In Memoriam is the latest of my flags for Prayers for the Pandemic. It very specifically honors the healthcare workers who, despite dangerous odds, are risking their lives to save and protect our lives. All of the materials in this prayer flag are PPE: personal protective equipment salvaged from non-COVID doctor’s visits. Will there ever be enough PPE?
As the caregiver for a hospitalized non-COVID family member I experienced first-hand the protocols I, and every doctor, nurse, and other hospital personnel had to observe. We stopped at the door of the patient’s room, had our temperatures taken, and then, donned from a secure supply: a gown, mask, and gloves. All before approaching the patient. Upon leaving, we removed all of this gear and placed it in a secure disposal container.
During this time, I have been working on a painting series, COVID COVID COVID all in tints of white. The primary element in these paintings is repeated clusters of hashmarks which reference the dead and, more obliquely, the caskets which were/are piling up around the world.
“In Memoriam” evolved organically from these paintings and by adding PPE gloves along the edges began to resemble a small white shrine. For the interior of this new work I again used hashmarks to count the numbers of healthcare workers who have died. This is intentionally a manual versus a digital counting system, in part because it is immediate and universal in its usage and comprehension. This specific visual device also references several of my earlier works, including “Addition and Subtraction” focusing on the casualties of terrorist attacks, circa 2000.
In due course I added a hospital gown, scrunched and torn and reflecting the anxiety and sadness experienced by healthcare workers who keep changing gowns before they move from patient to patient.
Initially I began photographing “In Memoriam” in different locations: inside my home and outside to get a better sense of its scale and design. However as neighbors, including an emergency room nurse, began commenting on this work I realized that there was a real influence from the numerous impromptu assemblages found in the shrines of Italian and Greek churches. People often put bits of clothing or other personal objects on shrine walls as offerings in hopes that the saints will answer their prayers.
I invite you to look at this and think of “In Memoriam” as an ad hoc shrine which is constantly evolving as I add more PPE. Not incidentally , in its current outdoor space at Riker Hill Art Park, natural elements: wind and rain are constantly changing this flag in both form and substance. In effect, the constantly shifting shapes and shadows mirror the changing status of the COVID-19 virus.