In November 2020, I worked alone during lockdown, to make a series of 'ephemeral memorials' throughout the public, open spaces of Preston's city centre parks. I felt the need for an expressive act - a personal ceremony with potential to acknowledge the communal tragedy of so many loved ones suddenly gone. Lost to Covid.
In the simple interventions (see images of 4 examples below), I measured and marked out a two metre diameter circle in the centre of the densest area of leaf fall, under particularly beautiful trees. Then I removed the fallen leaves that made up the random pattern of overlapping layers, from within each circle. The two metre diameter was my reference to the 'safe' space afforded to a person, by Covid science.
After the physical exertion of making, I sat a while each time, tuning in to the autumnal atmosphere, making connections to my surroundings. I felt the river flowing through, the lyrical shifts of light and shadow, listened to the voices of birds, saw their flight across clouds, and the dark soil of molehills. I sensed the metaphorical connections to pathways winding away into the distance, heard the wind rustling through the branches of trees, and smelt the earthy scent of fallen leaves. And I saw people passing by, living their lives.
Later, I returned to the sites to see how the shapes had covered over, or blurred. On some days they even re-appeared slightly, because the wind had moved the top layer of most recently fallen leaves. Intriguingly, the circles were often more visible from a distance: the subtle disruption to the texture of leaf fall, more detectable from afar.
I found it insightful to witness this lessening of the presence of absence. I felt I'd made a connection to the Earth's living system, through my simple ceremonies. It seemed a more sensitive, meaningful way to pay my respects in response to loss, than the bewildering reductionism of statistics.
Although it might appear contradictory to link remembrance with the ephemeral, I found the paradox echoed the fleeting qualities of memory, and the role played by the passage of time in the interplay between remembering and forgetting. Of acceptance and healing.
Covid is showing us that for all our technology, we humans understand so little and remain as vulnerable as ever. But there are methods derived from art and craft practice, through which to find balance, recover, accept change and continue to grow. There is still much to learn from the Earth’s know-how, and many ways to do so.
Ceremony for the spirit