Artist Reflects on Covid, High Above Tribeca

Posted
Jun. 23, 2020

From her apartment in Tribeca’s Independence Plaza, artist Linda Stein has created a video, “Covid Story: An Artist Sheltered in Place on the 31st Floor.” Stein calls the work, which includes spoken word and collages inspired by her time at home, “a love-poem to New York,” that highlights how she is dealing with the pandemic from her 31st floor balcony.

Stein, an educator, activist, and performer as well as visual artist, is the founding president of the non-profit, Have Art: Will Travel Inc. More of her work can be seen there and at https://www.lindastein.com.

 

Covid Story: An Artist Sheltered in Place on the 31st Floor

by Linda Stein

For months now, looking out from the 

elevation of my 31st floor balcony, 

I eye-gulp the panorama before me, 

embracing, with cell phone photos, 

its architectural details and vastness,

its sea-sky moving tableau. 

 

Internalizing the eerie emptiness in the streets, 

I shift back and forth 

from comfort to contagion, 

now awed by the magnificence before me, 

then in dread, as I think of the brave

Covid caretakers carrying on, 

despite fear and adversity. 

 

There is a vessel 

navigating north on the Hudson River

with a slowness intimating the pace of progress

toward solving our global dilemma.

I watch it disappear in my viewfinder, 

boat yielding to brick, 

much as I wish 

virus would yield to vaccine.

 

This architecture, my architecture, 

jutting high in the sky, 

wrangles with my forlornness, 

insisting that I focus, not on the heart-rending, 

but on the handsomeness of the 

edifices before me, 

extraordinary in their extreme 

verticality, volume and variety. 

 

It is as if I were tracing and stroking 

each building with my fingertips, 

now low with flat roof, 

now bursting into the sky, 

impossibly slender, 

impossibly high. 

 

The red arrow points to where I live, 

a small apartment, 

albeit with balcony and spectacular view: 

lower Manhattan with Wall Street to the south;

Hudson River and New Jersey to the west; 

Little Italy, Village, Chinatown and Brooklyn to the east. 

An arresting view. 

A lifeline for me as I shelter in place.

 

I used to see the 

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, 

but over the years, 

it has been obscured by 

towers of glass and steel 

rising above those of brick.

Still, I can almost see through these buildings 

to feel Liberty’s raised arm, 

signaling strength and justice. 

 

And now, with the memory of 

running for safety during 9/11, 

figures arrive from my previous art, 

symbolizing the superhuman, 

transformed into monumental edifices 

intermixing with buildings around them.

 

You see, almost two decades after my full day 

running from the falling trade towers in 2001, 

I still feel viscerally that some scoundrel 

can take a gun and shoot down a 

skyscraper before me. 

And so I engage the figurative symbol 

to confront this villain, 

erecting this form again and again 

so that it becomes part of, and 

mirrors, its architectural environment.

 

My long-nurtured figures––

my cadre of protectors, defenders, sentinels––

brandish the solidity and dominance 

of the buildings around them, 

or recalibrate themselves into 

ghostlike, gusty, translucent shapeshifters. 

The misty ones breathe and blow in the wind, 

and coexist with those having 

 

more presence and permanence.  

 

Do they take up negative or positive space? 

Are they background or foreground? 

Are they riveted to a mission, 

or agency-less? 

I like to think that 

they are purposely penetrating the 

crevices of the structures around them, 

searching for clues to immunity and invulnerability, 

much as our medical professionals 

seek the same in the course of our

cosmic contamination. 

 

Now it is exactly 7pm. 

Balconies become platforms for 

ebullient cheers, whooped yays, whistled thank-yous. 

Honoring the bravest amongst us, 

we come together in the evening 

with a cacophony of raucous, roaring sounds 

that broadcast our gratitude.

 

The Covid heroes don’t come forward at this time. 

They don’t appear on our balconies and rooftops 

to acknowledge our applause, 

to accept medals and certificates of honor, 

to be rewarded with the 

monetary grants they deserve. 

 

I ponder their valor and 

notice that yelling yay

is easier than voicing thank you.

Is it more personal?

Does shouting out my appreciation for these 

women and men of mettle and grit 

make me feel embarrassed, even bashful?

 

Is it because my own deeds pale in comparison?

I’m not brave like that.

My giving/helping/donating 

cannot hold a candle to their offerings. 

They are the protectors 

that I am creating in my art, 

the defenders I want to be.

 

My surreal thoughts of illness 

morph into a more sanguine surrealism. 

I feel empowered 

to make anything happen now 

in a landscape of my creation 

(so long as my defenders are 

here and standing guard).

 

This new setting is now

a stage for performers, 

a framework in which to romp and rollick. 

It allows for movement with an 

expansive outreach in space, 

the antithesis of confinement and constraint.

 

How my spirit leaps as I 

create this world of conviviality, 

without the virulence of virus 

to interfere with my whimsy. 

Here, people can angst-lessly 

go about their business, as they

saunter, exercise and frolic with free rein. 

They know they are being patrolled and protected. 

 

These social scenes contrast starkly 

with the tug of Covid’s required social distancing, 

its stillness and silence, 

broken only by a siren’s blare, 

bringing one’s thoughts abruptly back to the 

present-day skittishness of 

sickness and mortality. 

 

An evening’s radiogram-like regalia of dots and dashes, tap out a morse code of  stillness, 

camouflaging those messages of 

desolation and despondency.

Is someone talking, seated, moving 

within each white cube that I see? 

Will I ring the doorbell (when Covid allows) 

and enter into one of the dot-dash cubicles 

and say hello?

Will we shake hands?  

 

As this lurching continues, 

I seesaw between feeling 

circumscribed and confined by Covid, and then  

overwhelmed with a desire to

run my fastest, hugging everyone in my path. 

 

If I push myself past being this horizontal yo-yo, 

and allow myself to focus on, 

and feel privileged by, 

the mesmerizing view before me, 

my disquietude diminishes.  

Ultimately, it is this hypnotic and riveting 

vision and version of reality

that feeds me at this time, 

a time when solace and safety are 

so very precious. 

 

© Linda Stein, May, 2020