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It’s impossible to remember exactly the moment when things broke between the time before and the time of now. It felt like a slow progression over a short time—a compressed explosion.
For the first two weeks after the New York City shelter-in-place order beginning on March 16, 2020, I felt paralyzed with fear and anxiety—fear that a breath of fresh air would make me sick with this virus ravaging New York City and anxiety around the thought that I would pass it to my husband and he would die. Everything was urgent and unknown.
At some point, I was compelled to go outside, walking and relearning to breathe. For me, time spread, measured in the environment. Flashes of green, yellow, pink among the winter detritus. Raindrops huddled, frozen on buds. The shifting air temperature. The cloud arrangement mirrored in water among skyscrapers. The wind gust. Watching a pair of red-tailed hawks’ mating ritual, soaring back and forth together on the updrafts among the architecture. The pink moon. Birdsong. And the ever-grey light. I found a kind of known unknown comfort in the grey, wet light. No one else was out. The silence.
I started to distill these solitary walks outside into my landscape works on canvas made on the roof of my building, afterward taking them back to the places they were born. I remember, it was April 21, the day before Earth Day. I took a landscape out to Sheep Meadow. It was overcast. Not too windy. The birds were singing. It was peaceful. The soft pitter-patter of rain washed the landscape as I lay breathing underneath it all. On April 30, a bed of cherry blossoms reflected the landscape I lay within. May 4, I washed and drew the wind at North Meadow, then danced at sunset on my roof, shrouded in the landscape, buoyed by that same wind. Another drizzly, grey day, May 8, I took a new landscape out to Sheep Meadow. All I saw was a person in an orange jacket followed by a person in a black jacket walking across a large expanse of green against the backdrop of New York City. I drenched it all in rain: rolling, lying, jumping, finally dragging the landscape across the grass. And then I was alone with the birds.
Since then, more and more I go out with my work to re-meet the cityscape. I am grounded by the structure of the city landscape, time spreading out over the environment. I can depend on that. Through these interventions, I sustain myself and my husband. As afraid as I was about getting sick, I know that the air I breathe will keep me alive.
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When I could not go out beyond my home, I folded, bundled, and dyed my canvas to make grids. To build structure. I took them to my roof on windy days. I washed the wind. To grieve.
Behind the scenes
In The Time of Now
For a long time, I have used my body in creation of my work. The landscapes/maps on canvas are distillations of my urban wanderings, both physical and psychological. The emergence of these public performances—I’ll call them “urban en plein air interventions”—have become imperative for my survival “in the time of now.”* Using the forces of weather and nature—light, wind, rain among them—within the urban landscape is both resistance to and acceptance of what is beyond my control. It is about struggling to ground my body in space and time in relationship to the environment, whether in a park or amongst architecture. While my work on canvas may seem large in scale, I experience it as small in relationship to the scale around me. These performative actions are a necessary part to the whole. The blood of the city. Things are emerging and shifting. Situational. Provisional. Adaptable. Nothing is fixed. I feel my life prepared me for now.
*”In The Time of Now” – This body of work was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic during the New York City shelter in place order that began on 16 March, 2020. As of this writing, May 23, 2020, there is no definitive end in site. My work will continue.
Susan Luss (b. El Paso, TX) is an inter-disciplinary artist living in New York City, maintaining a studio in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Luss received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York, and her BFA in Studio Arts Painting from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. Luss has exhibited her work at various venues in the New York area and beyond, including Lowe Mill A&E in Huntsville, AL, the Museum of Art and Culture, New York, Chashama in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition, the Knockdown Center, Brooklyn, and Sideshow Gallery in Brooklyn, the Hole in NYC, Haverstraw RiverArts in Haverstraw, NY, Garner Arts Center in Garner, NY, Westbeth Gallery and the Painting Center in NYC, among others. Luss has curated exhibitions at Pratt Institute, Westbeth Gallery, and Aaron Davis Hall, City College of New York. She serves as an advisory member of ArtShape Mammoth, a nonprofit organization with the mission to cultivate arts research, education, and dialogue by supporting the development of artists and connecting them with new communities. Luss’s work is held in public and private collections including Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, and La Table des Artistes, France, among others.
- Website: www.susanluss.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @susanluss
- Youtube: Susan Luss Channel
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