Socially-engaged and participatory projects have arguably been the hardest hit visual art of the pandemic, dependent as they are on a proximity between strangers that is no longer safe. Novel ways of conceiving such endeavors will eventually appear, but in the meantime let’s acknowledge Sanctuary, an artwork as badly needed as ever. Closed one week after it opened at the University of New England, Biddeford, ME, and meant to travel to medical and art centers across the country, paper artist Carrie Scanga and memoirist Emily Rapp Black’s installation is both a haven and about them. Visitors are invited to sit at a writing desk enveloped by diaphanous banners cut with briny shapes and to record a story about their own medical experiences. Future iterations will interpret those submissions into new cut-paper banners and incorporate them into an essay, to be printed in a zine. Here’s what I’d share, if I were able to attend their exhibit in Maine: the memory of me floating on my back in a pond high up in the mountains of northern Vermont and how many terrors it has calmed me through; a mural-sized photograph of a tulip forest, brightening an underground hallway in a Chicago hospital I dreaded entering each day for 12 weeks; reading with my children, everyone fitting tightly together, no matter where we are. That last one isn’t a medical experience, but it is the truest sanctuary I have from the world right now.
—Lori Waxman 2020-08-16 10:36 PM