quarantined apartments to the first responders and health care workers. Innovation and creative problem solving abound, as scientists and researchers working collaboratively across the world for a vaccine. Home-grown groups of creatives sew masks for hospitals and nursing homes from scrap fabric. Internet platforms provide psychological solace as individuals provide human connection, entertainment, education, and support to strangers. If necessity is the mother of invention, creativity is invention’s beloved twin sibling.
This edition of Trinidad State Junior Colleges Bloodline Magazine is a celebration of all that our local Trinidad and Alamosa communities are doing during these trying times. We, the Arts Faculty of Trinidad State Junior College, invite you to enjoy and contemplate what is possible when the human spirit is given the space, instruction, and motivation to express life. Thank you to all who entered work for this edition. You have now entered the grand chronicle of creators who make during times of hardship. We honor you.
Ily S. Reiling
Curator of Visual Arts, Bloodlines
Associate Professor of Fine Arts
Trinidad State Junior College