The Pandemic Project
This project captures the aspects of life faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most impactful experiences in recent human history.
The Pandemic Project
In April 2020, Two Rivers Gallery invited Bill Horne & Claire Kujundzic, in Wells, BC; Cat Sivertsen in Prince George, BC; Jordan Schwab and Karla Griffin in Quesnel, BC and Catherine Blakburn, in Thornhill, BC to produce artwork that captured aspects of life faced during the COVID 19 pandemic. As one of the most impactful experiences in recent human history it was important for Two Rivers Gallery to document this experience.
Horne, Kujundzic and Sivertsen in response to the isolation of a world shut down reached out to people and communities pursuing human connection, support and collaboration. Schwab and Griffin developed a collaborative video work focused around their desire to visit parts of the world rendered inaccessible during the pandemic. Catherine Blackburn’s introspective work considered aspects of isolation and the precious companionship shared, often online, over cups of tea. While these works are born of personal experiences, each artist’s work is likely to resonate broadly with viewers. A year into the pandemic we can easily recognize a yearning for the human connection we previously took for granted, and the deep longing for the resumption of normalcy.
Catherine Blackburn was born in Patuanak Saskatchewan, of Dene and European ancestry and is a member of the English River First Nation. She is a multidisciplinary artist and jeweller, whose common themes explore Indigenous sovereignty, decolonization and representation, often prompted by personal narratives.
Her practice focuses primarily on the mediums of beadwork, sculpture and wearable work. Blackburn’s work has been presented in exhibitions and fashion runways both nationally and internationally. She is the recipient of the Melissa Levin Emerging Artist Award, a 2019 Sobey Art Award longlist nominee, and most recently, one of five artists selected for the prestigious Eitlejorg Contemporary Art Fellowship.
This work aims to find agency in stillness through utilizing my body as a tool of resistance. This pandemic lull has allowed for a shift in focus; centering systemic oppression, and for the privileged folk not affected by oppression, the onset of uncomfortable wokeness. For myself as an Indigenous woman, there have been varying degrees of emotional exhaustion. On the days I choose to not interact with the world, my anger cools to the daily average; just below boiling point. I do my best to channel it into my work when I simply have nothing left to say, or refuse to listen or engage in the continual racist noise. For many privileged folk that mean well, their contributions to harmful narratives continue, ‘how can we help?’, ‘ teach me’, ‘explain to me’. These moments and feelings have been amplified through isolation. YOUR work is not MY job.
So with this, I’m in the process of creating a work that sounds out the world. I make my own noise while motioning ‘NO’, using my head to activate the sounds. Through this I can drown out the noise while also being in control of it. I want to deny the viewers the comfort in this motion. Through using my body as a tool, like the Denesuline, have done for centuries, I am enacting the deep knowledges of those that came before me. Through adorning my contemporary facemask and headpiece I create my own regalia used in protection against a world aimed at upholding racist systems that value white bodies above all others.
This work took me somewhere between 30-40 hrs to create, I eventually lost track. It was made using size 13 seed beads for the main headband and size 11 seed beads to complete the edge. It is an extension of my practice as I reflect on the adornment of Indigenous bodies via beadwork as a labour of love. I am specifically referencing self-love and the connection and ability to use my body as a tool used to create love and space for myself as I meanuever through heaviness during these complex pandemic times. I am also very interested in citing the ‘body as home’, and how I identify and explore homelands. This idea of nationhood is explored through this work, using ‘Stay Home’ covid measures as the lens.
Day 1: my body, as a site of inscription
Day 2: holding love, holding space….medicines and homelands
Day 4: my body as a tool to create power and love for myself
Day 5: I carry my home within me.
Born in Vancouver, Bill Horne studied painting and drawing at the Banff Centre and film animation at UBC. He works primarily in silkscreen, as well as assemblage and photography. He has taught silkscreen printing at the Vancouver Native Education Centre, Treaty 8 Tribal Association, and Island Mountain Arts, and papermaking at the National Art School in Nicaragua.
His work has been exhibited across Canada and he has taken part in residencies in Banff, Québec City, and Spain. Bill was the 2013 Recipient of CARFAC’s National Advocacy Award from and an Award of Excellence in the 2019 Tokyo Screen Print Biennale. He has lived with his partner and fellow artist, Claire Kujundzic for 25 years in Wells, BC in an old church called Amazing Space. They will be based in Victoria,BC after June, 2021.
Covid Mail Art Series
Many governments have urged people to self-isolate to reduce the spread of Covid19. I want to stay connected with friends. Why not screen print postcards on mat board? We have lots of off-cuts left over from picture framing.
An Abstract Print
I have time to make new prints this spring, because with less gallery visitors, we have fewer interruptions. What a fine opportunity to experiment – to see how I might generate new imagery by making multiple layers of stencils from a photo of a highly textured Poplar tree scar.
Art in Solidarity
One way I can respond to news of anti-Asian assaults in the Vancouver area is to make some prints that evoke elements of the Cariboo’s Chinese history. Let’s visit the Chinese cemeteries in Stanley and in Barkerville to commemo rate the Tienanmen Square massacre.
Portrait of Dr. William Allen Jones
Protests are erupting in the US and elsewhere since the police killing of Floyd George in Minneapolis. I find myself thinking about Dr. Jones, the first dentist licensed in BC. Another fundraiser?
A Posterized Nicaraguan License Plate Print
The pandemic is complicating our lives, but many people are facing much graver risks. I keep thinking of people in Nicaragua whose government has pursued a denialist policy on Covid19. This is a good time to make a screen print with a Nicaraguan theme and make it a fundraiser for an NGO there.
Born in Scotland, Claire Kujundzic moved to Canada at age five. She creates a variety of imagery through printmaking, painting, sculpture and murals. Her work has been commissioned and reproduced by groups such as the International Congress of Midwives, Amnesty International and Oxfam.
Claire’s forest-based work was featured during the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler, the 2011 conferences of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations in Spain, Hungary, and Banff, and the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, BC. Her art can be found in private and corporate collections around the world. Claire has lived with her partner and fellow artist, Bill Horne for 25 years in Wells, BC in an old church called Amazing Space. They will be based in Victoria, BC after June, 2021.
March: Interactive Postcard Project
Covid restrictions now make it challenging to visit my mom Ann in Victoria. She’s 91 and facing significant health challenges. I phone daily, as she’s feeling isolated and at loose ends. As all her regular outings and activities are cancelled, I propose an interactive art postcard project, with me starting them and her completing them however she likes. The first ones are my hands holding the card with ample space in between, and l continue on with watercolour backgrounds, more line drawings and cartoons for her to caption. I enjoy working on a small scale, and am getting into production, using the kitchen table as my workspace. Other friends join in as well, and now walking to the mail is a joyous daily ritual!
April: Drawing a Day
Other than the postcards, l feel quite uninspired. A friend l’ve sent a postcard to in Vancouver says several women artists are beginning “A drawing a day” group, and l’m invited to join. This helps me get back into figure drawing, though I continue working small.
As trips to Quesnel are now bi-weekly, l am simultaneously enjoying sprouting and planting seeds in dozens of small containers in the kitchen/living room. The sprouted greens are beautiful, and help augment our winter diet. New drawings have people with imaginary human-like plants interspersed between them.
Journal Entry: June 23rd
The first load of wood for next winter is delivered – the earliest we’ve ever managed. This same day we have a power outage, the 4th time in three weeks. Very annoying. I’ve been having frequent vivid artwork-related dreams. No doubt this is because I’ve been struggling to work on a larger scale. I’ve been scaling the postcard size drawings larger, playing with various formats, and bought and primed several large canvases to sketch on, but can’t seem to commit…
Journal Entry: July 25th
Over the last couple of months, I’ve continued rearranging and expanding my working studio area in the gallery. There will likely be fewer gallery visitors this summer due to Covid restrictions, so l may be able to paint there this summer. Meantime I’m planning my first visit to Victoria to see my mom and keep medical appointments. Thanks to the Northern Health Bus, l can travel safely.
July: Art & Studio Space
I’m restless and dissatisfied, and continually rearrange the studio work area in the gallery. Using graphic design and printmaking processes l’ve been making black and white stencils, and putting them over abstract painted backgrounds to visualize completion of them. Rearranging the studio I’ve found some pieces of raw canvas from the 2009 series “Cariboo”. Cutting and fraying the canvas edges and staining them is energizing! I love the organic element this adds and carry on.
Jordan Schwab, originally from Prince George, BC, holds a BFA from Thompson Rivers University (2005), and received his MFA from the University of Saskatchewan (2009). Through a previous career in commercial and industrial construction, he developed an interest in constructed environments, entropy and collective work to form the basis for his artistic practice. He has shown across the country, having been included in exhibitions and festivals at SKOL gallery (Montreal), SNAP Gallery (Edmonton), Martha Street Studio (Winnipeg), Kamloops Art Gallery, and AKA Artist-Run, PAVED Arts, and Remai Modern Pre-Launch in Saskatoon. He currently resides in Quesnel, BC and is a sessional instructor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Karla Griffin, originally from Kamloops, BC, holds a BA in English (2005) and a BFA in Visual Art (2006) from Thompson Rivers University and completed her MFA at the University of Saskatchewan in 2010. Her artistic practice explores issues of consumption, commodification, and identity formation through a variety of media. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada, and within the United States, at galleries that include the Kamloops Art Gallery, Estevan Art Gallery & Museum, Mann Art Gallery (Prince Albert), PAVED Arts, Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon), Surrey Art Gallery, La Petite Mort Gallery (Ottawa), Heuser Art Center (Peoria, Illinois), etc. She currently resides in Quesnel, BC where she works as a Safety Coordinator at Quesnel River Pulp, a Division of West Fraser Mills Ltd.
Need a New Daydream?
Need a new daydream? is a collaborative video work created by husband and wife artists Jordan Schwab and Karla Griffin. When approached by the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George, BC to create a piece of work in response to, or influenced by, their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, Schwab and Griffin dealt with isolation by turning inwards – choosing to work with their own archive of collected images and videos of places they’ve been, and places they wished they could visit again based on their feelings of being stuck or trapped by the realities and limitations of the pandemic.
May 3, 2020
We were told to take a look at the wash out on the West Fraser road (thanks Tom). It’s about 17 kilometres from where we live, everything is closed, there is nothing else to do, it’s an excuse to get out of the basement.
When we get there, the road is barricaded by large concrete blocks, tagged with “grad 2020” and “fuck covid” – appropriate. As you walk along, you can see the creek has changed its path, large trees have been ripped from the earth and are washed up on sand bars; as the road starts to climb, about 500 metres ahead, part of it has been washed away. Not sure what the big deal is. Why they can’t just build the bank back up, maybe push the paving a little further into the hillside? Seems like a pretty simple solution; it seems so small.
We see people farther down, past the wash out; there must be more to see. In about a kilometre, the problem is clear. There is no road, only an abyss. The pavement ends abruptly and drops off a cliff, the creek, 50 metres below, has opened a valley so wide, you could not even see where the other side of the road was, no connection point, no way forward.
Staring out, we try to talk out a solution, arm-chair engineers. A man also taking in the sight tells us that the bank just continues to slide into the void. How do you stop something so unrelenting, something that doesn’t care about what was built before, doesn’t care what your plans are? There is no way to follow the old path.
A new road will have to be built, somewhere else, some other way.
May 8, 2020
We were frying burgers down by the Fraser River. There’s a beach on the west side that we go to, gets us out of the apartment. Since moving to Quesnel, we have lived in a basement, no deck, no outside unless you walk the dog, so the beach is our backyard.
It’s early May, the world is still crazy, but the burgers are sizzling. Our dog is lying next to us, drooling, waiting for food; the sun is shining, and the beer is cold, perfect.
We can hear another dog barking, maybe across the river. The Fraser is swollen, moving fast, the dog’s bark is annoying, constant. It must see us across the river, we can’t see it. The barking is getting closer now, is it in a boat? Closer, still barking, closer. Is that something in the river? Closer, THAT’S THE DOG! Farther; we can’t get to it; farther, the river is way too fast; farther, it’s still barking; farther, maybe it will make it out at the bend in the river; further, it’s just floating by itself; farther, we hope it can make it; further, it probably won’t make it, further, floating, farther, alone, further.
July 11, 2020
We walked down to Baker Creek – it’s one of our favourite spots – there’s a big beach, the dog loves to run and play in the water, and there’s driftwood everywhere – endless sticks for the dog to catch. The creek is high again, it’s not as bad as last month but it’s deep enough that the dog never ventures in too far. Lately we keep him on the leash until we get to the beach.
The walk down to the creek is a closed off dirt road, the beginning of a neighborhood that was never completed, bright red fire hydrants and rotting streetlamps can be found in the surrounding brush, beautiful but wild. The threat of bears exists but we have not had a run in yet. Some days we are prepared, bear spray in hand, taking the threat seriously; they could be anywhere down there. Today, we took it easy, we were not prepared. Even though we are warned every day that it is bear season, even when you warn yourself, you figure it won’t happen to you. You hope it stays a possibility, not a reality, besides, this route is barely off the main roads of our neighbourhood – we walk there regularly.
The section of the beach that we venture to is down a dirt road, flanked by two ponds and heavy bush that ends at the creek. Because the creek is high once again there is only one clear entrance and exit unless bushwhacking is on the agenda. We play with the dog and sit on a huge uprooted tree that had been left on the shore by the earlier flood. When we decide to head home, we can see something black just beyond the ‘s’ curve of the road about 150 metres ahead. Is that a dog? No, no, that’s too big for a dog. The grass beside the ponds is so tall that we are standing on our tip toes just to get a better look. The bear is doing the same as us, it stands up and cranes its neck trying to a get a better view down the trail. We do what we can, make some noise, try not to panic, head back to the beach, regroup. What do we do? We’re trapped. Wait it out.
Entry #5 - Continued
10 minutes later, what seems like an eternity, we head back up the trail to see if there’s another way around. There it is, in the same place, it stands again. We head back to the beach, no way out; the threat is real. Can we cross the creek? The water is too high.
We wait another 10 minutes, we are brave now, we have sticks, we start yelling before we get back to the trailhead, we will do as we’ve been taught: stand our ground, make eye contact, yell at it from a distance. We will scare it away. We see people up ahead, just passed the spot where the bear was lingering; they have no idea of the threat, just enjoying their day; it’s just another Saturday with friends. We run towards them, yelling, warning them of the bear, waving our sticks, they see us, they turn and continue walking; they don’t know what we’re saying.
We meet them at the top of the hill and keep our distance due to COVID precautions; we tell them about the bear and how close they were, how close the threat was.
Where we live, where we explore, the threat is always there, always in the back of your mind. Do you stay at home, lock the doors, only go out if you know it’s safe, or do you take the risk?
Cat Sivertsen is a multi-disciplinary artist, an arts-based educator and advocate for arts as wellness. Cat’s career spans 30 years with projects in England, Australia and Canada. Cat is proponent of collaboration with her most recent work being done in spite, or in light, of Covidian restrictions with artists down the road and across the world. A representation of her portfolio can be accessed at catsivertsen.ca
Coming to some sort of idea about the Covid project – I knew immediately that this was really beyond just me, beyond my current place in self and isolation. I feel somewhat guilty that I’m getting this opportunity and not others who work hard (on a daily basis) – dare I say harder than I do… I did talk to someone about this and she said first of all that I deserve this, then she corrected herself saying that I’ve worked hard for this – perhaps harder as I’m working on my practice and have a full-time job.
We also talked about my idea and she reminded me that when we were kids we weren’t allowed to invite everyone we knew we had to choose … and again I feel bad (perhaps even guilty – why am I feeling that?) that I’m not asking everyone I know – perhaps too close, too knowing, too complacent in relationship, too narrow and living the same existence I am in this already isolated place now more so as we are locked in it together.
I have an opportunity to reach out beyond this place to another time and place where adventure, risk and play were par for the course – actually normal – didn’t even think of it as extra-ordinary… and of course on reflection especially at this time it was extra-ordinary, magical, adventurous and exciting. Looking outside of my current existence to a wider perspective is perhaps looking at the macro rather than focusing in on the micro – the economics of the thing as a condition of my isolation. I just want to break free back to the imaginings of adventure, of journey, of new and exciting … of before.
I remembered my vision.
May 26, 2020
Completed all the invites last week to the Covidian Garden Party … and have since been living in doubt – reminiscent of being a kid hoping everyone will say yes and will come to the party … and if they do will they have a good time, will I be ready, will they understand that this is no ordinary party, will it be good enough, will it come across as trite, kitch, will it ‘taste’ good or be blasé … what am I supposed to wear, do, say, be… am I a fly on the wall watching, listening, learning or am I the connector – do I offer my ideas or is this it.
Jeez so much contradictory thinking, dreaming, nightmare(ing) – is it all irrelevant or full of crap. Who really cares especially now that the MayDay Bloody weekend is near and as far as our government is concerned we can assume the position – back to normal – within reason – small groups – up to 6 people – socially distanced, ‘gloved’ up so to speak with masks (no laughing showing teeth cause they could be dangerous), sanitizer (on hands – don’t drink it), no touching/hugging/reaching out – stay in your bubble but you can go out but only for day trips … I think not … don’t let covid ruin your long weekend – play safe, be safe, and whatever you do be kind because God only knows we are all in this together……… alone but together … and I’m one of the lucky ones.
I hope they’ll come to the party which is realizing itself more and more as a wake.
The yellow bi-plane cut across this blue blazer of a day.
June 18, 2020
The garden is finally growing, the guests are starting to arrive – I resist greeting them until they are all present – I wait in wonderous anticipation – what a ridiculous word wonderous is – how to describe excitement, anxiety, anticipation, dreaming, ready not ready, avoiding … the end.
June 29, 2020
I’m in limbo. I haven’t seen the yellow bi-plane in awhile.
July 1, 2020
I’m waiting, anticipating, preparations are almost complete, I have a plan, I have new tech and I started the drawings… but are they relevant, like preparing unnecessary food, is it over the top, is it out of love or panic that I’m (its) not enough.
July 5, 2020
Away for a week during the rains and the garden bolted out of control – beyond its parameters and over her boundaries – she’s telling me it’s time to harvest – no longer imaginary but reality and I’d better get on with it before it’s too late. The rains faded colours to dirty milk – the poppy’s ink spilt from one to the other casting a gray muck where flies love to frolic.
July 20, 2020
Feeling anxious, excited & nervous about opening the envelopes – want the project to progress but I don’t want it to end – the anticipation is tantalizing but how often does that colour the actuality – I keep opening the door to contrariness.
July 21, 2020
Post mortem on the envelope opening – like opening gifts – absolute gifts of love – connection – separation – hope – humour & despair. Ideas crossing over continents as sense of place in collage, drawing, paint, inks, beading, crayon, pastel, micro-pencil & fat brush. I don’t feel so alone. Video’d the opening and sent that to each guest as a connecting point. A critical conversation gifted me more clarity in direction.
July 30, 2020
The day before the party and there’s so much, too much, to do… so much I feel paralyzed by my procrastination – shirking the final outcome – will it measure up, does it meet my expectation or theirs.
July 31, 2020
I’m not ready, the project is beyond me, I’ve taken on too much, the documentation is getting the better of me and I fear I will be late to my own party.
The yellow bi-plane brought some relief on this blinding scorcher of a day.