Appearance of Quiescence (2021)

Almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, a cold has settled in. February is always a bitter month in northern climes, but along with prolonged pandemic isolation, latent anti-Asian hostilities increasingly burst out and linger in the air with chilling effect. The world breathes in fear, and breathes out hate until it hyperventilates.

It is in this climate that I bring a temporary installation to Franklin Park, the largest open space in Boston. To introduce warmth where fear has closed us off from each other, I select a favorite bench, where people from the many surrounding communities might sit close together in peace. 

I borrow something familiar from my time as a scientist – parafilm, a material that is used to seal and protect lab samples. By wrapping the bench with parafilm, I create a space that is safe from the cold and snow.

However, it is the coldest day of the month. Like my fingers, the parafilm is stiff and difficult to work. So I use my breath, viewed by some as inherently diseased, to impart warmth. As I alternate between breathing on the material, stretching it out, and winding it around the bench to enclose the sitting space, a rhythm develops, like slow resuscitation; the act of wrapping turns into ritual as my breath is incorporated. Eventually, the bench is fully encapsulated. 

Then I wait. 

A chrysalis sits in apparent quiescence. 

Snow comes and goes. 

*    *    *

Finally, after a ten-day quarantine has passed, I unwrap. The bench emerges damp, like a newly-eclosed insect with crumpled wings. Faint graffiti that I hadn’t noticed before invites people to “sit” — cautious but hopeful after prolonged enclosure. Yet with this unveiling, questions still linger: 

What has been lost? What has survived? Is transformation really possible?

Instead of discarding the parafilm shroud, I gather up the lightweight pieces and collect a sample of dirt from the ground by the bench. As I heat and compress the  parafilm, I incorporate the dirt, intermingling it with traces of my breath as the mass coalesces into a solid. 

What to do with this stone-that-is-not-a-stone? It would undoubtedly be safest at home, where no one will question what it is or why it is there. But my breath is linked to the dirt, and the earth insists on its place.

Nearby stands a tree whose multiple trunks form a ring, recounting a history of death and rebirth in which the one gave way to many. I move in closer, drawn by the energy at the center. I see the site of regeneration – it offers a raised sanctum, still thinly covered in ice but anticipating spring. I place the stone on top.

As I step back to take in the effect, I can no longer tell whether it is the stone or the tree that is the source of renewal – it simply looks beautiful, as if it belongs.

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