Artist Statement: Global Pandemic

Art imitating life?

 

In the fall of 2020, the world was using 129 billion disposable plastic masks globally every month. That is three million masks per minute (source: World Economic Forum).

 

With mandatory mask regulations throughout the world continuing to be a part of our efforts to fight this global pandemic, how we use and dispose of this piece of personal protective equipment has many consequences for society today, tomorrow and well into the future.

 

As subsequent waves have persisted, I started to think more critically about two pandemics — the first and more acute is COVID-19 and the second, and more insidious,  is the waste we’re producing in response. What are the lasting impacts of our choices today? How should ecological risks in our health care responses be considered? How will these two pandemics affect our children?

 

As all of us can attest, play is the universal language of childhood. This is where we learn to cope, to give and take, and to share in the joys and challenges of human interaction. In the school year of 2020/21, my daughter began to play a game called ‘infection’ at school. Infection is similar to tag, except once infected, you are on the same team and, as you might expect, the last person not infected wins.

 

Over the past year and a half, I have (safely) collected only some of the masks that I have seen on the streets and sidewalks. They are everywhere! Some are probably ones that people have lost, though I suspect many of them are ones that people have just thrown into the street. While discovering more children’s masks on the streets and sidewalks in the spring of 2021, inspiration struck. I found myself contemplating the hopeful, the playful and the rejuvenating side of springtime contrasting against the scourge of this pandemic waste — discarded children’s masks nestled amongst a patch of daisies, a bunch of buttercups, a bed of grass. Pairing the darker side of these two pandemics with playful childhood themes, I hope to unveil the collective consciousness that links the health of our planet with the health of our children.

 

Global Pandemic was a very challenging artistic process for me. I knew I needed to document this time for the children living through it, but I didn’t want to be overcome with sadness and frustration. How might I tell the story so that we could appreciate the gravity of this time but remain positive and hopeful about the future? 

 

When I first started to pick up masks, I felt overwhelmed and somewhat defeated. The first work in the series, Litterbug, was deliberately intended to provoke the idea of senseless waste and carelessness in action. I then met David Papineau, a ‘plogger’ (a person who combines jogging with picking up litter), who was devoted to cleaning up his neighbourhood, one discarded mask at a time. Using tongs and bread bags, he has recovered nearly 29,000 discarded masks in the City of Vancouver. Suddenly there was hope for humanity! This serendipitous connection coincided with finding more children’s masks in the streets. With “Ring-Around-the-Rosie” bouncing around in my head, I was inspired to bring the darker subjects of the pandemic and pollution together with proverbially playful children’s nursery rhymes and games. 


As I have done with previous archival work, Global Pandemic is printed using a 19th Century technique called tri-colour gum bichromate over palladium. This meticulous artistic process ensures each work’s uniqueness and the timeless quality of the print preserves the integrity of the fine art photographs over time.

Michelle Leone Huisman